Home Best Practices “Much of what we call management today consists of making it difficult for people to work.”

“Much of what we call management today consists of making it difficult for people to work.”

Noted business author and keynote speaker, Dan Pink, talks about motivation . . . a lot. He talks about what motivates us and what does not.  He talks about which motivators work and which do not.  One of his favorite topics is “if-then” motivators.  “If you do this, then you’ll get that.”  Those motivators grew out of the Industrial Revolution and worked very well when we were asking people to achieve tasks that were relatively simple, straight-forward,  and short-term in nature.  But as businesses have become more complex and as we have asked people to become creative problem-solvers, “if-then” motivators have become less and less effective.  In fact, Pink would argue, when the task at hand requires a thoughtful, creative approach, “if-then” motivators may actually interfere with performance rather than improving it.  So if dangling a nice, juicy carrot in front of somebody doesn’t get the performance we want, what does?  For the answer to that question, please continue reading below.

“Much of what we call management today consists of making it difficult for people to work.”                       ~ Peter Drucker

People don’t like to be managed. They really don’t.  It feels manipulative, and the more tightly people are managed (i.e., micro-managed), the more they feel demeaned by it.  The implication is, “You’re too stupid (or too lazy or too irresponsible) to figure this out on your own, so we’re going to figure it out for you and tell you exactly what to do, how to do it, and when to do it.”  The very structure of management is aimed at getting compliance, and while we still need a certain level of compliance today, we also want commitment . . . we want people to complete their assigned tasks because they want to, not because they have to.  (Our previous posting on leadership talked about this concept of “want to” vs. “have to”).

Where motivation is concerned, there is no single magic bullet that works equally with everybody and in all situations, but one powerful motivator for most people and in most situations is autonomy. Self-direction.  Give people discretion over how they allocate their time.  If they work on a team, allow them a voice as to who else is on the team.  Get their input when you are assigning tasks, and absolutely give them as much latitude as possible in determining how those tasks will be completed.

If you’re distrustful of people and their work habits, then you will have a difficult time granting them the level of autonomy we’re suggesting here. But personally, I agree with Richard Teerlink, former CEO of Harley Davidson, who said, “People don’t come to work every day to do a bad job.”  I do believe most people show up for work each day genuinely intending to do good work and to do what’s expected of them, but they want to do that work on their own terms.

The job of management is to:

  • negotiate the terms of the work to be accomplished in a way that gets commitment rather than compliance.
  • clear roadblocks that interfere with people completing their tasks.
  • make sure people have the resources they need to get the job done.
  • get out of their way and let them get on with their work with as much autonomy as possible.

Companies are finding creative ways to breathe some autonomy into their employees’ workplace experience. Consider:

  • a software company that gives its engineers one day per quarter to work on anything they want, as long as it has nothing to do with their regular job.
  • a grocer who hires people on a 30-day trial basis. At the end of the trial period, the new employee’s co-workers decide if he or she will stay on.
  • an online retailer who gives its call center employees just one simple instruction: “When a call comes in, solve the customer’s problem. Do it however you want, take as much time as you need, but solve the customer’s problem.”  NOTE: This is a tactic that will allow some autonomy in many situations, not just call centers. Tell your employees the outcome you’re looking for (in this case, satisfied customers), but let them figure out how to deliver that outcome. Tell them the “what,” but leave the “how” to them.

It’s not realistic to think we can give everyone full autonomy 100% of the time. But as the above examples show, with a little creative thought, we can give people at least some control over those things that impact their work and their workplace experience.  And when we do that, we demonstrate trust . . . trust in their skills, trust in their work ethic, and trust in their ability to figure stuff out on their own.  In return, we get their creativity and their commitment to do what’s expected of them.

It seems to me that’s a pretty good deal all around.

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