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Biopsychosocial Work Systems

Advances in human performance and productivity

The practice of improving work performed by people is at least 50 years behind the many remarkable advances that have been adopted into mechanized work.

Advances in both technology (e.g., controllers, robotics, RFID) and methods (e.g., lean, TOC, six sigma) have dramatically improved the flow and processing of materials and data, in particular throughout production and logistics operations. The same cannot be said about improving the people side of these operations, as the principal approach to improving work performed by people remains automation (i.e., worker elimination), which ultimately does little to advance the remaining work still performed by people within these operations.

While computer and communications technology have facilitated the work of people—sometimes increasing and sometimes decreasing their effectiveness—humaneering technology, which in 2013 reached limited open-beta release, is potentially the first real advancement with the capacity to improve the human dimensions of work performed by people (e.g., engagement, motivation, commitment, initiative, creativity, learning).

Two vital aspects of improving human performance and productivity that are advanced substantially by humaneering technology are (1) a focus on whole work systems, and (2) an emphasis on the human, or biopsychosocial, dimensions of work systems.

Improving whole work systems

Systems are a way of understanding the interconnectedness of things. It was Aristotle who came up with the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but it seems we continue to struggle with applying this reality when we search for causes and solutions for undesirable outcomes (e.g., behavior, quality, profit).

All too often, managers look for the more obvious event immediately preceding the outcome and proclaim this to be the cause and focus for solution. In fact, there is always a chain of events (i.e., chain of causes) leading up to the event getting the blame.

Furthermore, managers frequently assume that because people have been assigned responsibility (i.e., response-ability) and accountability (i.e., held to account) for an outcome that these people can in fact control the situation so as to produce the desired outcome. While the person in charge may have more delegated control than others, such control rarely extends to the complete chain of causes required to fully assure the outcome.

DesignedWORK systematically examines beyond the obvious event to determine the precise contributing causes that are producing current outcomes, and the precise actions required to assure effective improvement (i.e., fast, cost-effective, lasting). Moreover, we can examine and improve the human, or biopsychosocial, component of work systems, which is where human performance and productivity is typically determined.

Affecting the biopsychosocial dimensions of work

When people are involved, the work systems producing outcomes have an additional human (or biopsychosocial) component not found in purely physical work systems. This human component is not simple to recognize, and even more complex to affect for the desired outcome.

Biopsychosocial, a term introduced in 1979 and now utilized to describe today's standard for medical practice, calls attention to the fact that effectiveness with people can be achieved only by considering all aspects of being human. As the word biopsychosocial implies, this includes at least the three major dimensions of people recognized by the human sciences, namely our biological (e.g., health, rest, temperament), psychological (e.g., attitudes, emotions, learning), and social (e.g., support, relationships, culture) dimensions.

The biopsychosocial dimensions of human work have substantial importance for operations management. Operations managers may recognize this thinking already at work in their operations, in the context of cellular production (i.e., production cells), kaizen events, and agile project management. More insightful managers already recognize that each of methods is more effective that than prior methods specifically because each more fully engages and utilizes the human dimensions of the people involved. And much more is possible.

By more fully considering the biopsychosocial nature of workers and managers, DesignedWORK is able to guide operations managers in achieving step-increases in performance and productivity, resolving longstanding people problems, and simplify day-to-day managing so as to free up management's time for more strategic concerns.

Utilizing humaneering technology

DesignedWORK has adopted humaneering technology for the assessment and improvement of people-dependent operations. Our unique opportunity to support client experiments with the private-beta release of humaneering between 2009 and 2012 provided firsthand evidence of humaneering's potential to take human-dependent work to new levels of performance and productivity.

Humaneering's effectiveness is due in part to its focus on whole work systems, and the resulting capability to create systemic (or whole system) improvements, often with near-immediate impact and generally at limited cost. Humaneering's effectiveness is equally due to its emphasis on the human (or biopsychosocial) dimensions of people-dependent operations, which results in more precise determination of cause and more precise design and implementation of improvements.