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Henry Ford: On Mens Desire for Corporate Advancement

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Heny Ford was one of the great industrialists of the turn of the 20th century.  He was born July 30, 1863 in Wayne county, Michigan and died April 7, 1947, Dearborn, Michigan.  Henry Ford revolutionized transportation and American industry through the mass production and the assembly line. (read more).

If you didn’t know – and now you do know, Henry Ford wrote a book, “My Life and Work”.  In this book you will find Ford’s thoughts on all sorts of subjects.  For example, here are a few chapter headings: What is an Idea?  What I learned about business.  The terror of the machine.  Wages.  Why be poor?  Why Charity?  Democracy and Industry.  And, What we may expect.

Published in 1922, My Life and Work  is now in the public domain and available for Kindle for free –
(The Kindle reader is free as well for many devices)

If you are interested in the history of the industrial age in general or the history of the auto industry in particular or even the Zeitgeist of the time as told by one of the greatest people of the industrial age then this is a must read.

There are tons of interesting observations by Ford on the nature of work and man’s relation to work and business.

It’s now nearly 100 years after Ford wrote this book and Ford’s observation about Men and advancement in the corporate world has not changed much over 10 decades.  When I read the paragraphs below I remembered my experience of an employee who asked an executive in an “all hands” meeting with about 1,000 people listening… “What do the goals of this company have to do with me?”

To many other employees this was a legitimate question.
To the executives, this question was a shocker.

The education of any corporate executive, if they do not know simple facts already, should include the reading of this passage from Ford’s My Life and Work prior to being handed the key to the executive washroom.  It will save the executive years, if  not decades, of frustration over failed plans for employee innovation, expensive learning and  talent development programs, and any other device or machination intended to advance employees to the head of the class.

From My Life and Work by Henry Ford Chapter 6 – Men and Machines

There is no difficulty in picking out men. They pick themselves out because—although one hears a great deal about the lack of opportunity for advancement—the average workman is more interested in a steady job than he is in advancement.

Scarcely more than five per cent, of those who work for wages, while they have the desire to receive more money, have also the willingness to accept the additional responsibility and the additional work which goes with the higher places.

Only about twenty-five per cent are even willing to be straw bosses, and most of them take that position because it carries with it more pay than working on a machine. Men of a more mechanical turn of mind, but with no desire for responsibility, go into the tool-making departments where they receive considerably more pay than in production proper.

But the vast majority of men want to stay put. They want to be led. They want to have everything done for them and to have no responsibility. Therefore, in spite of the great mass of men, the difficulty is not to discover men to advance, but men who are willing to be advanced.

The accepted theory is that all people are anxious for advancement, and a great many pretty plans have been built up from that.

I can only say that we do not find that to be the case. The Americans in our employ do want to go ahead, but they by no means do always want to go clear through to the top. The foreigners, generally speaking, are content to stay as straw bosses.

Why all of this is, I do not know. I am giving the facts.

Has much changed in 100 years? Read a related article and a thesis on why engineers turn down offers of advancement


Kindle Reader for your PC

Henry Ford, My Life and Work (free Kindle edition)


Written by frrl

September 13, 2011 at 10:32 pm

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