Management unleashed – Refreshing your people management
By John Bittleston
Previously, management worked on the principle that people perform best when they are organised. On production lines, in military establishments, for worldwide logistics, this remains the case. Order created by hierarchy is simple, easily understood and clearly accountable. It depends on obedience to work properly. In a slow-moving world, command and obey were efficient tools of management. Innovation played a minor part at such a time. Indeed, it was often regarded as disruptive and the cause of disorder. Toeing the line won you brownie points. Breaking the mould didn’t.
An increase in pace is only one reason why such basic management no longer works as well as it did. Freedom of thought and expression, availability of knowledge, instant communication across the world, a desire for discovery and the perception that we humans can determine our own future, all contribute to a breakdown of the rigid structures that built a solid, obedient and steady world.
Individuals have come to learn what democracy has been teaching them for the last 150 years. They have rights. Not obligations of loyalty to a particular political style or party, or to identifiable social and business groups, but rights to think what they think and to vote to order the world to suit it. Political management, too, has fallen behind the need to make progress. Voting is a slow and drawn-out process, available only intermittently and then with the limitation of a choice of a person. The ‘yes’ or ‘no’ of politics is as restrictive as the hierarchy of commerce.
Uprisings everywhere, from the boulevards of Paris to the bagong silang payatas of Manila, from the Sistine Chapel in Rome to the House of Commons in Westminster, speak of discontent with a system that for too long has repressed human spirits. Mobile phones, Facebook and social media generally have emphasised our individuality, our humanity with rights.
We still need to manage and be managed. While disruption is good for creativity, it can be harmful for society. Management based on gorilla strength will not stop riots forever. Authority needs more than clout to impose its will, as every army has discovered. Managers need to be unleashed from systems and processes and learn to think how to handle each opportunity and problem.
In my new column, Management Unleashed, I will suggest novel ways in which these new challenges can be met. The series will cover many subjects, with the first exploring: Refreshing your people management.
If all you want from your employees is profits, you are doomed to disappointment. Such simplistic and clear-cut demands were possible when there were more employees than jobs and when the lack of a job spelt starvation for an employee’s family. In places where these situations still apply, driving your employees to provide you with profits may still be possible. Not for long, however. We know how the other half lives. We aspire to a higher standard of living. We aim to be human.
Today’s cox in the river boat race shouts enthusiasm to the crew, not threats.
Physical exhaustion is a rewarding way of finishing a day’s work. It exercises the body well, the mind adequately and the emotions satisfactorily. To see the results of a day of hard physical work leaves a glow of achievement not easily obtained elsewhere. Hard mental work doesn’t come near it. Thinking without a physical balance is stressful, sometimes to the point of breakdown. A workout in the gym helps but provides none of the rewards of clearing, cultivation and construction.
Many surveys have attested to the fact that money, by itself, is a poor motivator. Our education of the purpose of money, and our mishandling of it, have given it a life of its own quite beyond its true worth. For the ordinary wage-earner, money is a symbol of goods and services, nothing more. S/he wants other things from life than endless symbols. Ironically, discovering Artificial Intelligence makes us more aware than we previously were of our special attributes as humans.
Management attitudes have changed very little over the last 100 years. Top managers will disagree. Their encouragement to change has had small effect at middle-management level. Their words at the conference dais differ greatly from those at the appraisal discussion. Appraisals are mostly lies, anyway. When not, they are threats. Reasoned discussion and help are seldom part of an annual judgment. More people get fired after good appraisals than after bad ones.
What does all this say for managing employees in the 21st Century?
It says that attitudes, including the concept of ‘employee’, are wrong. A job is not a slice of time purchased by the buyer to be treated as suits him or her. Employees are not prostitutes selling their bodies for the best price and the minimum effort. They are partners in an adventure to make the world a better place – for others as well as for themselves and their owners. They are humans, capable of good and bad, to be given guidance sometimes and initiative at other times.
Here are five questions every boss should ask himself or herself regularly:
Q1. How many of my reports come to me with their personal problems?
If the answer is ‘none’ you are an indifferent employer.
Q2. Who have I helped to grow in knowledge, wisdom and stature in my role as boss?
If the answer is ‘very few’ you are a poor developer of people.
Q3. Which of my reports could take over from me if I died suddenly?
If the answer is ‘less than three’ you are putting your business at risk.
Q4. Which customers have complimented me on the performance of one or more of my reports?
If the answer is ‘none’ you are not building a team in the eyes of your customers.
Q5. Which of my reports has come to me for advice about their career?
If the answer is ‘very few’ you are neglecting your duty as a mentor.
There are, of course, many more questions to be asked to establish the presence of a good leader. These five are fundamental to creating a business that will be sustainable, developable and fun. And if your business isn’t fun for those who work in it, it will become a hell on earth, stoking disloyalty, dishonesty and dismal results.
A change in attitude is not easy. Nor is it all that difficult. It requires only that you see yourself as someone here for the benefit of others as well as for the benefit of yourself. It is what a mentor does. And every boss is a mentor for good or bad. For all.