Are you warming or others or burning them?

Photo by andrewmalone

In The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement by David Brooks, the author writes:

State power is like fire—warming when contained, fatal when it grows too large. In his view, government should not run people’s lives. That only weakens the responsibility and virtue of the citizens. But government could influence the setting in which lives are lived. Government could, to some extent, nurture settings that serve as nurseries for fraternal relationships. It could influence the spirit of the citizenry.

Reread it with the words “government” replaced by “management” and “citizens” replaced by “employees”:

Managerial power is like fire—warming when contained, fatal when it grows too large. In his view, management should not run people’s lives. That only weakens the responsibility and virtue of the employees. But management could influence the setting in which lives are lived. Management could, to some extent, nurture settings that serve as nurseries for fraternal relationships. It could influence the spirit of the employees.

I couldn’t have put it better. No to micro-management. Yes to creating environments that support relationships, human connection and practical wisdom. No to rules that are only mechanisms of control. Yes to boundaries that enable safe exploration and supports people where complete freedom and autonomy fails.

Simple but not simplistic. Hard to put into practice. It is much easier to try to control everything. It usually doesn’t work in the long-run.



Photo by SliceofNYC

I am a member of a Linkedin group called: “Harvard Business Review – Reader’s Forum” where discussions are being held around topics that appear in HBR. One of these ongoing discussions revolves around the following questions: “Is it beneficial for a company to allow its employees to use social media at work for personal usage? Why?”

I personally not only think it is beneficial, I also think it is inevitable. Many participants, however, disagree. Today, these two comments were added to the discussion:

I strongly discourage such social networking at work, not only it creates distraction at work, it also increases the risk of information security. There are other ways to promote social networking by placing PCs outside the work zone where people can use open internet (and remember not to put chairs there : ) ).

Would you let your workers go visit family and friends and having nice time during office hours….. definitely NO……..then there is no reason we should let this culture permeate through our work culture via any other medium (social networking sites), i agree with (name taken off)… rather that barring such activities all together….. one can keep them for those leisure seconds during work….by making them a part of the leisure zone where one can one can easily curse their work and bosses…

These kinds of comments make me both sad and angry. Not because I disagree with them. It is ok to have conflicting opinions and not everybody should think like me. Moreover, I am sure that there are some circumstances, be they cultural or contextual, where my opinion might be wrong and it will be a good idea to ban social media.

What made me sad and angry is that the people who wrote these comments hold a world view that sees employees as chattel. They see employees as cogs in a machine. What I imagine them thinking to themselves as they write these comments is something like this: “We need to make sure the employees work all the time. We must be productive. If they want to ‘socialize’ they can do it in a cage. Not on our time’.

While this kind of approach might work for certain industries I believe it is not going to work for most. And if in your place of work employees have the potential to access social media , your place of work is probably in the list of places where this kind of approach is not only irrelevant, it is detrimental to the work itself.

Seth Godin wrote in his blog today:

The easiest form of management is to encourage or demand that people do more. The other translation of this phrase is to go faster.

The most important and difficult form of management (verging on leadership) is to encourage people to do better.

I agree. Better. Not faster. Not more. Not cheaper. If we want people to do better, we have to let go of the mechanisms of control designed to stimulate productivity. We have to celebrate and stimulate passion. We have to stop fearing what we don’t know. We have to treat our employees as partners, not as serfs. We have to trust them and enable them to do their work on their own terms and hold them accountable. We should respect them. The comments quoted above show disrespect for other people. And I think disrespect for other people is reason enough for me to be both sad and angry.



The challenge of diversity and innovation – a different way to approach motivation

Photo by Sanj@y

Last week (yes I know, who writes about things that happened last week anymore, right?) John Kotter wrote an interesting post on titled: What a Physicist Taught Me About Leading Change. In it, Kotter describe the importance of diversity for developing new ideas:

Whenever you get people with diverse backgrounds looking at the same thing you can come up with ideas that might not have developed otherwise. That is hardly news. But I’ve learned in studying large-scale change that if the people are very different, in relevant ways, and want to work together (not appointed to be on one more task force), the possibilities are great.

I emphasized the words “and want to work together” in the quote because it touches the heart of the challenge of managers today that have to deliver innovation if they want their companies to survive.  As Kotter says, some types of innovation will only develop out of diversity. These are usually the game changing, radical innovations. And if we want to keep delivering them, we need to keep at putting together diverse teams.

But here lies the challenge. Diversity is hard. More than that, innovation is hard. Innovation out of diversity requires learning that is difficult, because it involves heading right on into areas you are not familiar with along with someone who doesn’t really speak your language or gets you. And in order to that, you have to be truly motivated. A kind of motivation that can only emerge and cannot be mandated.

Our management structures, unfortunately, are not built to support this kind of motivation. This is a kind of motivation that will not come out of mechanisms of control or rules, but only out of autonomy, mastery and especially, purpose. That is the real challenge of diversity. It demands a change in our leadership mindset.

So, how do you make sure your diverse group wants to work together?



Experts and novices

Photo by Mai Le

Seth Godin has fascinating short post out today. He describes his own interpretation of The Dreyfus model of skill acquisition. His conclusions:

1. Don’t talk to all your employees, all your users or all your prospects the same way, because they’re not the same.

2. If you treat an expert like a novice, you’ll fail.

I love point number one because I extensively write about it myself (for a summary, see here). The notion of equality must be banished from places it is not needed at. As Godin hints – in the area of marketing – and of course, in the area of managing people. If treat everybody the same we get cogs in a machine. The answer should be found in the idea of Equifinality. There are a lot of ways to reach success.  If we treat everybody according to their uniqueness we create variety which is beneficial. In the past, management practices were built on mechanisms of control that were intended to deal with heterogeneity. Today, this heterogeneity is need ingredient in the creation of innovation. We don’t need to control it, we need to embrace it.

But point number two is not less powerful. As I mention in my no more rules presentation, the use of rules and lose of judgment and practical wisdom is a short-run gamble for productivity. In the long run, only self-thinking, experts how develop practical wisdom through trial and error could produce tangible innovative, human connecting results. When you treat somebody like a novice, you are sacrificing his or her future ability because you prevent him from developing the qualities you need the most.



When should a manager force employees to do things they don’t want to do?

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Dan Ariely wrote an interesting post about the Chilean pension system that mandates savings by all citizens. Not surprisingly, Ariely calls the post: “Want People to Save? Force Them”. This connects with an earlier post by Ariely (which I also wrote about) that discussed an experiment which showed  that by limiting the list of questions people could use to engage in a conversation, deeper and more meaningful conversations were brought to life.

These two posts got me thinking. In this blog I write a lot about rules in management and about how managers should let go of the mechanisms of control. I generally believe that the basic concepts Dan Pink presents in his book, Drive, of Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose are three of the most important tools managers have in their disposal.

At the same time, I do believe that sometimes, managers should force some processes on their employees. Just like people are bad at saving and need to be made to save, because in the longer-term it is better for them, there are things employees would not do and need a manager to force them. Engaging in more meaningful conversations is a great example. And if we can do that by designing the rules of the meeting differently (for example), this is an important tool that managers should use.

This is a very difficult conclusion for me as it goes against many of my personal beliefs about liberty and the importance of choice (more on this unrelated subject – see here). But I do believe that great leaders and managers know how to walk the line between allowing autonomy and forcing people to engage in some important paternalistic processes. I don’t have a complete list of these instances, but I am planning to start thinking more and more about this subject.

Any ideas? In what issues do you think managers should force employees to do things for their own long-term benefits?



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?


From homogeneity to heterogeneity through loss of control


I was reading Jon Gordon’s blog yesterday:

We had a good laugh but Cary’s customer service was no laughing matter. I go there all the time and have bought hundreds of meals because I know when I go there I’ll get what I want. It’s no wonder that Aqua Grill has been open for 20 years while every week it seems another restaurant in my area has opened and closed.

Success is simple. Give customers what they want and they’ll come back. You don’t have to give away the house. In fact Aqua Grill and Pappasito’s cost a little more than their nearby competition but they are busier and more successful.

If it is so simple, why is it so hard? Why is it so hard to give people what they want? One word. Control.

Control is a way to deal with heterogeneity. To produce homogeneity. If I only give one type of dish, I can make more of it, faster. It is based on yesterday’s world of thinking – where productivity was king and we standardized everything in order to produce more.

Those days are gone.

We are slowly but surely moving away from a world of productivity and mass production, to a world of creativity and customization. And trying to use the same mechanisms of control that were used to stifle heterogeneity in a world where heterogeneity needs to thrive, is crazy.

But we still do. Maybe it is our human nature. Maybe it is just bad habits or our resistance to change. It does not matter. The rules, regulations and other forms of control, all these things that deny people their autonomy and freedom in the work place have an expiry date. We don’t that date yet, but they do.

Read this example Gary Hamel’s post in the Management Lab about unshackling employees where he explains how by letting local employees set the opening times of their bank branches (at night, during the weekend or whenever), a bank created not only engaged employees, but more business. Here is a little excerpt (read the whole thing, it’s worth it):

Blair summarizes the changes at BNZ with a telling anecdote. “I was walking by one of our stores on a Sunday morning with my kids, and my son said, “Dad, the doors on the bank are open.” And I thought, crap, someone forget to close the doors. But then I looked in, and saw that the entire store was open. No one is forced to roster on Sunday, but team members had come in from other branches in order to swap their hours. One mom was there working on Sunday because she wanted to take Wednesday off. And it hit me: no one at head office even knows when the stores are open.” Adds Chris, “The freedom to open when you want may not be the biggest thing we’ve done, but it’s the most symbolic in terms of telling our people, ‘we trust you, and we’re serious about empowering you.’”

It is the same process. Same hours for all branches. A mechanism of control that is supposed to create homogeneity that is supposed to lead to productivity. However what the bank realized is that by losing control and succumbing to the heterogeneity they enable creativity that leads to the customization that customers wanted.