April 4, 2018

Do We Need to Reconsider How We Think about Management?

If you ask an average manager in any organisation around the world what his/her job is, the answer you will almost certainly get will be various articulations of the same core idea about management. The vast majority of managers view their jobs as a matter of achieving a result through people. The fact that managers perceive their role in this way is not surprising, given that managers in general are measured against and rewarded for the results they get out of their people.

Any manager who views his/her role in this way will try to make skill use of the management tools at their disposal, including targets, deadlines, incentives, verbal communication, etc. This turns into what some people would call “carrot and sticks” leadership as it amounts to the use of either compulsion (stick) or persuasion (carrot) to get people to deliver. Managers generally think that to be more successful you must rely more on persuasion than compulsion, as it is their belief that persuasion works better than compulsion, in the long run. The most effective managers are thought to be those who are most skilled in the deployment of these tools or strategies. They know the best strategy to use in a given situation and are therefore versatile in their approach.

But, there are a number of problems with the “mechanistic” view of management.

There are inevitable consequences to the use of ‘sticks’ and ‘carrots’ management

All forms of compulsion actually motivate through fear. When you compel them, you threaten them with negative consequences. People understandably, feel that they are being forced, coerced or even bullied into doing things. They tend to listen but only in order to make the threat go away. This produces an attitude of passive resistance, the person will not invest in the thing, they do it only to avoid the threat. It breeds an attitude of “I will do exactly what you say and I hope that it fails”. In the long run this will produce apathy and a lack of commitment.

Carrots, on the other hand, appeal to the greed in human beings. Employees make the desired response but only in order to get what they want.

There is a limit to what ‘sticks’ and ‘carrots’ can deliver

Coercion and persuasion can and often do work. One can find many instances of significant improvements through the use of “carrots” and “sticks”. But, the problem is that these achievements are not sustainable because employees are doing what is required of them because they ‘have to’ not because they ‘want to’. Compulsion and persuasion do not depend on employees actually buying in and taking full ownership of the contribution that is required of them.  In the face of coercion they give what is required out of fear of punishment. It is fear of punishment that drives them, not commitment. In response to persuasive enticement they become concerned by what’s in it for them, they give in order to get. It is excitement of what they want that drives them, not commitment. Both strategies get movement but not willingness. Employees will only give if either the ‘stick’ or the ‘carrot’ is present. In the absence of the ‘stick’ or the ‘carrot’ they are inert.

Persuasion is often worse than compulsion.

Even if you are very skilled, people you are persuading, or trying to positively influence will not be fooled, particularly in the long run. If you are being nice in order to get something out of someone, they will sense that they are being manipulated and because of this, their response goes beyond resistance to retaliation, to getting their own back. Over time this leads to hostility and conflict. Both sides will only be in the relationship to maximise their own self-interest, to get as much as possible for giving as little as possible.

In response to both the compulsion and persuasion, employee reaction is predictable. This is because all people are hardwired to resist coercion and to retaliate when they feel manipulated. To avoid these consequences, managers need to re-define their own view of their role. They need to stop viewing their role as that of using people to achieve a result. They need to invert their understanding  of what their job is. The product of leadership is not a result, it is an exceptional human being.

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