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Monday, June 2, 2014

MAN VERSUS NUMBERS

BRYCE ON SOCIETY

- How we are losing the common touch.

(Click for AUDIO VERSION)
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In the April 28, 2014 issue of the "Wall Street Journal," an orthopedic surgeon from Santa Barbara, Dr. Daniel F. Craviotto, Jr., wrote an interesting column entitled, "A Doctor's Declaration of Independence." In it, he vented the medical community's frustration with the ever growing number of federal rules and regulations. He rightfully contended government bureaucracy is inhibiting doctors from practicing medicine. Craviotto argued the doctor-patient relationship should be of paramount importance, but due to today's numerous regulations, doctors and nurses are spending more time processing paperwork than taking care of their patients. You may remember me discussing this a few years ago, "My Dinner with the Doctor."

Let me shift gears for a moment. You may recall in an earlier column, "Beware of the MBA's," I contended there was a growing trend in management whereby more emphasis is being placed today on managing numbers as opposed to people. I am seeing more and more of this in business. It is no longer a matter of sharpening people skills, but more a matter of crunching numbers. I refer to this as "neutralizing humanity" in the workplace. Managers today study numbers as opposed to workers, vendors and customers. This leads me to believe their priorities have shifted.

Let me give you an example, I have a business friend who recently told me of his company's system for customers returning products due to problems. It could be damaged, missing documentation, a wrong or missing part, or any other criteria preventing the product from being used by the customer. Such a system is common in many companies today. Inevitably, his manager wanted to change the procedures of the system.
Due to the complexity of their products, it can take up to an hour to enter all of the documentation, photographs and everything else going into a problem report. It next goes to the person responsible for the error and charged with correcting it. When solved, they close the report which is then returned to the original customer service rep who must click the "verify close" button on the computer screen and all is done. If they are not satisfied, they "re-open" the case.

The manager wanted to change this procedure by having the customer service reps just click on the "verify close" button, and if a problem persisted, to open up a new case. His reasoning; the number of cases "re-opened" would make him look bad to his superiors. In other words, he thought the numbers were more important than addressing the problem of why cases were being re-opened.

Now let's bring the doctors and the managers together. What we are witnessing is a concerted attempt to turn humans into insensitive machines. In the doctor's case, federal bureaucracy takes precedence over doctor-patient relationships. In the business world, managers are taught to think only in terms of occurrences (making a cold call, visiting a customer, etc.). Concepts such as salesmanship, service, hospitality, etc. are considered antiquated concepts. Numbers are king.

As another example, let us consider the public education system where it is no longer a matter of teaching students to reason and communicate, but to simply memorize facts and take tests. This is leading to a generation of people who are socially handicapped and easier to micromanage. Today, there is less emphasis on developing people who are caring and thinking, and more on passing tests in order to earn supplemental government funding. The federal government's Common Core initiative will only compound this problem. Teachers are also frustrated and are beginning to abandon their profession as they come to the realization they are being judged more by numbers as opposed to the students they teach, thereby causing them to lose empathy and concern for the well-being of their students.

The emphasis on numbers is dehumanizing and represents a significant change in our culture. It means we are losing what was once called the "Common Touch" (aka "Personal Touch"). It is analogous to driving an automobile by its dials and gauges, such as the odometer, speedometer, tachometer, gas gauge, etc. These are useful tools but we cannot become obsessed by them. The human being still drives the car. We must be mindful of the dials and gauges, but we must never take our eyes off the road, for if we do, disaster will inevitably ensue. We can certainly drive the car without the dials and gauges, but run the risk of speeding, going too slow, overheating, or running out of gas. However, we cannot drive the car simply by dials and gauges.

Maybe the Millennials will adapt, but it will likely represent the death knell of the Baby Boomers who are more accustomed to interpersonal relations. Managers and Doctors, like Craviotto, who are in their 50's or older, are likely to abandon their profession as they are being pushed to the brink. Think I'm kidding? Talk to an older doctor on your next visit and ask about his satisfaction with current government regulations. Also talk to the managers who have been on the job for thirty or more years and ask if they have witnessed any changes in terms of how customers, employees, and vendors are handled. And finally, ask your offspring in school to give a three minute dissertation on a current event in the news (or simply this article) and have them be prepared to argue their position. One thing should become evident, it's no longer about humanity, just numbers.

This approach to social-engineering could be construed as a 21st century version of a lobotomy intended to make the patients more docile and easier to manipulate. Between the emphasis on numbers, government programs encouraging such behavior, the influence of the media, and the excessive use of technology, we are witnessing a significant change in the thinking patterns of people.

Just remember, the word "man" is embedded in the word "management" for a reason.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim's columns, see:   timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2014 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

NEXT UP:  IT'S ME, RIGHT? - As Johnny Nash sang, "I can see clearly now, the rain is gone. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind."

LAST TIME:  WHY AMERICA SUCCEEDS
  - The answer should be rather obvious.

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