1) to do the work (produce output, product, service), and
2) to improve the work.
If the person is clear about the purpose of their work, then 1 and 2 should be easy to deliver if they have the right resources, skills, and understanding of users’ (e.g. customers) needs.
But managers rarely leave it at that…
Traditionally, managers get people to do ‘better’ in their work by what John Seddon tags as ‘sweating the labour’ – getting the people to work harder or faster. The idea is that you get more output for the same hours work – essentially more for the cost (efficiency).
Of course the idea of the sweatshop is morally uncomfortable – exploitation to achieve a profit motive. Yet we still stick to the idea by setting targets: ‘You produced 100 widgets last month, let’s have you aim for 110 widgets this month‘.
It seems plausible – motivational even! What possibly could be the harm in setting a target?
Well, the widgets are being created for a purpose – presumably the purpose for which the customer buys them. And that purpose is associated with the design and quality if production in the widget that is produced.
If you create arbitrary targets (and measures of performance) you will create a de facto purpose in people’s mind which is to deliver those targets. This is different from actually delivering the purpose of the work.
Your worker will work to produce 110 widgets BUT not necessarily a widget that meets the customer needs, nor a widget that could be produced faster or at lower cost whilst still meeting the customers needs, other than by cutting corners (lowering quality or increasing risk). The worker is busy but has got his eye off the ball. This produces errors and lowers the quality of work – which will probably have to be redone – at greater cost.
“Management involves getting the most efficient utility from people and resources;
Leadership involves getting people to do things they would not otherwise choose to do.”
EVEN IF TRUE DOES THAT MAKE IT RIGHT?
In a nutshell the statements on management and leadership summarise conventional wisdom accrued since 1900, first through the ‘scientific management’ methods of Frederick Taylor and later the alternative ‘human relations’ approach advocated by Elton Mayo. The latter’s approach was apparently set to counteract the rigidity and hierarchies of the former. Unfortunately both approaches have the same defective focus – ‘doing it to people’. They are both a reflection of a command-and -control mindset which many would percieve as ‘managerialism‘.
Improvement comes from understanding the system and making meaningful improvements to ensure better outcomes. Doing it to people does not achieve this. Whilst efficiency in car manufacture increases, so do the additional costs of salaries to compensate boring jobs, and industrial relations and (at best) static levels of quality – in other words total costs go up.
Whilst most managers and leaders do not want to be working for the ‘dark side’ and genuinely want the better for their teams, they must understand that if they follow the scientific/human relations approach the consequences of their actions are: de-motivation, a loss of dignity, a diminished sense of purpose, and reduction of productivity in their staff.
In knowledge industries, additional contributions to the total cost of this disruption is hidden, for example losses of skilled workers, high staff turnover and recruitment and so on.
The choice is clear: managers and leaders need to find a better way…
Hanlon G. (2015) The Dark Side of Management: A secret history of management theory, Routledge
Roscoe, P. (2015) How the takers took over from the makers. Times Higher Education, 26 November, p48
Seddon, J. (2003). Freedom from Command and Control. Buckingham: Vanguard Press.
Dan Pink’s 2009 talk on The Puzzle of Motivation was one of the most-watched TED Talks (see the video link above) and draws from the ideas he researched for his book ‘Drive’. In the book he explores the research around aspects of intrinsic motivation which he divides into autonomy, mastery and purpose.
This knowledge of human behaviour counters traditional models of motivation driven by rewards and punishment (i.e. ‘carrot and stick’) which are dominated by a focus on external factors such as pay.
This new thinking around motivation is based around Self-Determination Theory (see Ryan and Deci, 2000), although the origins also link back to the core ideas of systems thinkers and practitioners such as Deming, who was also a student of psychology.
A sense of purpose is essential for people to focus their work AND to give meaning to their work (Deming 1994). Autonomy involves the opportunity to influence the work that is being done and is based on an ability to make decisions using information to hand.
As Pink points out, any work requiring some degree of cognitive ability (i.e. aside from the most menial), will see higher worker performance when degrees of autonomy, mastery and purpose are increased.
Deming, W.E. (1993) The New Economics, MIT CAES, Cambridge MA.
Pink D. (2009) Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us. Riverhead Books.
Ryan, R.M. and Deci, E.L. (2000) Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being. American Psychologist, 55 (1): 68-78.
To paraphrase Richard Branson, ‘happy staff = happy work’, and for Branson, that means that customers will also be happy and your organisation will be successful.
Motivational theory and systems theory tells us that a work (the way it is designed and the constraints placed upon people doing it) also influences whether people are satisfied with what they do. In other words, happy work creates happy people.
Deming talked about dignity in work decades before it became a focus of attention in Human Resource departments. His philosophy was ‘centered on people and the dignity of work. He believed that people should have joy in their work, that the system within which they work should be designed to make this possible and to enable workers to reach their full potential to contribute to the enterprise‘ and that system is management’s responsibility (Tortorella, 1995).
So for happy also read ‘joyful‘. Quite an expectation! But consider this: whilst a happy person is satisfied, a joyful person brings renewed energy and vigour into their activities, interests and relationships – exactly what we need in a high performing team. And a joyful person can be as quiet and dignified as they wish, or as outwardly enthusiastic as they wish, but their joy will rub off positively onto the people around them.
Interestingly, research suggests that in terms of guiding behaviour and performance, people tend to prefer feedback (i.e. a consequence of what they have done) rather than guidance (an antecedent). Time spent highlighting rules and having team meetings to brief people on work or remind them of key issues (like health and safety) is less effective in shaping the desired behaviour required at work. This is important in deciding where interventions are needed to enable people to become more productive (not much productivity is achieved by attending a meeting!).
Remember the ABC of motivation: Consequences drive Behaviour more than Antecedents. However, this does NOT mean we should manage people by ‘punishment and reward’! Punishment and reward conditions people into behaviours, stifles creativity, reduces feedback and suggestions and encourages people to hide mistakes or problems, even to cheat the figures (otherwise they get punished). Punishment and reward is a very blunt and undiscriminating instrument – it can easily punish good behaviour and reward bad behaviour (think bankers bonuses here!).
Consequences must be carefully design: do people know the purpose of what they are doing, be committed to it, be able to monitor their work to achieve it and be able to adapt and improve things intelligently to achieve the desired outcomes?
Deming, W. E. (1994). The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education (2nd ed.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Center
for Advanced Engineering Study.
Kohn, A. (1986). No Contest: The Case against Competition. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
There is a growing discussion in our institution about the ‘values’ and the principles which we should use to run the organisation, make decisions and design the future. Few people would argue that ‘values’ are irrelevant – even politicians dare to refer to them when there is a moral outrage or a disclosure of unethical behaviour.
However as Edgar Schein (the man credited with inventing the term ‘corporate culture’) noted back in the 1980s, what an organisation says are its values are not necessarily the same as its ACTUAL values. This makes sense because in reality, organisations don’t have values – it is the people within them that carry and interpret values, on an individual or collective basis (probably both).
Actual values are represented in rules, policies, conversations and behaviours (including our decisions to ignore or break rules); these are the things which are followed by people on a day-to-day basis. Values may be stated or unstated, but because they guide the way people think and work, it is the actual, enacted values which most accurately describe the culture of the organisation (rather than the common wish-lists included on posters or corporate websites).
One challenge is to understand what those actual values are and then to decide if any need changing. The consistency and integrity of stated and actual values is not just a conversation topic; it has impact on performance and results. If we say we value innovation, then that must be reflected in the innovative way we work, the innovative services or products we offer and the innovative skills and mindsets of people that are recruited, retained, developed and promoted.
However, if an organisation claims to be innovative (or ‘encourages innovation’), yet has rules, sets budgets or makes decisions which are constructed such that they prevent or discourage people from innovating, it is clear that:
i) innovation is not a meaningful value at all.
ii) staff will be demotivated; a lack of integrity in ‘values’ creates cynicism and undermines trust.
iii) mismatches between ‘what we say’ and ‘what we do’ de-stabilises people, decisions and work.
To make matters worse, it is likely that points i, ii and iii combine, discouraging otherwise innovative staff even further, thereby making the organisation even LESS innovative than might have been the case had ‘innovation’ never been promoted in the first place.
This is why it can be so damaging if values and vision are addressed, discussed and promoted by an organisation without the full and consuming understanding and commitment of the leaders who wish to see them implemented. It can never be a paper exercise, because the negative the consequences are real.
So if we are going to talk values in our organisation, we need to do this with integrity and care – based on very clear thinking. If our thinking is muddled, our message will appear confused. Confusion runs the risk that our value system will be considered either unauthentic or ill thought-out; either of which reduces the credibility of what we say.
This presents several challenges. How do we make sure that the values we espouse are internally consistent (with each other) and how are the same values externally validated through our own behaviour (and shown to be authentic)? This might seem to be a significant challenge, but there is a silver lining:
If we see inconsistencies in values and behaviour that others see, by changing our behaviour and creating helpful, meaningful consistency, we will show that we are serious and this will influence other people, accelerating the change.
By working hard to fall behind clear values, and re-set the rules, policies, conversations and behaviours in the institution, leaders can have a big impact on culture. Some organisations have been transformed this way in relatively short periods of time.
Leaders need to develop a good ‘cultural radar’ and be aware of how people’s behaviours match (or do not match) the desired values of the organisation – and be ready to challenge where necessary.
With the correct thinking it is possible for Leaders to develop conversations with everyone about shared values. These conversations can occur in any meeting, or at set-piece events such as a ‘management forum’, a strategic presentation, a new-employee induction event, or at an all-employee ‘town hall’ gathering). Conversations should enable constructive challenge concerning how things work now and what might be an agenda for change. The change agenda should be set at a practical level, addressing aspects of service delivery, budget setting, recruitment and promotion, for example.
Everybody should be expected to maintain integrity in the way that they operate against the communicated values. This includes being courageous enough to challenge inconsistencies when they become apparent and having a healthy and supportive debate when new or unexpected issues arise to challenge our previous assumptions.
Integrity starts with ourselves, then flows out to others with whom we work; it builds trust.
Read more on Organisational Culture:
Schein E. (2004) Organizational Culture and Leadership, John Wiley and Sons, NY
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