Michael Raynor and Mumtaz Amhed nail it in their article in the April Harvard Business Review:
- Better before cheaper—in other words, compete on differentiators other than price.
- Revenue before cost—that is, prioritize increasing revenue over reducing costs.
- There are no other rules—so change anything you must to follow Rules 1 and 2.
I disagree with their critique of Jim Collins’ Good to Great and Tom Peters’ In Search of Excellence, but it’s noteworthy that their conclusions are essentially the same. That is, the findings of Collins and Tom Peters can be boiled down to these three things. Or, perhaps better, these three rules are derivatives of the even deeper and more foundational realities that Collins and Peters show.
The extent to which these three rules are violated is truly breathtaking!
The most important reason is that letting your organization be a miserable place to work is just plain wrong. Employee satisfaction and engagement is an intrinsic good that everyone ought to care about — especially Christian ministries — because it is the right thing to do.
For those still not convinced (though if doing the right thing isn’t important to you, maybe you shouldn’t be in the workforce…), here’s a great combination of the ethical case and the business case in one paragraph (from the article I linked to yesterday, Entrepreneurs Must Save America):
People say that America will beat China because the U.S. is full of innovators and China isn’t. What do you think?
Clifton: For one thing, that’s not true. China can innovate. But they don’t have a culture that understands the power of engaged workers. Right now, they just out-low-cost-manufacture the world. But that won’t last forever. Their wages will keep going up, and jobs will go to other places — to Southeast Asia, to India, probably some to Africa, maybe some to parts of the Middle East.
But for now, it’s safe to say they’re winning the jobs war?
Clifton: Definitely. Yes, they’ve got the momentum right now.
Then why does it matter if China has engaged workers?
Clifton: Because engagement is a precondition for the state of mind that creates entrepreneurs. Miserable workgroups chase customers away. Miserable workforces don’t create any economic energy, so those companies are always cutting jobs. America will not come back and win the world unless we have the most spirited workforce. Spirited workforces create new customers. New customers create new jobs.
The latest Gallup Management Journal has a good article on Why Strengths Matter in Training.
Here’s the summary:
Too many training and development efforts fall short because they don’t factor in employees’ talents.
And is some important data, for any who somehow think organizations can ignore the importance of focusing on their employee’s strengths:
Gallup research shows that people who know and use their strengths — and the companies they work for — tend to be better performers. In a study of 65,672 employees, Gallup found that workers who received strengths feedback had turnover rates that were 14.9% lower than for employees who received no feedback (controlling for job type and tenure).
Moreover, a study of 530 work units with productivity data found that teams with managers who received strengths feedback showed 12.5% greater productivity post-intervention than teams with managers who received no feedback. And a Gallup study of 469 business units ranging from retail stores to large manufacturing facilities found that units with managers who received strengths feedback showed 8.9% greater profitability post-intervention relative to units in which the manager received no feedback.
Companies that want to boost productivity and innovation must help employees apply their natural abilities to the day-to-day requirements of their role. Implementing a strengths-based approach often demands a fresh mindset; the old ways won’t do. The questions below can help employees figure out how they can best apply their talents in their role — and can help managers and leaders learn how to use a strengths-based approach to boost company performance.
A good post by Dave Ramsey. Here’s the first part:
What makes a customer satisfied with your business or organization? The answer may surprise you. It’s not always about offering the lowest prices or the newest gadgets. According to research from the University of Missouri, employee satisfaction plays a major role.
The study shows that CEOs who pay attention to employees’ job satisfaction are able to bothboost customer satisfaction and increase repeat business from those buyers two-fold. Simply put, when your team is happy, everyone is happy—including your bottom line.
He then gives 5 ways to keep your team engaged and satisfied. Read the whole thing.
Here are 6 great points I recently came across, summarizing Peter Drucker on what makes knowledge work different from (and more challenging than) manual work:
- “Knowledge worker productivity demands that we ask the question: “What is the task?”
- It demands that we impose the responsibility for their productivity on the individual knowledge workers themselves. Knowledge workers have to manage themselves. They have to have autonomy.
- Continuing innovation has to be part of the work, the task and the responsibility of knowledge workers.
- Knowledge work requires continuous learning on the part of the knowledge worker, but equally continuous teaching on the part of the knowledge worker.
- Productivity of the knowledge worker is not – at least not primarily – a matter of the quantity of output. Quality is at least as important.
- Finally, knowledge worker productivity requires that the knowledge worker is both seen and treated as an ‘asset’ rather than a ‘cost’. It requires that knowledge workers want to work for the organization in preference to all other opportunities.”
Here’s the key point, and the key challenge: Knowledge workers must manage themselves. The manager can only be a source of help, not a boss.
This creates an incredible opportunity and challenge for us as knowledge workers. The challenge is that it means that we need to know how to manage ourselves now more than ever, which does not necessarily come naturally (which is one reason I wrote my book). But the opportunity is that knowledge work by definition presents a great opportunity to unleash your creativity and innovation and unique interests.
This also presents a challenge for organizations, however. Many organizations that consist of knowledge workers still manage their people as if they are doing manual work. This is why you still see tightly controlled leadership and management practices.
The news flash is that these approaches kill knowledge work. Organizations cannot take their management cues from how management was done in the industrial era (I’m not saying even manual work should have been managed in that way, but it’s even worse with knowledge work). Every organization needs to be built on the recognition that their people, especially their knowledge workers (which is most of the workforce today), must be given ownership in their tasks and be allowed to manage themselves.
(By the way, if you are reading this blog, you are a knowledge worker; also, even if your “paid” job consists in manual work, we are all knowledge workers in our personal and home lives.)
This is a guest post by Jon Gordon. Jon is the bestselling author of a number of books including The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy, and his latest, The Seed: Finding Purpose and Happiness in Life and Work.
One Simple Rule is Having a Big Impact.
I didn’t invent the rule. I discovered it—at a small, fast growing, highly successful company that implements simple practices with extraordinary results.
One day I was having lunch with Dwight Cooper, a tall, thin, mild-mannered former basketball player and coach who had spent the last 10 years building and growing a company he co-founded into one of the leading nurse staffing companies in the world. Dwight’s company, PPR, was named one of Inc. Magazines Fastest Growing Companies several times but on this day it was named one of the best companies to work for in Florida and Dwight was sharing a few reasons why.
Dwight told me of a book he read about dealing with jerks and energy vampires in the work place. But after reading and reflecting on the book he realized that when it comes to building a positive, high performing work environment there was a much more subtle and far more dangerous problem than jerks. It was complaining and more subtle forms of negativity and he knew he needed a solution.
Dwight compared jerks to a kind of topical skin cancer. They don’t hide. They stand right in front of you and say, “here I am.” As a result you can easily and quickly remove them. Far more dangerous is the kind of cancer that is subtle and inside your body. It grows hidden beneath the surface, sometimes slow, sometimes fast, but either way if not caught, it eventually spreads to the point where it can and will destroy the body. Complaining and negativity is this kind of cancer to an organization and Dwight had seen it ruin far too many. He was determined not to become another statistic and The No Complaining Rule was born.
The fact is every leader and business will face negativity, energy vampires and obstacles to define themselves and their team’s success. That is why one of the most important things we can do in business and life is to stay positive with strategies that turn negative energy into positive solutions. Thus the goal is not to eliminate all complaining; just mindless, chronic complaining. And the bigger goal is to turn justified complaints into positive solutions. After all, every complaint represents an opportunity to turn something negative into a positive. We can utilize customer complaints to improve our service. Employee complaints can serve as a catalyst for innovation and new processes. Our own complaints can serve as a signal letting us know what we don’t want so we can focus on what we do want. And we can use The No Complaining Rule to develop a positive culture at work.
About Jon Gordon:
This post is a guest post by Jon Gordon. Jon is the bestselling author of a number of books including The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work and Team with Positive Energy, and his latest, The Seed: Finding Purpose and Happiness in Life and Work. Learn more at www.JonGordon.com. Follow Jon on Twitter @JonGordon11 or Facebook www.facebook.com/jongordonpage .
There are lots of reasons, but here’s a highly significant – and counterintuitive — one from Marcus Buckingham’s First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently:
Our research yielded many discoveries, but the most powerful was this: Talented employees need great managers.
The talented employee may join a company because of its charismatic leaders, its generous benefits, and its world-class training programs, but how long that employee stays and how productive he is while he is there is determined by his relationship with his immediate supervisor.
This is a guest post by Dr. Paul White, business consultant, psychologist, and coauthor of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman
Now that we are fully into the New Year and venturing into the dreary days of January and February filled with cold weather and few days off from work, ministry leaders need to take a hard look at how we are going to support and encourage our team members. This is the time of year (especially for those who like sunlight) for people to just drag themselves through the day.
As a psychologist who trains leaders and colleagues how to effectively communicate appreciation in the workplace, let me offer some suggestions.
Understand the nature of discouragement and burnout
Discouragement and burnout, over the long haul, come from a combination of weariness and lack of hope. We have just emerged from the holiday season with many extra activities, and now we face the daily grind of doing our normal work. A lot of people are emotionally tired. Add to this a potential lack of vision (“Remind me again, why are we doing this?”) and a lack of hope (“My contribution really isn’t going to make a difference…”) and you have the perfect recipe for team members either going through the motions or giving up completely.
Give your team what they need: vision, hope, appreciation and encouragement
This is where leaders can make a tremendous difference with their team members – by providing vision (where you are going and how doing x, y, and z fits into the overall plan), communicating hope (helping them see how what they are doing does matter), and communicating appreciation and encouragement along the way.
Communicate your appreciation in ways that work
One challenge in effectively encouraging your team members is that not everyone’s “language of appreciation” is the same. Therefore, some attempts at appreciation may not really impact them. Most people think of appreciation as being verbal—saying “thanks” or writing a note —but in reality, studies show at least 40% of people really don’t value words in terms of feeling affirmed and appreciated. For another 25%, a gift card to the local Christian bookstore will not convey the intended appreciation. Some people feel appreciated when you spend personal time with them; others just want help getting tasks done.
In our research for appreciation in work and ministry contexts, Dr. Gary Chapman and I have found that for people to truly feel valued, four conditions need to be present. Appreciation needs to be communicated:
a) individually (rather than a blanket thank-you to all involved),
b) in the language that the individual values (see our online inventory to identify each person’s preferred appreciation language),
c) regularly (not just at their annual review or at the end of a big project); and
d) in a manner that the individual perceives as being genuine (versus forced or contrived).
To be honest, it takes some time and effort to communicate appreciation effectively. But it is worth it when you “hit the mark” with a team member, and you watch as they start to glow (or become teary-eyed) and their commitment to you and the ministry deepens dramatically. And you will be able to help them endure the long, dark days of winter – they may even smile occasionally and report enjoying their work!
* * * * *
Author Bio: Dr. Paul White is a business consultant and psychologist, and is the coauthor of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman. For more information, go to www.appreciationatwork.com .
About the Book: The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace applies the “love language” concept of New York Times bestseller, The 5 Love Languages, to the workplace. This book helps supervisors and managers effectively communicate appreciation and encouragement to their employees, resulting in higher levels of job satisfaction, healthier relationships between managers and employees, and decreased cases of burnout. Ideal for both the profit and non-profit sectors, the principles presented in this book have a proven history of success in businesses, schools, medical offices, churches, and industry. Each book contains an access code for the reader to take a comprehensive online MBA Inventory (Motivating By Appreciation) – a $20 value.
This is an important post from Seth Godin last week:
One of my favorite restaurants is a little Mexican place in Utah called El Chubasco. I’ve often eaten there twice in a day, and once (it’s true) ate there three times.
It’s always crowded. Sometimes people wait outside, in the cold, even though there are plenty of alternatives within walking distance. So, what’s the secret? Why is it worth a drive and a wait?
No specific reason. The energy of owners Jill and Craig is certainly part of it, but most customers never encounter them. I think it’s the hand-fitted gestalt of thousands of little decisions made by caring management out to make a difference. Usually, when a business like this gets bigger or turns into a chain, marketers make what feel like smart compromises. The MBAs collide with the mystical, and the place gets boring. “Why do we need 14 free salsas when we can get away with six?” or “Perhaps we ought to stop handing out huge tumblers of water for free–our bottled water sales will go up.”
This turns out to be the secret of just about every really successful enterprise. Sure, you can copy one or two or even three of their competitive advantages and unique remarkable attributes, but no, it’s going to be really difficult to recreate the magic of countless little decisions. The scarcity happens because so many businesses don’t care enough or are too scared to invest the energy in so many seemingly meaningless little bits of being extraordinary.
Here’s the main thing to focus on: much of the time, the things that appear to create more work or be less “economical” are what actually create the magic.
That’s why a cost-cutting focus, while having an appearance of wisdom, is actually deadly.
Tom Peters makes the same point in his landmark book In Search of Excellence. There is this notion to think that good business sense (and bringing good business sense to the world of ministry) means optimizing and creating efficiencies.
But that’s wrong. Good business sense is about making a great product or service — something people will love, rather than just put up with. Efficiency only becomes important after that, and as a result of it.
There might be a reason to have only six versions of salsa instead of 14. But that reason needs to be based in the fact that fewer options will somehow serve people better (Apple exemplifies this in many ways), rather than in the fact that it will be less work for you or “save money.”
Excellent. Here they are:
- If you don’t want this job, I’ll find someone who does
- I don’t pay you to think
- I won’t have you on Facebook while you’re on the clock
- I’ll take it under advisement
- Who gave you permission to do that?
- Drop everything and do this now!
- Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions
- Sounds like a personal problem to me
- I have some feedback for you…and everyone else here feels the same way
- In these times, you’re lucky to have a job at all
Here’s one of the best parts, in response to number 3 (“I won’t have you on Facebook while you’re on the clock”):
Decent managers have figured out that there is no clock, not for white-collar knowledge workers, anyway. Knowledge workers live, sleep, and eat their jobs. Their e-mail inboxes fill up just as fast after 5:00 p.m. as they do before. Their work is never done, and it’s never going to be done. That’s O.K. Employees get together in the office during the daytime hours to do a lot of the work together, and then they go home and try to live their lives in the small spaces of time remaining. If they need a mental break during the day, they can go on PeopleofWalmart.com or Failblog.org without fear of managerial reprisal. We are not robots. We need to stop and shake off the corporate cobwebs every now and then. If a person is sitting in the corner staring up at the ceiling, you could be watching him daydream—or watching him come up with your next million-dollar product idea. (Or doing both things at once.)
Stephen Covey describes these circumstances well in First Things First:
A low-trust culture is filled with bureaucracy, excessive rules and regulations, restrictive, closed systems. In the fear of some “loose cannon,” people set up procedures that everyone has to accommodate.
The level of initiative is low — basically “do what you’re told.” Structures are pyramidal, hierarchical. Information systems are short-term. The quarterly bottom line tends to drive the mentality in the culture.
In a high-trust culture, structures and systems are aligned to create empowerment, to liberate people’s energy and creativity toward agreed-upon purposes within the guidelines of shared values. There’s less bureaucracy, fewer rules and regulations, more involvement.
A great article from the 99%. Here’s how it starts:
“The work had better be good, I’m paying them enough.”
Over the years I’ve heard this statement — or versions of it — from many different managers charged with getting creative work out of their teams.
From a conventional management perspective, it probably sounds like common sense. But to anyone who understands the nature of creativity and what motivates creative people, it’s a recipe for disaster.
In my article “Management in Light of the Supremacy of God,” I place significant emphasis on how the core of great management involves extending people’s autonomy rather than exercising detailed control over people.
One reader recently asked: “How does this relate to the reality of sin? How should the doctrine of sin and the fallen human heart affect our understanding of management?”
That’s a great question. I typed up a very quick response. Here’s what I said:
Glad you enjoyed the article, and thanks for your question.
Briefly, I’d say the reality of sin is addressed by the “accountability for results” component. We should maximize people’s freedom, but this is freedom within a framework. The framework is not only necessary because of sin — people are served by helpful structures and systems in themselves. But this also is one of the ways sin is kept in check as well.
A couple other thoughts. The emphasis on expanding freedom also takes into account the reality of sin, because as Paul teaches, the law actually makes sin increase. He is talking broadly there about God’s law and the human heart in general, but it does have an application to management: creating detailed rules is more likely to stir up sin in employee’s hearts than control sin. There is a place for rules, and sometimes even pretty strict ones (for example: in relation to financial reporting), but when there isn’t someone’s life at stake (airplane checklists, for example) or laws/ethical realities, the disposition should be to allow people freedom to identify their own way to accomplish the outcomes.
Another issue is: what are the specific sins of most people in the workplace? While all people are sinners, I don’t think that, for most people, their sin manifests itself as laziness and unwillingness to work. I think most people want to do good work and seek increased responsibility. Much sin in the workplace falls in the realm of motives and such things as that — a lot of which is outside the purview of management. So giving people freedom within a healthy overall framework will typically not be abused because of sin; and when it is abused by a few, it doesn’t serve the organization to punish everyone for a few bad apples.
One last thought: We also need to think of the sins of management. Sometimes people think “let’s tightly control people, because they are sinners,” not realizing that the managers themselves who are the ones to exercise this “tight control” are also sinners. So a tightly controlled approach as a response to sin runs into its own problems. Freedom within a healthy framework takes account of sin in the best way, in my view, because most people will excel when given the chance and since this also minimizes the opportunity for management to sin by overly controlling their people and viewing them mainly as means.
An important observation by Jim Collins in How The Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In:
During its darkest days, Xerox faced the very real threat of bankruptcy, yet Mulcahy rebuffed with steely silence her advisors’ repeated suggestions that she consider Chapter 11. She also held fast against a torrent of advice from outsiders to cut R&D to save the company, noting that a return to greatness depended on both tough cost cutting and long-term investment, and actually increased R&D as a percentage of sales during the darkest days.
“For me, this was all about having a company that people could retire from, having a company that their kids could come and work at, having a company that actually would have pride some day in terms of its accomplishments.”
And it worked:
For 2000 and 2001, Xerox posted a total of nearly $367 million in losses. By 2006, Xerox posted profits in excess of $1 billion and sported a much stronger balance sheet. And in 2008, Chief Executive magazine selected Mulcahy as chief executive of the year. At the time of this writing in 2008, Xerox’s transition had been going strong for seven years — no guarantee, of course, that Xerox will continue to climb, but an impressive recovery from the early 2000s.
The lesson, for organizations and life, is not to cease expenditures for growth during challenging times. This can seem appealing, but it backfires. People who are only mindful of costs don’t do many things to write home about.
A while ago I was talking to a professor who does some teaching on leadership, and he said he wasn’t a fan of Jim Collin’s Good to Great because he had seen Collins’ “first who, then what” principle often used to justify laying off talented people from organizations.
I told him that I thought that would indeed be a pretty bad application of the principle, but that these people were misunderstanding Collins. Collins’ principle is sound; but this misapplication of it is not.
I was just recently dipping in to Good to Great again, and noticed that Collins actually deals with this very issue. It comes down to the distinction between being ruthless and being rigorous:
To be ruthless means hacking and cutting, especially in difficult times, or wantonly firing people without any thoughtful consideration.
To be rigorous means consistently applying exacting standards at all times and at all levels, especially in upper management. To be rigorous, not ruthless, means that the best people need not worry about their positions and can concentrate fully on their work.
. . .
To be rigorous in people decisions means first becoming rigorous about top management people decisions. Indeed, I fear that people might use “first who rigor” as an excuse for mindlessly chopping out people to improve performance. “It’s hard to do, but we’ve got to be rigorous,” I can hear them say. [Note: I've actually heard people say that! Pretty bad.] And I cringe. For not only will a lot of hardworking, good people get hurt in the process, but the evidence suggests that such tactics are contrary to producing sustained great results.
The good-to-great companies rarely used head-count lopping as a tactic and almost never used it as a primary strategy. Even in the Wells Fargo case, the company used lay-offs half as much as Bank of America during the transition era.
In contrast, we found layoffs used five times more frequently in the comparison companies than in the good-to-great companies. Some of the comparison companies had an almost chronic addiction to layoffs and restructurings.
It would be a mistake — a tragic mistake, indeed — to think that the way you ignite a transition from good to great is by wantonly swinging the ax on vast numbers of hardworking people. Endless restructuring and mindless hacking were never part of the good to great model.
I would just have one improvement here. Probably few people set out to purposely take a “mindlessly hacking” approach. Most who do so probably don’t even realize it, but instead think they are doing right.
So I think the most helpful point Collins makes here is that the disposition of every organization should be to value and keep its people. Lay-offs are an over-used tactic, especially in downturns, and do not generally correlate with sustained great results (as I’ve blogged on before).
The disposition of a company should be to retain its people (assuming alignment with the values and that they are performing) both because this most aligns with the value of people and because it actually benefits the organization more. For, as Collins points out later on this same page, the ultimate throttle on growth for any company is “the ability to get and keep the right people.”
So the lesson of the “first who, then what” principle is not that people are easily expendable. They are not, and should not be treated as such. The lesson is actually the opposite: people are valuable, and the disposition of an organization ought to be to keep them. Endless restructuring and removing of talented people, even due to changes in strategy, were “never part of the good to great model.”
The cover story for the latest issue of Businessweek is The Rise and Inglorious Fall of Myspace.
There are a lot of reasons, obviously, for the massive decline of Myspace. But here’s something that especially stood out:
“There was lot of pressure to drive revenue. There were things that we knew would be more efficient for the user that we didn’t act on immediately because it would reduce page views, which woul dhave hurt the bottom line.” — Shawn Gold, Myspace’s former senior vice president for marketing and content
In other words, the pursuit of profit was placed ahead of the user.
Deadly. Just deadly.
There’s a lesson here, which I’ve blogged about often: You have to put your user/customer/constituents before revenue.
If your organization places higher priority on money than the people it serves, you are already on your way down.
Sometimes people say “but if we don’t put revenue first, we won’t make enough money to survive.” But this has it backwards. If you do put revenue first, you will likely undercut the very things that actually produce revenue — things like goodwill, generosity, genuine service, and remarkability. The way to ensure that you have enough revenue to survive and thrive is to not put revenue first.
Profit matters, obviously. But the best companies put something other than profit first — and, paradoxically, become more profitable as a result.
In the last 100 years, we’ve become accustomed to the idea of the manager as “boss.” The popular notion is that the manager — or, worse, the leader of the organization — is the one who “knows best,” and that it is his role to make sure everybody carries out his wishes. People can have some freedom, but really the manager is the “expert,” and the role of employees is not to think for themselves, take initiative, and direct themselves, but rather to take a “wait until told” approach to their work.
I shouldn’t say this is necessarily the popular view. It’s certainly not popular in the sense of “well-liked”! And lots of people and organizations think differently and more accurately. But it is a common view, and it’s one of the reasons — whether they know it or not — that many people don’t like their jobs.
Now, managers and overall leaders in an organization ought to set direction – they ought to know where they are going, and inspire people to go there. But the popular notion has gone beyond that, seeing the manager as the primary source of ideas and as someone who carefully monitors people to carry out his or her will in detail.
This view stems primarily (but not exclusively) from two false assumptions. First, it stems from the assumption that work by definition is drudgery and not enjoyable. As Dan Pink puts it in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, “because work is supposed to be dreary, Motivation 2.0 [the outdated view of management and motivation I've referred to above] holds that people need to be carefully monitored so they don’t shirk.”
Second, it stems from a false assumption about human beings. It assumes that people are generally inert, not very competent, and wanting to avoid responsibility as much as they can. Hence, the only way to get performance out of people is to closely monitor them and exercise detailed control over them. (And in a very strange twist, the “manager” often, ironically, sees himself as an exception to this view of people. Somehow, “most” people are generally incapable of self direction, but he isn’t. That’s ultimately elitist, in my view — and not to mention wrong. In fact, and I hope this isn’t too blunt, in my observation, many of the managers that think they know best really don’t know what they are doing at all!)
Both of these assumptions are false. Sure, some work is dreary. But that doesn’t mean that most work is, or that somehow it ought to be — that you don’t have a “real job” unless it is largely unpleasant. And sure, some people do avoid responsibility. But most don’t. Most people are highly talented and creative and capable, and will far surpass your expectations if you give them high expectations and trust them. This is not only true to observation, but has actually been shown again and again through actual studies and research, such as that of Douglas McGregor (who wrote The Human Side of Enterprise way back in the 50s).
There is sometimes a place for detailed direction and a reliance on extrinsic motivation — namely, when you are dealing with rote, repeatable, non-creative tasks (and even there, the “manager knows best” paradigm is ultimately off in many ways). But most work these days is not like that. We are in the knowledge economy, and most of us are doing knowledge work. This requires a fundamentally different approach to managing people than society became accustomed to during the industrial revolution (and which continues to hold sway in many organizations to this day).
So don’t manage your people like a white collar factory. It’s not your role to “motivate” and closely supervise people, but to hire people who are self motivated, make sure they know the purpose of their role, make sure they have the knowledge they need, and make sure there are some helpful (but not overbearing) structures and systems that provide a context for the work. And then let them direct themselves.
Dan Pink summarizes this all very well in Drive:
As organizations flatten, companies need people who are self-motivated. That forces many organizations to become more like, er Wikipedia. Nobody “manages” the Wikipedians. Nobody sits around trying to figure out how to “motivate” them. That’s why Wikipedia works.
Routine, not-so-interesting jobs require direction; non-routine, more interesting work depends on self-direction.
One business leader, who didn’t want to be identified, said it plainly. When he conducts job interviews, he tells prospective employees: “If you need me to motivate you, I probably don’t want to hire you.”
One thing I’ve noticed about most Christian teaching on work is that it is pretty thin. It essentially boils down to “work hard” and “be honest.” Those are very important things. But, to be frank, they aren’t very interesting. And, they don’t give guidance to the wide range of issues that the modern worker truly has to deal with.
Even more, they don’t address the fundamental issue that most people struggle with in their work: finding meaning and loving what they do. Many workers, including Christians, lead work lives of quiet desperation because they don’t know how their faith truly connects to their work. And one big reason for this is that much Christian teaching on work is just too thin and undeveloped.
So as I’ve been reading on management and work over the last few years, and developing philosophies and systems of management for where I work, I sought to develop a more robust theology of vocation in the workplace. There is much to learn from common grace and the really incredible research that has been articulated so well by people like Marcus Buckingham and Daniel Pink. But there are also incredible things in the biblical text itself that teach us about what it means to be an employee and manager — things which many people are not drawing out, but which are right there.
Some of the secular thinking (the good stuff — there’s also lots of bad management thinking out there) gives helpful words to what Paul is articulating in places like Ephesians 6:5-9; other aspects of the (good) secular thinking are consistent with biblical teaching, even though they may not be the only biblical way to do things (the Bible gives freedom within a framework, though some practices are more helpful than others, and ought to be pursued for that reason).
Tonight in our small group I sought to bring together a more robust set of thinking on work from a biblical perspective. Below are my notes for what I taught. I don’t say everything that could be said, I don’t draw out exactly how we should think about the interaction of correct secular thinking and the Bible (though it is important here and I have much to say on that), and I didn’t flesh everything out as fully in these notes as I did in our group discussion. (And, alternatively, we didn’t cover everything that is included here!) So if anything seems unclear or in need of expansion, remember that these are just my notes, and as such were primarily intended for myself. But I think they might also be more broadly helpful as well, and it makes more sense to post these notes now rather than wait until I have the time to turn them in to a set of more polished blog posts.
So, here they are, for any who are interested in a more robust Christian theology of work. I’d like to expand on some of these things at some point, and maybe delve even more deeply into this subject in my second book. But for now, here are some of my main thoughts on a more robust Christian doctrine of work. (You can also see my article “Management in Light of the Supremacy of God” for greater detail on many things touched on here.)
Two Core Truths from the Text
1. Eph 6:9: “Masters, … give up threatening.”
Here’s what this means: don’t motivate primarily by fear. In fact, don’t even motivate primarily by carrots and sticks—extrinsic factors. Cue in to the fact that in the verses right before, Paul exhorts slaves (= workers) to be intrinsically motivated (“doing the will of God from the heart,” etc.). Consequently, manage in a way that syncs with that. This means create the conditions that foster intrinsic motivation, rather than relying on detailed rules and telling people what to do. What does this look like? We will talk about that in the application section.
A corollary text here: 1 Peter 5:3: “Not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” Peter is addressing this to elders, but the principle applies to all leadership positions. It would be strange if elders were to lead this way, but everyone else is justified in being domineering to their people.
2. Eph 6:9: “Masters, do the same to them.”
This means: View your workers with respect and treat them as real people in the image of God who are more than just a pair of hands, but are also creative and resourceful and a source of ideas.
In other words, workers aren’t just to be ordered around. Manage to the whole person. Treat employees with respect, as valuable individuals in the image of God. No one likes to be ordered around or micromanaged. And that’s not just because it’s annoying. It’s because it’s out of sync with the way we have been created. We have been created in the image of God and thus people are creative and responsible, seeking to do good work and make a contribution. If you believe that about people, most will live up to it. And don’t let the few bad apples that don’t spoil it for everyone.
Underlying this is also the truth that employers ought to seek the good of their employees. For workers had just been commanded to “obey your earthly masters” — that is, workers should seek the good of their employer, should seek to make a contribution and put their employer before themselves, and should accomplish the objectives and tasks given them (but not only those tasks — workers are to be self-motivated, as the command to work from the heart and “render service with a good will” shows, and this means taking proactive initiative). So “obey your earthly masters” doesn’t just mean “be compliant and do the minimum necessary,” because that’s not how we would want to be treated — in the home, for example, we don’t want our kids to begrudgingly obey, but eagerly obey. It’s the same with the workplace (and, of course, Paul says this explicitly, as we saw, when he says to obey from the heart). “Obeying” your employer implies taking initiative, showing creativity, and at root being for the good of your organization.
Now, that’s cool and amazing (it’s a lot more enjoyable and interesting to be engaged in your work than merely compliant!). But here’s the really incredible thing: since Paul says to masters “do the same to them,” it follows that managers (and entire companies) are to be about the good of their employees as well. They should not see their employees simply as cogs in a machine, or workers to be maximized for company profits, but as valuable individuals worthy of respect and appreciation. And that respect and appreciation ought to be tangibly demonstrated through positive, empowering policies and a mindset of supplying employees with what they need to do their jobs well, and so forth. This isn’t a country club mentality, as we should have high expectations for our employees (which also serves them, because it challenges them to stretch and give their best selves). But when employees are treated well in this way, it is not only better for them; it is also better for the organization, because it produces greater performance. It is also less costly, because it reduces turnover (Chick Fil A example: their business model is underpinned by the Sermon on the Mount, and their retention rate is a stunning 97%).
Last point (though many more could be made): note the stunning implication here: “Do the same to them” ultimately implies treating your workers as you would Christ himself, for workers had just been exhorted to render their service “as to the Lord and not to men” (v. 7). Since masters (managers) are to do the same, it follows that they should treat their employees as they would Christ himself.
So, what does it look like to create a culture that fosters intrinsic motivation in people — a culture of engagement rather than compliance?
1. Trust people and have high expectations for them. Trust is at the heart of a healthy culture. Most people want to do a good job and want greater responsibility. If you trust them and have high expectations, people will generally live up to that. (Likewise, if you have low expectations and don’t trust people, people will typically live down to those.)
2. Make the vision, values, and top priorities clear, then allow people to find their own way to accomplish the objectives. This is most consistent with trust and creates space for initiative and autonomy, which are at the heart of motivation.
3. Lead from values, not rules. This, again, is most consistent with trusting people. Detailed rules say “you are not competent, and therefore we need to control you.” People will live down to that and not apply their extra initiative. But leading from values says “we trust you” and allows people to use their judgment and creativity. It also gives purpose, which is another of the core components of motivation.
4. Seek to extend people’s autonomy to the greatest possible extent. Managers should keep expectations clear, but within that framework people are to manage themselves. The manager becomes not a boss, but a source of help.
5. You see the implication of self management right in the text: Paul exhorts workers to be self managing when he says don’t obey by way of eye service or as people pleasers. In other words, do what you do because it is right, not just because you are told or to score points. And, doing this “from the heart” implies: take initiative. For that is what we do when we are doing something from the heart.
6. Individualize. If workers are in the image of God and thus to be respected, we should not seek to mold them to fit a highly standardized version of the role. The role is to be flexible, not primarily the person. Highly standardized versions of a role not only run over the individuality that each person brings and is a potential source of incredible contribution; they are also impersonal. People are personal beings by nature; there is no virtue in regarding “impersonal” as essential to the meaning of being a professional.
7. By the way, what is management? It is unleashing the talents of the individual for the performance of the organization. Individualizing and unleashing the potential of the person are not just good practices, but are intrinsic to the nature of management itself.
The results of this will be:
1. Motivation, because this syncs with the three components of motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
2. People will grow because they are required to be responsible and exercise judgment. And this is critical because management is not only about getting things done through others, but developing people through tasks. Management is a matter of serving.
3. Greater efficiency, believe it or not. Trying to control people doesn’t scale. It also results in higher turnover, and kills the initiative that leads to great results.
4. Initiative and innovation. Again, this unleashes greater initiative and the best ideas of your people.
5. Employee engagement.
6. A strong workplace. (That’s not just a throw-away phrase; there’s great and specific meaning in what a “strong workplace” is that would be great to go in to sometime.)
7. An exciting workplace — a place where people want to work and enjoy their work.
8. Your people will be served and built up, and the organization will be served more effectively as well.
9. Failure to manage this way is why so many people want to retire, by the way. So many workplaces treat people merely as cogs in a machine. It’s no wonder people want to escape at 65. What a waste! I’m not saying retirement is bad — it can be a great thing to transition to a different type of contribution after a lifetime in the workplace. But far better to also manage our workplaces in such a way that people don’t want to retire to get away from the job, but rather retire because of the potential for a different type of contribution later in life.
- Management in Light of the Supremacy of God
- Avoiding the Bureaucratic Death Spiral
- The Tyranny of Corporate Computer Control
- Use Your Practical Wisdom
- The Harm in Multiplying Rules
- On Multiplying Rules
- Why Minimize Rules?
- When Rules Go Bad: An Example
Few people aspire to mediocrity. But they often drift into it because the temptation to cut corners and take the easy route is often not recognized. It’s not recognized because it’s often veiled in the advice to “be reasonable.”
But if you are going to be effective — that is, if you are going to truly serve people well (which is what effectiveness is about), then you can’t settle for being reasonable. You have to go the extra mile.
Here’s how Patrick Lencioni puts it in his latest newsletter:
If you’re not willing to do things that others would say are over the top, and if you’re not comfortable being criticized for being annoying and for having standards that seem perhaps just a little too high, then you’ll drift toward mediocrity.
And though no one would ever aspire to being mediocre, it is more tempting than we might realize.
After all, the majority of people out there will encourage us to take the easy route, because that isn’t threatening to them. They’ll support us as we justify cutting a corner here and lowering our standards there, because it isn’t reasonable to do anything more.
And I suppose that’s the whole point. Success isn’t about being reasonable. It’s demanding. It’s over the top. It can even be annoying. But it’s worth it.
To be blunt, taking measures at cost reduction is often a naive way of trying to increase profits. It’s not that there’s no place for it, but it’s typically first-level thinking that fails to see the big picture.
It’s like rent control in government: on the surface, it looks like controlling what rental properties can charge will keep prices down. But ultimately what it does is decrease the incentive for people to rent property, thus creating a housing shortage. This has been the well documented outcome in cities like New York and others, all over the world (see Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy for a great treatment of this).
The reason is that cost reduction measures often cut into the very things that produce the revenue for a company — including intangibles such as employee morale. (Yes, employee morale translates into revenue because it results in employees going the extra mile, treating customers better and more proactively, generating ideas that can enhance productivity and performance, and is even a more effective way to reduce costs because it reduces turnover.)
Here’s what Jeff Pfeffer has to say on this in What Were They Thinking?: Unconventional Wisdom About Management:
In case you haven’t noticed, in spite of the many rounds of wage cuts, the major airlines have continued to lose market share to the discount carriers such as JetBlue and Southwest and have continued to bleed money. . . . That’s because the solution management seized on — cutting workers’ pay — actually doesn’t do very much to make organizations more profitable and competitive or even, in some cases, to reduce costs.
Instead, cutting employee wages often worsens company problems. Hourly rates of pay simply don’t do nearly as much as most people seem to believe to determine a company’s — or even a country’s — competitive advantage. That’s because wage rates are not the same thing as labor costs, labor costs don’t equal total costs, and — in many instances — while it is n ice to be low cost, low costs and profits aren’t perfectly correlated either. . . .
The competitive success of airlines such as Southwest, Alaska, and JetBlue depends on lots of things besides wage rates. For a start, it’s nice to be able to offer customers a product or service offering they actually want to buy. . . .
Virgin Atlantic Airways has consistently pursued a strategy of offering more amenities and better service for both its business-class and economy fares, and has generated a profit when other airlines have struggled. After further upgrading its business-class seats and service in 2004, the carrier reported a 26 percent increase in business-class traffic for the fiscal year ending in February 2005. . . .
In the automobile industry as well, profits depend on more than just costs. Profits are also affected by brand image and product design and quality, all of which affect how much people are willing to pay for a car.
There is much more to being profitable (or, for a non-profit, having the funding they need) than cutting costs and being efficient. Often, the things that are most efficient — such as making sure employees feel that they are valued and respected and treated well — appear inefficient at first. But that’s just a short-term perspective. In the long-term, these “inefficient” things are actually more efficient, because they are the best prevention of the truly large and inefficient costs of high turnover and low quality.
Isn’t it better to have fewer managers and a flatter structure?
The answer, according to both Edmondson’s research and the experience of Southwest Airlines as described by Jody Hoffer Gittell, is it depends on what the managers do.
If they just give orders and assign blame if things go wrong, you’re probably better off with fewer of them.
But if leaders actually help people coordinate and learn, more are better.
Good point. He continues:
The problem with having fewer managers is actually quite simple: since people have been taken out of the organization, those that remain have more to do unless something has been done to decrease the total workload.
And there are fewer people in the organization to ensure coordination, reflection, and learning. In order for leaders to act as coaches, there must be enough leaders to do the coaching.
Just as coaches help their teams perform better by standing on the sidelines and providing perspective and information that players in the thick of things might otherwise miss, so in companies it is useful to have people whose job responsibility includes learning, coaching, teaching, and reflecting, or else those activities won’t occur.
The people that are most helpful in any organization are those who take initiative, rather than simply doing what they are told. What organizations need from their people is engagement, not mere compliance. (And, conversely, this is what makes a job most satisfying — being engaged, rather than simply seeking to comply).
This has implications for managers as well. If you manage in a certain way (namely, with a command and control focus), you incentivize compliance. But if you realize that management is not about control, but rather about helping to unleash the talents of your people for the performance of the organization, and that this comes from trusting your people and granting them autonomy, then you see yourself not as the “boss,” but as a source of help.
A manager is a source of help and a catalyst, not a limiter or controller.
Godin touches on this well in his recent post “Moving Beyond Teachers and Bosses“:
We train kids to deal with teachers in a certain way: Find out what they want, and do that, just barely, because there are other things to work on. Figure out how to say back exactly what they want to hear, with the least amount of effort, and you are a ‘good student.’
We train employees to deal with bosses in a certain way: Find out what they want, and do that, just barely, because there are other things to do. Figure out how to do exactly what they want, with the least amount of effort, and the last risk of failure and you are a ‘good worker.’
The attitude of minimize is a matter of self-preservation. Raise the bar, the thinking goes, and the boss will work you harder and harder. Take initiative and you might fail, leading to a reprimand or termination (think about that word for a second… pretty frightening).
The linchpin, of course, can’t abide the attitude of minimize. It leaves no room for real growth and certainly doesn’t permit an individual to become irreplaceable.
If your boss is seen as a librarian, she becomes a resource, not a limit. If you view the people you work with as coaches, and your job as a platform, it can transform what you do each day, starting right now. “My boss won’t let me,” doesn’t deserve to be in your vocabulary. Instead, it can become, “I don’t want to do that because it’s not worth the time/resources.” (Or better, it can become, “go!”)
The opportunity of our age is to get out of this boss as teacher as taskmaster as limiter mindset. We need more from you than that.
Marcus Buckingham, from First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently:
And what of the notion that “trust must be earned”? Sensible though it may sound, great managers reject it.
They know that if, fundamentally, you don’t trust people, then there is no line, no point in time, beyond which people become suddenly trustworthy. Mistrust concerns the future. If you are innately skeptical of other people’s motives, then no amount of good behavior in the past will ever truly convince you that they are not just about to disappoint you. Suspicion is a permanent condition.
Of course, occasionally, a person will indeed let you down. But great managers, like Michael, the restaurant manager from the introduction, are wired to view this as the exception rather than the rule. They believe that if you expect the best from people, then more often than not the best is what you get.
Innate mistrust is probably vital for some roles — lawyering or investigative reporting, for example. But for a manager, it is deadly.
Well worth thinking about, from What Were They Thinking?: Unconventional Wisdom About Management:
When companies get into financial trouble, they often slash wages, benefits, and staff.
That boosts cash flow in the short run.
But it also drives essential talent — and customers — out the door as service, quality, and innovation vanish.
I blog frequently on management and how the essence of good management is not actually to supervise people but realize that they are self-governing. In other words, people are to manage themselves. The manager is a source of help whose role is to unleash the talent of each individual by seeking to enlarge their scope of freedom and autonomy as much as possible.
This is not a new idea. Interestingly, Charles Spurgeon, way back in the 1800s, articulated the essence of this as well as anyone today. Here’s what he had to say in Counsel to Christian Workers (and, also interestingly, he is simply echoing Ephesians 6:6!):
What a mean and beggarly thing it is for a man only to do his work well when he is watched. Such oversight is for boys at school and mere hirelings. You never think of watching noble-spirited men.
Here is a young apprentice set to copy a picture: his master stands over him and looks over each line, for the young scapegrace will grow careless and spoil his work, or take to his games if he be not looked after.
Did anybody thus dream of supervising Raphael and Michael Angelo to keep them to their work? NO, the master artist requires no eye to urge him on. Popes and emperors came to visit the great painters in their studios but did they pain the better because these grandees gazed upon them?
Certainly not; perhaps they did all the worse in the excitement or the worry of the visit. They had regard to something better than the eye of pompous personages. So the true Christian wants no eye of man to watch him.
There may be pastors and preachers who are the better for being looked after by bishops and presbyters; but fancy a bishop overseeing the work of Martin Luther and trying to quicken his zeal; or imagine a presbyter looking after Calvin to keep him sound in faith.
Oh, no; gracious minds outgrow the governance and stimulus which comes of the oversight of mortal man. God’s own Spirit dwells within us, and we serve the Lord from an inward principle, which is not fed from without.
There is about a real Christian a prevailing sense that God sees him, and he does not care who else may set his eye upon him; it is enough for him that God is there. He hath small respect to the eye of man, he neither courts nor dreads it. Let the good deed remain in the dark, for God sees it there, adn that is enough; or let it be blazoned in the light of day to be pecked at by the censorious, for it little matters who censures since God approves.
This is to be a true servant of Christ; to escape from being an eyeservant to men by becoming in the sublimest sense an eyeservant, working ever beneath the eye of God.