“My boss was out all last week. It was like a vacation.”
A friend told me how much more she likes her job when her boss is out.
Yeah, her boss is terrible. No real surprise there.
But how many others would say the same thing? Even people with non-terrible bosses?
A general impression among employees is they want to be left alone. They want to come in, be trusted to do their work, and do a good job.
They don’t want to be managed.
Meaning that most employees don’t associate management involvement with high quality performance.
They don’t see it as a tool to be leveraged. They see it as a nuisance to be minimized.
Management = Punishment?
Peter Gibbons: The thing is, Bob, it’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care.
Bob Porter: Don’t… don’t care?
Peter Gibbons: It’s a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don’t see another dime, so where’s the motivation? And here’s something else, Bob: I have eight different bosses right now.
Bob Slydell: I beg your pardon?
Peter Gibbons: Eight bosses.
Bob Slydell: Eight?
Peter Gibbons: Eight, Bob. So that means that when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That’s my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.
If you haven’t seen Office Space, I highly recommend it. Peter’s dilemma is one that many employees face every day. Why should they provide more than the minimum?
We really can’t blame people for having this mentality. They’re just responding to the situation that management’s created.
If management involvement provides more headaches than benefit, why would people seek it? Who looks forward to a headache?
Show up late and the boss comes over to remind us about start times. Make a mistake and the boss is there to correct us. Take a chance and the boss is there to say that isn’t how we’ve always done it.
How many times do we see managers hovering over people, acting the role of an over-involved parent? Trying to bring about quality by mere presence. Hoping that people will work better if they’re standing over them.
At a fundamental level, if management’s main consequence is negative, people will see it as a form of punishment.
And as with any punishment, people will change their behavior to minimize it.
Which in the case of most organizations, means doing the minimum necessary to avoid it. Or doing just enough to get by.
And in today’s world, what business can succeed with getting “just enough to get by?”
Would We Prefer to Manage Corpses?
“Do not fall for the illusion that by preventing errors, you won’t have errors to fix. The truth is, the cost of preventing errors is often far greater than the cost of fixing them.” – Ed Catmull, Creativity, Inc.
Most managers aren’t intentionally overbearing. Few people come to work each day looking to squash creativity like Mr. Burns.
But our organization pressures us into these roles.
Managers are told we’re responsible for employee performance. That’s good. We should be.
But performance cannot be dependent on a lack of mistakes. It needs to be tied to our mission. It needs to measure the positive impact, not the absence of a negative one.
Quality metrics of zero missed deliveries or zero rework rate don’t reward performance. When we promote an error-free culture, we promote inaction over action. And we push people to aim for safe.
Dr. Ogden Lindsley developed the dead-man’s test to say “If a dead man can do it, it isn’t behavior, and you shouldn’t waste your time trying to produce it.”
If we value a mistake-free corpse over a risk-taking employee, we’re probably focusing on the wrong behaviors.
Is it any wonder why employees just want to be left alone?
We Need to Lead. Not Just Manage.
People don’t want to be managed. But they do want to be led.
Management is structure. Leadership is human.
Management is stable. Leadership is dynamic.
Management produces predictability and control. Leadership produces change and excitement.
Too often, management is focused on preserving the current state. Protecting a status quo that’s served us well for years. Whereas leadership looks to the future. It seeks change as a means of constantly improving. Of challenging the status quo and finding new opportunities to grow.
And most people want to grow. They want to look towards the future and see development opportunities. Because then they feel like they’re doing something worthwhile. And this contribution is what leads to a fulfilling career.
As Steven Kotter writes in Leading Change, “As an observer of life in organizations, I think I can say with some authority that people who are making an effort to embrace the future are happier than those who are clinging to the past.”
How do we turn this around?
It’s not an employee’s responsibility to value management involvement. It’s the manager’s responsibility to provide involvement that people will value.
People will respond to the environment they’re in. So it’s the manager’s responsibility to create an environment that encourages positive growth. One that encourages people to push the upper bounds of excellence.
How do we create this environment? What do we do so that management involvement is sought and appreciated?
It all centers around helping.
Help people to understand the path.
Help them to overcome obstacles.
Help them to get back up when they fall.
Help them see the impact of their efforts.
So, consider, how can we help?
How can we help people succeed?
How can we help people grow?
If we use these questions as guides, maybe people will be more likely to seek our involvement.
And people will look forward to our presence, rather than our absence.