19 October 2010

Bata Management System

Last week I was in Prague to be a panelist in the Forum 2000. It was a very interesting panel with 4 people like me (young, naive and hungry) and other 4 seasoned business men and women on the topic of “what the next generation of leaders want from the market”. We discussed topics like if it is desirable that business tackle global issues (like poverty) and what the next generation value in an employer. The forum deserves a post in itself, but I want to speak about something I learned outside the panel room, more specific in the pub that we went after the panel: the Bata Management System.

Bata (pronounced more or less like “bat’ya”) Management System was basically the way Tomáš Baťa (and his successor, Jan Antonín Baťa) managed the business. Bata is a Czech shoe factory (and retailer) named after the surname of the founder, but the similarities with a Fordian assembly line kind of stop there.

Bata’s first slogan, at the factory gate, was “thinking to the people, labor to the machines”. Bata’s system included whole-system orientation and integration of work (instead of splitting it into small specialized tasks), team and workshop self-management, profit-sharing and autonomy, workers’ participation and co-determination, clearly-defined responsibilities and organizational flexibility. Every employee was a partner, co-worker or associate and all workers were to become owners and capitalists. Salaries were much higher than the industry average (both in Czech and anywhere in the world) and production was always improving. Production and profits were not the ends, but the means towards improving the individual lives of all Bata employees.

An story that shows the craziness of the innovation in Bata is that his office was built inside an elevator (which also had a working bathroom). This way he was everywhere in the factory and at the same time everyone could reach him quite easily. Here there is a picture of the Bata’s elevator/office.

Bata managed to thrive while the world was in a big recession. But I am not talking about the 2008 recession. These guys did all this in the 30’s. Yes, all this “progressive” management almost a 100 years ago (and when Henry Ford was going for the man is a machine approach in the assembly line).

It seems that Bata didn’t need any Forum 2000 to understand what employees (humans!) want from their work. Bata understood that people are superior than machines, all he did was to help foster an environment that didn’t get in the way of their linchpiness. Does generation X and Y changed so much that they want different things? In my opinion, not at all, we are just much more bold to say it aloud and demand to be treated as humans.

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