The aim of this essay is to review the state of craftsmanship within the 21st century, determine if it still has merit in today’s corporate culture, and if so, devise recommendations for perpetuating it.
Although there are no definitive numbers to prove so, there’s a general consensus that craftsmanship has been in decline in North America because the 1980’s. This era marked the start of stiff worldwide competition in just about every industrial sector, led predominantly by Japan and Germany. Since then, the European community has been unified and become a formidable foe, as has the rest of Asia. In response, American corporations began a policy of belt-tightening, downsizing, outsourcing, and use of recent technology (e.g., robotics) all of which played an important part within the decline of labor unions during this period. This also led to the implementation of several corporate cost-cutting measures, including the reduction of employee education/training. In-house training and schools to develop employee skills were sharply curtailed, if not eliminated completely. Consequently, this led to a noticeable decline in human skills and a change in attitude by employees towards their work, thereby becoming more apathetic. It could be argued this also led to a rise in defects in workmanship which triggered the interest in Quality Assurance concepts and techniques beginning within the 1980’s.
Today, the prevailing attitude in the workplace appears to be less focused on what is to be produced, and more on the time needed to provide it. In other words, employees are more focused on their paycheck as opposed to their work product. Undoubtedly this has contributed to the current trend of micromanagement (a Theory X dictatorial style of management).
* Management – believes there isn’t a employee loyalty, dedication or professionalism.
* Employees – lack faith in management’s judgment and are suspicious of business ethics. Believes management is more concerned with the bottom-line as opposed to people.
Whereas micromanagement is the dominant style of management in today’s workplace, workers generally want more freedom and participation in the choice making process. But instead of worker empowerment, there’s more of an inclination by management to dominate and more closely supervise workers. This growing rift between management and workers, along with changes in corporate socioeconomic conditions, has led to the decline in craftsmanship.
Within the decades previous to the 1980’s, craftsmanship flourished primarily because workmen were well trained, they were empowered to perform their work accordingly, and the work produced was considered a reflection of the worker’s personal character. But if continuous employee improvement is discouraged (such as the reduction or elimination of employee training), self-initiative is prohibited (through micromanagement), and there is a general lack of trust between management and workers, then the decline of craftsmanship was inevitable.
The term “craftsmanship” is still bandied about, but more for marketing purposes than anything. Many of the true craftsmen of this country have long since retired, but there are still a couple of practicing their craft either at home or in small-to-medium sized businesses where it’s appreciated.
Why the interest in craftsmanship now? Resulting from heightened awareness by the media in such things as fashion, food, and architecture, there appears to be a growing trend in prestige consumer products. The truth that companies advertise their products are produced with “high craftsmanship” is indicative the consumer appreciates superior work products. There is also a growing realization that superior goods will last longer.
Before we go further, let’s examine what exactly we mean by the term “craftsmanship”:
This implies craftsmanship is a universally applicable concept for any field of endeavor, be it producing a product or delivering a service. Basically, it’s a commitment to excellence which is most definitely not the same as quality. Quality simply relates to the absence of errors or defects within the finished product or service. In other words, finished goods operate based on their specifications (customers get precisely what they ordered). Although quality is certainly a component of craftsmanship, the emphasis on “superior work products” means the worker wants to go beyond the status quo and is continually looking for brand new and imaginative ways to supply superior results. This suggests the craftsman is personally involved with the work products and treats them as an extension of his/her life.
Craftsmanship could be found in either the general work process or a bit of it. For example, there are craftsmen who are intimate with all facets of building furniture, akin to a table, a chair or desk, and may develop the product from start to finish. However, as products grow in complexity, it becomes difficult to search out people suitably qualified to build them from the womb to the tomb. Consider military weapons alone, such as the complicated ships, tanks, and airplanes we now use, with thousands or millions of parts to assemble. Such complexity makes it virtually impossible for a single person to have the expertise to construct the whole product. The identical is true in the service sector where differing types of expertise and capabilities may be required. In other words, craftsmen have a selected scope of work. The scope of labor may relate to other sorts of craftsmen through a sequence of labor dependencies, e.g., Craftsmen A, B and C concentrate on separate subassemblies which are eventually joined into a single product.
Craftsmanship is also a human trait. Some might argue a pc or industrial robot can produce quality products and are, therefore, craftsmen. However, we must remember these devices are programmed by human beings in accordance with the rules of the craftsman. As such, they’re nothing more than a tool of the craftsman.
Craftsmen will be characterized by a variety of adjectives, comparable to: patient, determined, curious, thorough, expert, methodical, focused, self-starter, and pays attention to detail. More specifically though, craftsmanship requires using:
* TOOLS – Along with the hand, the foot, and the eye, craftsmen must be knowledgeable in using other mechanical devices for his/her area of specialty.
* THE MIND – Requiring specific knowledge, experience and judgment to implement the work product. This brings up an important point: education alone is just not sufficient to be recognized as a craftsman; it also features a record of proven success to demonstrate the worker knows how to apply the education.
In terms of education, there are two parts to think about: initial education, either learned through formal training (e.g., college and vocational school diplomas) or through on-the-job experience (“School of Hard Knocks”), and; continuous improvement, representing ongoing training/education through such things as certification, supplemental training, studying industry periodicals and books, or participation in industry trade groups. Although initial education is certainly important, continuous improvement is the earmark of a craftsman.
The craftsman is knowledgeable in all facets of the methodology for his/her line of labor. For our purposes here, a strategy refers to “Who” is to perform “What,” “When,” “Where,” “Why,” and “How” (aka “5W+H”). As such, the craftsman have to be fully cognizant of the work breakdown structure, the dependencies between steps, deliverables, along with the assorted techniques and tools used throughout the methodology. From this, he/she will devise a reliable estimate of the prices needed to provide the work product, in addition to schedule the time to deliver it.
A real craftsman is so knowledgeable about the work product and the methodology to supply it he/she can even advise other professionals in how to modify/improve them, similar to architects and engineers (including industrial engineers).
* THE SPIRIT – This represents the private desire to not only see the job performed correctly, but better than others. This means the craftsman is personally committed to producing superior work products just because he/she views his/her professional life as an extension of his/her personal life. As such, the craftsman have to be empowered to make certain decisions on how to construct/deliver the work product in order to attain a sense of ownership. From this perspective, techniques similar to micromanagement just isn’t conducive for encouraging a program of craftsmanship.
A craftsman sweats over the smallest details in producing the work product and is well aware of the risks involved with skipping steps or doing something out of sequence. Such commitment to producing superior results suggests the craftsman possesses a better work ethic than others, and in all likelihood possesses higher moral values because of his/her fastidious attention to “Right and Wrong.”
To summarize, the elements of craftsmanship can perhaps be best expressed using the next formula:
Knowledge – refers to both the person’s initial and ongoing education.
Attitude – refers back to the person’s sense of professionalism and dedication to his/her craft.
Who’s AFFECTED BY CRAFTSMANSHIP?
1. The Worker – charged with producing the work product.
3. The buyer – to purchase and express satisfaction with the work product.
* It isn’t sufficient for a worker to easily want to be a craftsman; if the corporate implements an unsuitable corporate culture, craftsmanship won’t be allowed.
* It is not sufficient for the corporate to simply want to promote craftsmanship; if workers don’t exhibit self-initiative to supply superior results, craftsmanship will not flourish. After all, “You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”
* It is not sufficient for the consumer to simply say they need products built by craftsman; they must create the demand for such products and offer feedback by way of their satisfaction with them.
To embrace craftsmanship, a company must devise an acceptable corporate culture. This includes the following elements:
* EMPOWERMENT OF THE WORKER to make certain decisions regarding development of the work product. This is usually described as managing from the “bottom-up” as opposed to only “top-down” which is conducive to a Theory Y type of management philosophy. Under this scenario, the worker is given assignments by management and is held accountable for delivery. In turn, decisions regarding the development of the work product are delegated to the worker who is chargeable for the preparation of an estimate and schedule to deliver the work product for approval by management. In other words, the worker is allowed more freedom to manage his/her own affairs and isn’t under the constant scrutiny of management. Further, the worker is allowed to offer feedback to management for improving products and work conditions. Last but not least, workers are recognized for outstanding achievement.
* CREATION OF A MORE DISCIPLINED And arranged WORK ENVIRONMENT promoting a more professional attitude amongst the workers. Ideally, the creation of an environment where workers can give attention to their work with minimal distractions and take pleasure in coming to work (a form of “home away from home”). Inevitably, this will include a redefinition of acceptable forms of dress and behavior, grooming, type of address, and office appearance.
This also features a corporate position of zero tolerance in defects and inferior workmanship and the adoption of standard methodologies thereby defining best practices for building/delivering work products. Such standardization provides consistency in deliverables and allows for the inter-changeability of workers on different assignments. For example, suppose a worker becomes ill in the course of an assignment and is unable to work on it further. Standard methodologies provides the means to allow another worker to complete the assignment in the identical manner as the primary worker. Also, standard methodologies provides a superb training vehicle for young workers to learn and grow to become craftsmen.
* PROMOTE A PROGRAM OF CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT to sharpen worker skills, stay abreast of industrial developments, and seek new ways of improving work products and the methodologies used to supply them. It will undoubtedly result in the reintroduction of in-house training and schools, as well as participation in certification programs and trade groups.
* ESTABLISHMENT OF THREE CLASSES OF WORKERS to denote the extent of experience. Historically, this has been known as “Apprentices” (novices requiring training), “Intermediate” (educated and experienced, but not yet expert), and “Master” (expert craftsman). Such a designation of craftsmen is needed not to create barriers but to assist establish a career path and mentoring program whereby the more experienced workers provide guidance to those less experienced or knowledgeable.
* ESTABLISH LINK BETWEEN WORKERS-PRODUCTS-CUSTOMERS to ascertain a feedback loop to guage satisfaction with a particular product and to the exact worker(s) who produced it. It is impossible to recognize or reprimand workers without such a loop. For example, without it, customers may complain or compliment the company on the work product, yet management is at a loss as to who produced it. Ideally, a system ought to be set in place to offer for such analysis thereby providing a convenient means to watch worker performance.
The premise behind affecting the company culture on this regards is to treat workers like professionals who should act as such in return.
From a corporate viewpoint, is true craftsmanship the appropriate path to follow? Does it really add value to the corporate bottom-line or not? First, it is a myth that work products produced by craftsmen costs more than those produced by less skilled workers. For products of the same class, it actually costs more to provide products using less skilled workers; after all, they don’t have the identical level of data and experience that veteran craftsman have to provide it and, as such, craftsman can produce it faster with fewer mistakes. The price for an experienced craftsman will undoubtedly be higher than novice workers, but savings can be realized simply by expedited development time and fewer mistakes (thereby causing the elimination of corrections or replacements). Further, superior work products have the added nuance of developing satisfied customers representing repetitive business in addition to referrals.
Comparing the event cost of different classes of products is like comparing apples and oranges, it is just not an accurate comparison. For example, the price to build a luxury automobile will likely be substantially different than the price to develop an economical subcompact. But if the product is of the same fundamental class, the craftsman will produce it faster and better than the novice (and at less cost).
* A work environment more conducive for building superior work products.
* Employees develop a better sense of self-worth which promotes loyalty, dedication, and professionalism.
* Standard methodologies promote consistent and measurable work products, the inter-changeability of workers on assignments (versus developing dependencies on individual worker expertise), provides a career path for younger workers, and brings order out of chaos. Also, standard practices improves communications, thereby promoting cooperation and teamwork.
A program of true craftsmanship adds value primarily to three parties:
* The shopper – Satisfaction with the product means the consumer believes his money was well spent and takes pride in it, thereby encouraging others to purchase the same, thereby benefiting the corporate.
* The worker – believes he/she is leading a worthy and meaningful life, thus promoting shallowness and employee development.
* The corporate – receives fewer customer complaints and returned products that are defective requiring replacement or rework. Workers who take pleasure in their work are less likely to modify jobs thereby causing production interruptions. Harmony in the workplace also promotes improved communications, teamwork and company loyalty. In other words, craftsmanship adds to the bottom-line of a business.
But make no mistake, the consumer is the impetus for craftsmanship. So long as customers accept inferior workmanship without complaint, companies will continue to provide shoddy work products within the least expensive means possible and workers won’t be allowed to supply superior products.