Mike Kueber's Blog

May 18, 2014

Modern management

Filed under: Business — Mike Kueber @ 12:21 pm

One of my longest-held business-management beliefs, in addition to the Peter Principle (i.e., employees rise until they reach their level of incompetence) is that managers are evaluated more on their ability to be managerially correct than on their actual effectiveness.  By managerially correct, I mean things like social graces, an upper-middle-class feeling of entitlement, or what Dilbert referred to as “managerial hair.”  By contrast, professional coaches may be able to skate by for a while by smooth talking and good manners (e.g., Cowboy Coach Jason Garrett), but eventually they have to produce on the scoreboard.

Although part of a coach’s job requires technical competence (e.g., Xs and Os), the major requirement is the ability to motivate others to perform.  That is why the best practices of successful coaches should be emulated by business managers, but my experience is that they are not.

For example, just this week I was visiting with a friend who works as a salesperson.  He and a large group of co-workers are introducing a new product and are under tremendous pressure because the initial results have been disastrous.  Their manager responded to this pressure by sending them a rah-rah cheerleader email filled with hackneyed platitudes.  And this is not an anomaly; I’ve seen it throughout my working life.

As I reflected on the email, I wondered if this was something Coach Pop of the Spurs would say to motivate his troops.  I can’t imagine he would.  In fact, if it were suggested, I suspect Pop would say that his players are intelligent adults who know what they have to do and that rah-rah pep-rally stuff would be insulting and counter-productive.  Instead, he would speak to them as professionals who know what they need to do and then let them individually motivate themselves.

So, sports motivation has joined the 21st century; I wonder why business motivation remains fixated on mid-20th century techniques.

Incidentally, a little over a year ago, I reviewed a book on business motivation called Drive by Daniel Pink.  In Drive, Pink argues that too many companies continue to use a motivational technique that came out of the Industrial Age – the carrot-and-stick approach.    He suggests that a better technique for the 21st century would have three components:

  1. Autonomy – an off-shoot of autonomy is a results-only work environment (ROWE).
  2. Mastery – an important part of mastery is what Pink calls “flow.” This occurs when a person is challenged with something not too easy, yet not too hard. Sounds like an athlete in a “zone.”
  3. Purpose – attaching your efforts to a cause larger than yourself.

According to my friend, his company clearly remains ensconced in the 20th century.  That’s not good for the company’s long-term prospects, but I hope Darwin finds lower-hanging fruit for a few years.


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