Craftsmanship - Its Cultural and Managerial Implications
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"Craftsmanship = (Knowledge + Experience + Attitude) X Success"
- Bryce's Law
The purpose of this essay is to review the state of craftsmanship in 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 is a general
consensus that craftsmanship has been in decline in North America since the
1980's. This era marked the beginning 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 new technology (e.g.,
robotics) all of which played an important part in the decline of labour 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 an increase in
defects in workmanship which triggered the interest in Quality Assurance
concepts and techniques beginning in 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 produce 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).
As such, an interesting dichotomy has emerged between management and workers:
- Management - believes there is no employee loyalty, dedication or
- 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 decision
making process. But instead of worker empowerment, there is 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.
In the decades prior 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
The term "craftsmanship" is still bandied about, but more for marketing
purposes than anything else. Most of the true craftsmen of this country have
long since retired, but there are still a few practicing their craft either at
home or in small-to-medium sized businesses where it is appreciated.
Why the interest in craftsmanship now? Due to 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 fact 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
"The practice and pursuit of excellence in building/delivering superior
work products by workers."
This implies craftsmanship is a universally applicable concept for any field
of endeavour, be it producing a product or delivering a service. Basically, it
is a commitment to excellence which is most definitely not the same as quality.
Quality simply relates to the absence of errors or defects in the finished
product or service. In other words, finished goods operate according to their
specifications (customers get precisely what they ordered). Although quality is
certainly an element of craftsmanship, the emphasis on "superior work products"
means the worker wants to go beyond the status quo and is constantly looking for
new and imaginative ways to produce superior results. This suggests the
craftsman is personally involved with the work products and treats them as an
extension of his/her life.
Craftsmanship can be found in either the overall work process or a section of
it. For example, there are craftsmen who are intimate with all facets of
building furniture, such as a table, a chair or desk, and can develop the
product from start to finish. However, as products grow in complexity, it
becomes difficult to find 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 build the whole product. The same is true in the service
sector where different types of expertise and capabilities may be required. In
other words, craftsmen have a specific scope of work. The scope of work may
relate to other types of craftsmen through a chain of work 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 computer 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 are nothing more than
a tool of the craftsman.
Craftsmen can be characterized by a variety of adjectives, such as: patient,
determined, curious, thorough, expert, methodical, focused, self-starter, and
pays attention to detail. More specifically though, craftsmanship requires the
- TOOLS - In addition to the hand, the foot, and the eye, craftsmen
must be knowledgeable in the use of other mechanical devices for his/her area
- THE MIND - Requiring specific knowledge, experience and judgment to
implement the work product. This brings up an important point: education alone
is not sufficient to be recognized as a craftsman; it also includes a record
of proven success to demonstrate the worker knows how to apply the education.
In terms of education, there are two parts to consider: 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
The craftsman is knowledgeable in all facets of the methodology for his/her
line of work. For our purposes here, a methodology refers to "Who" is to
perform "What," "When," "Where," "Why," and "How" (aka "5W+H"). As such, the
craftsman must be fully cognizant of the work breakdown structure, the
dependencies between steps, deliverables, along with the various techniques
and tools used throughout the methodology. From this, he/she can devise a
reliable estimate of the costs needed to produce the work product, as well as
schedule the time to deliver it.
A true craftsman is so knowledgeable about the work product and the
methodology to produce it he/she can even advise other professionals in how to
modify/improve them, such as architects and engineers (including industrial
- THE SPIRIT - This represents the personal 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 simply because
he/she views his/her professional life as an extension of his/her personal
life. As such, the craftsman must be empowered to make certain decisions on
how to build/deliver the work product in order to achieve a sense of
ownership. From this perspective, techniques such as micromanagement is not
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 higher work ethic than others, and in all likelihood
possesses higher moral values due to his/her fastidious attention to "Right
To summarize, the elements of craftsmanship can perhaps be best expressed
using the following formula:
Craftsmanship = (Knowledge + Experience + Attitude) X
Knowledge - refers to both the person's initial and ongoing education.
Experience - refers to the person's application of his/her knowledge.
Attitude - refers to the person's sense of professionalism and dedication to
Success - refers to both customer and company satisfaction of the person's
WHO IS AFFECTED BY CRAFTSMANSHIP?
There are three interrelated parties involved with craftsmanship:
- The Worker - charged with producing the work product.
- The Company - which provides for a program of craftsmanship.
- The Consumer - to purchase and express satisfaction with the work product.
Without any one of these elements, craftsmanship breaks down. For example:
- It is not sufficient for a worker to simply want to be a craftsman; if the
company implements an unsuitable corporate culture, craftsmanship will not be
- It is not sufficient for the company to simply want to promote
craftsmanship; if workers do not exhibit self-initiative to produce 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 want products
built by craftsman; they must create the demand for such products and offer
feedback in terms of their satisfaction with them.
To embrace craftsmanship, a company must devise a suitable corporate culture.
This includes the following elements:
- EMPOWERMENT OF THE WORKER to make certain decisions regarding
development of the work product. This is often described as managing from the
"bottom-up" as opposed to just "top-down" which is conducive to a Theory Y
form 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 responsible 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 is not 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 ORGANIZED WORK ENVIRONMENT
promoting a more professional attitude amongst the workers. Ideally, the
creation of an environment where workers can focus on their work with minimal
distractions and take pleasure in coming to work (a sort of "home away from
home"). Inevitably, this will include a redefinition of acceptable forms of
dress and behavior, grooming, form of address, and office appearance.
This also includes 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 middle 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 same manner as the first worker. Also,
standard methodologies provides an excellent 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 produce them. This 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 level of
expertise. Historically, this has been referred to 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 help 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 establish a
feedback loop to judge satisfaction with a specific 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 should be set in place to provide for such
analysis thereby providing a convenient means to monitor worker performance.
The premise behind affecting the corporate culture in this regards is to
treat workers like professionals who should act as such in return.
BENEFITS & BYPRODUCTS
From a corporate viewpoint, is true craftsmanship the right 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
produce products using less skilled workers; after all, they do not have the
same level of knowledge and experience that veteran craftsman have to produce it
and, as such, craftsman can produce it faster with fewer mistakes. The cost for
an experienced craftsman will undoubtedly be higher than novice workers, but
savings will 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 as well as referrals.
Comparing the development cost of different classes of products is like
comparing apples and oranges, it is simply not an accurate comparison. For
example, the cost to build a luxury automobile will be substantially different
than the cost 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).
Some of the byproducts realized from embracing a corporate program of
- 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 produts, the
inter-changeability of workers on assignments (as opposed to 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 customer - 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 company.
- The worker - believes he/she is leading a worthy and meaningful
life, thus promoting self-esteem and employee development.
- The company - 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 switch jobs thereby causing
production interruptions. Harmony in the workplace also promotes improved
communications, teamwork and corporate loyalty. In other words, craftsmanship
adds to the bottom-line of a business.
But make no mistake, the consumer is the impetus for craftsmanship. As long
as customers accept inferior workmanship without complaint, companies will
continue to produce shoddy work products in the least expensive means possible
and workers will not be allowed to produce superior products.
The outcry for craftsmanship must begin with the customer.
If you would like to discuss this with me in more depth, please do not
hesitate to send me an e-mail.
1 - The author wants to acknowledge and thank
Mario Guertin of
Painting in Partnership
for his generous input.
2 - In an Internet survey conducted in December 2007, random people were
"In your opinion, do you believe Craftsmanship in general is in decline in
- YES - Craftsmanship is in decline., 25 votes, 81.00%
- NO - Craftsmanship is not in decline., 6 votes, 19.00%
About the Author
Tim Bryce is a writer and management consultant located in Palm Harbor,
He can be contacted at:
Copyright © 2008 Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2008-01-27 22:12:30 in Business Articles