Some management advice – treat your employees like serfs!

Photo by Erik Charlton


I was reading a post called Eight Things Your Employees Want from You by Melissa Raffoni on the blog. Here is the list:

1. Tell me my role, tell me what to do, and give me the rules.
2. Discipline my coworker who is out of line.
3. Get me excited.
4. Don’t forget to praise me.
5. Don’t scare me.
6. Impress me.
7. Give me some autonomy.
8. Set me up to win.

I could not disagree more.

Just look at the language. I, the little employee, need you, the big boss, to take control. I cannot excite myself. I need you, my liege, to get me excited. I want you, my monarch, to impress me and set me up to win. You are on top. I am in the bottom waiting for your holiness to give me some autonomy.

Really? Are you serious? Has it turned 1900 and I haven’t noticed? Or maybe more like the 1200?

Why instead won’t we treat employees like human beings? Like partners? Like people with different wants, needs, talents and strengths. Human beings that work with us for a common goal and that sometimes need our help, but that can help and teach us just the same. Human beings who thrive on actual autonomy (not one that is given – what are we – salves?), that want mastery and look for and develop a sense of purpose. Human beings who are smart and capable of showing practical wisdom and are shackled by all the rules and mechanisms of control the “managerial monarchy” levis on them.

I don’t have a problem with some of the behaviors Raffoni espouses (even though, number one really troubles me). You know what, I guess they probably work. I have a problem with the underlying assumptions. Just because something works, does not make it right. Employees are not cogs. They are not jackasses. And they are not serfs.

Wouldn’t you want to be treated like a human being? Are you treating your employees like serfs?


6 Responses to “Some management advice – treat your employees like serfs!”

  1. Randy Zwitch Says:

    Reading the article, and reading your interpretation, I don’t see it as black-and-white as ‘serf’ vs. ‘land-owner’.

    Perhaps #1 should’ve been written “Be clear on what you think my job entails, how you feel I can add value to a project, and give me the latitude to get the job done”

    Right now, I’m in a bit of a bind with my boss vs. his boss; each has a different view of what my ‘job’ is, and it makes it extremely difficult to prioritize. If just *one* of them would lay some minimum ground rules and let me run with it, productivity would soar…

  2. sherfelad Says:

    Hey Randy. Great comment! That is exactly my point. As my Prof. said in class a few weeks ago: “life is not about either-or life is a continuous fog”.
    I am not offering an opposite side approach to what the original article suggested. I am asking whether thinking in discrete “us vs. them” is beneficial? I am saying we have an issue of language and analogies just as we have issues with how to enable productivity and engagement.
    Just think about the situation you are in right now. The problem is not that they don’t lay the ground rules. The problem is that they are oblivious to the how you feel about it. And if they aren’t then the problem is that they know and do nothing about it. I don’t know enough about your situation to analyze it, but I would guess, there hasn’t been a open discussion of this issue between the three of you. If I am right (and I am taking a risk of being wrong here) than that is exactly my point – the management if over there while us serfs are confused over here.
    It is a mind set that I am talking about. It is expecting the grayness of life and work that I am talking about. That it the only way we can deal with today’s problems…
    Hope this clarifies my point a bit… Let me know what you think…

  3. Randy Zwitch Says:

    I definitely don’t think an “us vs. them” is beneficial as working environment. If both parties are operating efficiently, the boss is helping the worker by giving them opportunities for their career to progress through meaningful work. The worker keeps up his end of the bargain by making the boss look “smart” for putting the right person in charge of completing a project.

    But like any of the theories we learn in school, rarely do we get efficiency! Working in a very egotistical industry like financial services, there’s a great deal of ‘territorial disputes’; you want to look like a smart manager, but only to the extent that it increases your budget or furthers *your* ambitions.

    So, for me, I accept that it’s “us vs. them”, so if the person could at least set the groundrules, I’d move in the direction of least resistance/most success. Until I move on to something better!

  4. sherfelad Says:

    Oh! The dreaded financial industry. I heard some many stories about it, but until I attended NYU classes and heard some of the people working there talking, I could not have believed what a horrible world that is to work for.
    I think we agree with each other on the concept just not at the implementation (I guess we are not the first).
    I would say two things. One, just because that is the way things are does not mean that is the way things ought to be. If you don’t start changing that, even by taking a personal risk, who will?
    Two, I think I heard about a few financial industry institutions that don’t work this way and they are still very successful. I think SEI is one of them (this is all hearsay of course)…
    Just my 2 cents…
    Any thoughts?
    Thanks for stimulating the discussion!

  5. Re-recruiting employees « The Comparative Advantage Says:

    […] out looking for alternatives is a kind of betrayal. I wrote in the past on the tendency of managers to look at the people working with them as serfs. If you are the king, everybody needs to be loyal to you. But just like the best kings in the fairy […]

  6. 2010 in review at The Comparative Advantage « The Comparative Advantage Says:

    […] Some management advice – treat your employees like serfs! March 2010 5 comments 4 […]

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