Sometimes approaches to managing people simply do not work. However, I have heard people defend the failure of particular management approaches (like appraisal, ISO9000, quality circles etc.) by saying ‘its because it is not being done right‘. While this may be ‘true’ (in the sense that successes can occur), I think that a more circumspect approach must be taken when considering these methods:
- If it doesn’t’ work, is this failure a generally observed occurrence? (i.e is it something that predictably fails)
- Is it only failing on an unusual, ‘exception basis’ – once in a while?
- Might the approach be fundamentally flawed?
- Could there be a better way of achieving the desired outcome (assuming the desired outcome is genuinely that the manager wants to do a better job of managing) – in other words is the well-meaning manager barking up the wrong tree?
The problem with bolting ‘good’ approaches onto bad is that it proliferates the work of management, which adds cost, hassle and meddling with the real work (of serving customers, providing public services, educating, making cars, or whatever is our business).
Treating people well, usually involves doing something (‘nice’) to compensate for the default situation, where they suffer some sort of indignity, disappointment or frustration as the general state of affairs. The ‘nice’ idea masks the fundamental problems.
John Seddon openly criticises this type of woolly thinking – not because he thinks people are not worthy of being respected and treated with dignity, but because the respect and dignity should start in the way that their work and the system they work within is managed. In other words:
- don’t punish people for things out of their control,
- don’t design work to frustrate them from doing a good job,
- don’t waste their time.
- don’t make systems which expose them to unnecessary grief
(from customers and users)
Deming used to talk about dignity (long before most others used the term) and, as shown throughout his writing, appears to assume that everyone would be following the same ethos. Doing a ‘respect for people programme‘ would, to Deming, be absurd. Just as doing appraisals would be absurd, or adhering to standards, or setting targets. What do these approaches say about what managers really think about their staff (lazy? untrustworthy? unmotivated? stupid?)?
Some things in life are worth restoring and refurbishing, even upgrading. But others are just so fundamentally flawed that an upgrade is not worth the effort. The same can be said for many management methods.
Just make sure that you are not applying bolt-on management.
MacDonald, J. (1998) Calling a Halt to Mindless Change, Amacom, UK
Seddon, J. (2005) Freedom from Command and Control, Vanguard Press, Buckingham, UK.
However, the alternative perspective is offered by Bob Emiliani: