Industrial Leadership and the Manager
IT is but recently that as much emphasis has been put upon the everyday relations between employer and employee as upon the more dramatic phases of our industrial problems. In the past, probably more study was devoted to means of composing differences after they had arisen than to the more complex and fundamental task of creating a healthy esprit de corps at our plants. Arbitration, conciliation, and adjustment were the main topics discussed by industrial specialists a few decades ago; but at present as much attention is being focused upon such subjects as shop committees and personnel management. As in other fields, it has been found that the judicial and investigative phase is only a fraction of the problem, and that the continuous administrative questions are, if anything, of greater importance. We have found that an industrial ‘domesticrelations court does not necessarily mean a healthy industrial ‘family life.’
One of the most promising results of this new insight is that employers are coming to realize that, in view of the administrative position they hold in industry, they are the natural leaders and have the corresponding responsibility of leadership. At least, some of them are beginning to appreciate that they must approach their relations to their employees with the same poise and perspective with which they treat other problems of organization. Such employers appreciate that, if they approach the subject in the traditional combative spirit, they will be about as helpful in the future industrial development of the country as an angry father is in the moral development of the rebellious child.
Now in speaking of employers we must, of course, discriminate between two types of industries. On the one hand, we have the small business run by the owner, who is himself the manager and has relations directly with the superintendents and foremen under him. On the other, we have the large business in which there are, roughly, three groups: the directors and executive officers on top; salaried men who have actual charge of the local plants; and the foremen and superintendents under the manager.
The latter type of organization is each year absorbing a larger proportion of our industrial activities, and we will therefore consider the problems which face the executives and directors in a large industry. Let us suppose that they have passed the stage where they feel that mere railing against the closed shop and petulant complaining against restricted efficiency will solve their problems. They decide to liberalize and modernize thoroughly their labor policy. Having defined such a policy, they endeavor to discover the means of putting it into effect. At the very start of any such attempt they will almost always find themselves confronted with the fact that it is necessary for them to convert those in charge of the local plants. If they find the local manager sympathetic, they are apt to find him untrained to understand and adopt newer methods. Just as in endeavoring to effect any other reform, it is a matter of securing and training the proper personnel to put it into effect.
It is therefore particularly interesting to note that more and more those who are given the responsibility of managing our local plants are graduates of technical schools. It is becoming each year increasingly evident that a large part of the industrial leadership of the country must come from such engineermanagers, who have succeeded the old owner-managers.
These men, with the foremen under them, are in the ‘key positions’ so far as the handling of the everyday laborproblems is involved. Most directors and executives on top, even if they have the inclination, time, and sympathy to study the details of the local labor-problems, feel that it is wise not to interfere with the work of the manager in charge, because such problems are so interwoven with the daily routine of other operating problems, that they have not the intimate knowledge of the nuances of the situation which would justify them in interfering. Progress in securing better esprit de corps will depend upon the skillfulness of the local manager in handling human problems. We have heard much of employee-representation schemes under the name of shop committees and works councils, — and they are an important development, — but the success of such schemes depends primarily on the quality of the leadership which the local management affords. Leadership is, after all, the essential in creating a good morale in industrial establishments, as it is in any organization, military, social, political, or other.
A great deal has been made of the possibilities of the new profession of employment manager; and it is true that in the development of this profession we have made a long step in the right direction. But the employment manager is helpless unless the general manager in charge of the entire plant has sufficient background to make him sympathetic with the purpose and operation of the personnel department. If he is not sympathetic, he can block any efforts at modernization that the personnel manager attempts to introduce. It is argued, it is true, by some, that the industrial specialist should have coördinate jurisdiction with the man in charge of physical problems; but in many establishments, if not in most, this is impracticable from an administrative point of view. It is usually most undesirable to have a house divided against itself. Another obvious suggestion is that the industrial specialist should be put in full charge. But this does not take into consideration the fact that there are many plants in which the nature of the problems renders it essential that the technical man occupy the titular position.
In this connection, to quite an extent the foremen are being recruited from graduates of our technical schools. Unfortunately the evidence is overwhelming that the training that our engineering schools have given does not adequately equip a man to handle so-called ‘human engineering.’ This is a matter of common experience; but an excerpt from the report of the President’s Mediation Commission (which, under the chairmanship of Secretary of Labor Wilson, in the early stages of the war, visited a number of our Western communities in which there was industrial unrest) may be of interest in this connection. Referring to their observations in the mining districts of Arizona, that Commission said: ‘The managers fail to understand and reach the mind and heart of labor, because they have not the aptitude or the training . . . for wise dealing with the problems of industrial relationships.’ The managers in this case wore mostly engineers.
Of course, the capacity for handling human beings depends, to a large extent, upon a magnetic personality, and there are many engineers with this native capacity. But such a capacity alone will not solve the problem of handling the organization of employees of a large plant. I know personally of several instances of graduates of technical schools, who had become managers of important plants and had all the temperamental qualities necessary for leadership, but who failed to make a maximum success in the handling of their employees because of their lack of interest in the personnel problem — a lack of interest which they frankly acknowledged. The evidence, in fact, is overwhelming that the usual practice in the past of confining the training of the engineer solely to studying the reactions of dead matter has tended to cripple him in his handling of human relations. A purely technical education in problems which require quantitative methods does not equip a man to assume leadership of men. We have not yet come to the point where human reactions can be weighed and measured.
Quite a number of engineers realize this. For example, Mr. Corless of the Mond Nickel Company, in a paper which he read before an engineering association says, ‘A question that deeply concerns us as engineers, managers, or superintendents of industrial enterprises, is that of efficiency. In this matter, I fear, we have much blame to accept for narrowness of view. Because of our special training in the material sciences and their application to industry, we have confined our attention altogether too exclusively to machines, to processes, to arrangement of plants, and to the external forms of organization. We have paid far too little attention to the “imponderables” — to ethical standards, to psychological conditions, and to the mental attitude of those on whom real efficiency must finally depend.’
I quote this because it is rather exceptional. There are some engineers who do not seem to realize that there is any distinction between physical and human problems. On the other hand, the substitution of the technical manager is not necessarily undesirable from a social point of view. If recognized and utilized in time, this substitution may be a blessing in disguise.
The so-called broadminded ownermanager was no doubt more a man of the world and preferable to the type of narrow specialist too often turned out by our technical institutions — men dehumanized by the very intensity of their application to routine studies. But, on the other hand, a man who takes up engineering does learn to be dispassionate and objective, and is taught to seek the truth undisturbed by prejudice or preconception. The old-fashioned owner-manager has too often been hampered in the handling of his employees by the conventions of his class. He may have been human, but surely it has been a dogmatic humanity. On the contrary, the scientific approach of the engineer is unfriendly to intolerance. Above all, he is taught to be thorough and openminded. Engineer-managers who have combined with their knowledge of the material sciences a scientific study of human relations are usually superior to other industrial managers in their approach.
The opportunity is thus offered of developing an improved type of industrial manager, and those primarily responsible for making the most of this opportunity are the members of the trustees and faculties of our technical schools who have the task of planning the curricula of those schools and of furnishing the inspiration to the students. If, in planning the work of those students who by any possibility may in later life have charge of men, such trustees and faculties are willing to sacrifice a certain amount of instruction in subjects involving purely physical problems, and devote an adequate number of hours to social economics and the modern technique of handling labor, we may develop a type of industrial leader who will do much to solve our industrial problems. In order to achieve the desired results there must, in addition to a revision in the formal curricula, be modifications in the practice-work conducted in the summer months, so that the students will supplement their civil engineering, geological expeditions, and other field-work by actually working in industry with the men they will handle in their future careers.
In order to arrive at a real understanding of just what type of training a manager must have before he is able to master his industrial problems, we must more closely analyze just what these problems involve. Curiously enough, in human engineering itself there are both technical and human, we might say ‘political,’ sides, which must have their proper place if success is to be attained. To illustrate: the technical side comprises all such devices as scientific management, timeand motion-studies, labor-saving devices, and the like, while the ‘ political ’ aspect includes the installation of employee-representation schemes, popularly known as works councils or shop committees, the entering into relations with trade-unions whether in the form of collective bargaining or otherwise, and, generally, the maintenance of a good morale through personal leadership.
There is already an imposing literature and a group of specialists on each one of these subjects, to all of which engineering students should be given an adequate approach. I say approach, because it is obvious that it is impossible to give the student more. The subjects are necessarily empirical, and only trial and error and actual practice will furnish a thorough grasp of them. We need not give much heed to the usual objection which we hear conservative members of the faculty of technical schools advance, that only a useless academic training can be given in such subjects, and therefore it is futile to give any at all. As with any other problem, the first essential is to indicate to the student that there is literature on the subject, teach him where he can find the authorities, and finally, what is most important of all, awaken his interest, so that when he is graduated he will be anxious to use the most modern technique. Just as in any other field, the professional graduate is apt to follow the interests awakened while he was a student. An approach is, after all, in a large measure all that a student, except perhaps the narrow specialist, gets in his main professional courses.
On the ‘political’ and human side particularly it is of especial importance that the technical student have his understanding and interest aroused. The usual practice of confining his training solely to studying the physical problem necessarily has a tendency to cripple him in attempting to handle human relations, unless there has been some neutralizing influence.
One of the main benefits to be achieved by a proper training of the engineering student is that he will convert the man on top, rather than be converted by him. In any event, he will, when he becomes a manager, proceed with plans for the modernization of methods of dealing with his employees upon his own initiative. He will adopt without prodding from above any modern device which he thinks will bring about a better morale — such as individual production-records, job-analyses, shop committees. He will persuade his directors and executive officers to let him go ahead with such plans, just as he has been able to persuade his directors in the past to allow him to install experimental improvements in metallurgical and mechanical processes.
A manager with such a background and a persuasive personality will go further and persuade his directors to allow him to raise wages and cut down hours, realizing that it may mean more rather than less profits. Where the union leaders show a disposition to be constructive and coöperative, he will exert his influence in favor of the recognition of the union and of a collective agreement, realizing that there is no necessary incompatibility between national unionism and any works-council plan that may have been installed; knowing, in fact, that the authority of the national organizer may be useful in holding local trouble-makers in line. Of course, it may be the man on top who will have the final decision in such matters, but the local manager is always a powerful influence.
We have heard much of the necessity of the proper education of trade-union officials. But, after all, trade-union leaders are, by virtue of their position, perpetually in the rôle of opposition. This is at the bottom of much of the instinctive antagonism toward unionism on the part of even the more progressive managers. They feel that loyalty on the part of the men to their trade-union leaders means disloyalty to themselves, and thus is certain to be destructive of any esprit de corps they have attempted to build up. Of course, with less en-
lightened managers such opposition is nothing more than autocracy’s natural jealousy of interference with its dominant position. As a matter of fact, there is a natural suspicion on the part of many organized labor leaders of any attempt of the management to build up loyalty to itself. This has particularly manifested itself in the antagonism of many representatives of organized labor toward the shop-committee system. There is sometimes justification for the plea on the part of the national leaders that the shop committee is merely a device on the part of the particular employer to prevent the intrusion of the national union. Just as often, however, experiments in employee representation are bona fide and sincere, and in many cases a liaison with the national union has been established. One may therefore be pardoned the suspicion that indiscriminate opposition on the part of an influential group of union leaders to constructive experiments of this character is inspired by a fear that the allaying of the unrest of the rank and file of workmen will impair the very incentives that hold their national organizations together. This is not gainsaying that many of the more progressive leaders have shown a real desire to be coöperative and to assist in production; but experience in tradeunion leadership is necessarily mainly political and forensic — not administrative. It is, after all, the manager who is in the position of continuous administrative responsibility, and it is to him that we must look primarily for constructive development in the everyday problems of our industrial life. Whether he be engineer or layman, he should be properly trained to assume the leadership that is rightfully his.