Gary Hamel is a management expert and author who talks extensively about the need to update our management systems. He points out that most of the management systems in place today were “invented” over a hundred years ago at the dawn of the industrial revolution when 90% of the population was still involved in agriculture and the average manufacturing company employed fewer than four people. But as that began to change . . . as factories became larger and as mass production came into play . . . we needed a way to organize untrained farmers and craftsmen into efficient, effective, and productive teams. Hence, management systems were born to handle the new demands of the Industrial Age . . . to make our output consistent and predictable. But between those early management beginnings and now, the world has changed. We now have a highly educated workforce and technologies at our disposal that those early management pioneers could not have even imagined. Yet we’re still using the same management systems and concepts that were developed over 100 years ago. Hamel urges us to look at how we’re managing people with an eye toward bringing our management systems into line with the realities of the 21st century. For more on this, please continue reading below.
“Much of what we call management today consists of making it difficult for people to work.” ~ Peter Drucker
Many of the things that distinguish modern business from its predecessors are so-called “modern miracles” . . . the internet, computers, air travel, television, and the like. But an even bigger difference is in the workforce we have today vs. the workforce of the 1890s. Back then, illiteracy was a significant problem. As recently as 1940, less than half of Americans over the age of 25 held high school diplomas. Today, 90% of the over 25 age group hold high school diplomas. Yet the way we manage people today is more consistent with an illiterate workforce than a highly educated one. Our people still need effective leaders, but they don’t necessarily need to be managed as much as they once did.
If you want to preside over a management system that’s appropriate for the workforce of the 21st century, here are some management practices you should consider adopting:
- Richard Teerlink, a former CEO of Harley-Davidson, once said, “People don’t come to work every day to do a bad job.” If you don’t believe that, you should stop reading here and be satisfied with an 1890s management system. But if you do believe it, then everyone in the company should be accorded the dignity and respect befitting people who genuinely want to do what’s expected of them.
- Do not permit micromanaging . . . not by you and not by anyone else in authority. It’s demeaning and it says in the loudest possible terms, “I don’t trust you to do things right unless I’m right on top of you to make sure.” Hire good people, give them the training and tools they need to do their work, then get out of their way and let them do it.
- As a manager, don’t be a cop on a beat, patrolling your area of responsibility and keeping an eye out for someone who might be doing something wrong. Instead, be a coach and mentor to those in your care. Help them to be successful. If necessary, defend them against other authority figures within the organization. When people feel like they have to keep watch over their shoulder to be vigilant for approaching threats or dangers, their attention is divided and they can’t be as effective in their work as they might otherwise be. But if they know you have their backs, they can feel safe and secure and can devote their full attention to meeting the needs of customers.
- Help employees achieve the work/life balance they want. Treat them as adults who are entirely capable of managing their own time. If an employee wants to take some time off to watch a child compete in an athletic event or perform in a school play, as long as the employee’s work is done on time and as long as the employee’s absence doesn’t interfere with anyone else completing their work on time, then why shouldn’t he or she be allowed a little personal time off?
- Treat employees as trusted colleagues by asking them to participate in the company’s problem-solving and decision-making processes. It’s particularly important to get input from employees whose jobs may be impacted by a decision being considered or by a solution about to be implemented. Employees who are doing the work everyday know a lot about that work. They know what they struggle with and what they don’t. They know where the opportunities are. Their knowledge and experience, their opinions and ideas are valuable resources that should not go to waste.
Here’s the thing. People adapt to the environment they’re placed in. If you treat them as if they’re ignorant, untrustworthy, and incapable of creative thought, then that’s probably the way they’re going to behave. They won’t show any initiative or try anything innovative. They will do what their managers tell them to do when their managers tell them to do it, but no more than that. Their objective will be to get through the day and then go home without getting into too much trouble.
On the other hand, if you treat people with the dignity and respect that is their due, if you recognize that they are bright creative people and have more to offer than just their hands and their backs, and if you invite them to fully participate in the company, its mission, vision, and values, you’ll get something entirely different. You’ll get a workforce that will go the extra mile for you and that will enthusiastically support the company’s objectives.