Editorís Note: This is the first of a two-part extended article. The second part will appear in the September issue.
This column was originally titled ďManaging People is for Suckers!Ē I was a bit eager to get your attention. Itís time to consider a meaningful shift away from the implausible notion that anyone, including a business owner, could ever effectively ďmanageĒ a fellow human being.
It may seem strange for a person who has studied the history of personnel management and organizational behavior to make such a declaration. I havenít lost faith in the role of HR; on the contrary I believe itís more vital than ever. Iíve come to realize that developing a creatively managed and appealing business environment where the right people can do what they do best, is where managementís energy should go. Itís a different way to see things . . . a wisdom borne of never-ending people problems and insomnia hatched by a quest for high morale and 100 percent employee happiness.
The fact is consistently managing people well is nearly impossible, particularly with a business that requires technical skills and creative problem solving. These free-thinkers are even less manageable than most. If you include all the people youíve been powerless to manage in your personal life (mate, children, friends, parents, in-laws) it becomes clear that the concept of people management is a wildly self-delusional conceit. Itís not hard to understand the disappointment that owners feel when the happy staff that they work so hard to assemble and care so much about refuses to materialize. Often, the answer lies in creating the right environment and then carefully stocking each position with remarkable people. These self-managers will be naturally aligned with the values you want your company known for. Within the right environment, they are good to go!
Defining Your Environment
Before you can successfully manage your environment, you must carefully and honestly examine and diagnose your business. Donít fudge. Be real in your assessment so you know what needs improving. Some identifying questions include:
- How much do you reveal about your business?
- Do you partner with your people or stand guard as Chief?
- Would people find Management intimidating?
- Is your firm warm, friendly and somwhat casual or more policy-driven and formal?
- Do you foster a team spirit or is it mostly individualistic?
Why Does The Right Environment Matter?
Fifty years ago it didnít. Simply put, our values changed ó asset values that is. The power shifted when great ideas became worth more than factories, forests, railroads and steel. Once, the work force was more faceless and owners used more command and control directives. When the information age dawned, people (not machines or widgets) became the creators of value; bosses dropped the clipboards and whistles they used to control workers and, instead, facilitated trust exercises to empower their associates. Today, people are the prize and strong environments attract strong productive people.
Soap Bubble Management
The hard truth is there is no perfect way to manage different human beings. They can be as fragile and free-floating as a soap bubble riding a jet stream, susceptible to the slightest wind change. Itís a genuine miracle that any of us can convince (through the power of as little as $100 per day) five, 15 or 50 of these delicate bubbles to all work toward the same purpose without any of them popping! Of course, itís not just money that makes these everyday miracles happen. Your own personal conviction and leadership do the lionís share of the motivating.
By the time you get them, most employees are fully formed humans with their free will intact. Each is like his own unique weather system . . . some are hurricanes, some are cold fronts and every company has a few high pressure systems (they work best in accounts receivable). Just one determined tropical depression can bring down an entire shop. Employees are in some important ways more different then they are the same.