A Dirty Little Secret – Sort Of

“There is an enormous number of managers who have retired on the job” – Peter Drucker.  Ah Pete, you’re killin’ me.  I’m not sure if anyone who falls into this category – or anyone supervising people in this category – really wants to be outed.  However, this dirty little secret is becoming more and more apparent.  The good news (if you want to call it that) is that there’s no need to worry – I’m not sure anyone’s going to get called on it.  It requires too much effort.  If you were expecting something more salacious – I’m sorry – but I also wanted to get your attention.

There is an interesting article in The Washington Post today about Daniel Pink, his reincarnation from political speechwriter to successful author and his perspective on the effectiveness of merit pay as an incentive for teachers.  Many jurisdictions are adopting this methodology, despite the data that underscores its ineffectiveness.  The research indicates that extrinsic rewards are successful when the objectives are simple and routinized.  “But for complicated jobs that require judgment and creativity, the evidence shows that it just doesn’t work well”.  Clearly those are expectations that the best educators embrace, and we as parents seek them out  as the teachers-of-choice for our kids.  I am not suggesting that we pay teachers less; I don’t think they’re paid enough.  Presuming equitable compensation though, is this an effective motivator?  Apparently not.

For the sake of this post, can we extrapolate these findings into the world of professional services, C-suites, management, for-profit organizations? As the need for creativity, energy, sound problem-solving and dynamism in management increases, it seems counter-intuitive to me that our tendency is to focus on process-oriented results,  limited provocative dialogue and increased structural layering that renders many positions narrower and more circumspect.  If you are involved in a different organization and structure, no need to read further.  You are in a marvelously unique situation that is not replicated with enough frequency.  Enjoy it and keep thriving.

Let’s get a little risky in our dialogues about what factors will distinguish the adequate-from-the-great companies in the years to come.  It’s just insufficient to nod to those who talk about their commitment to their people and reflect it by offering limited collective opportunities,  provide superficial exercises that are packaged as training and proudly aver that they’re ‘upcycling’ the strong performers when in fact their challenges and objectives have remained the same year over year (or worse, have been marginalized to the point where their talents gradually fade into the background).  What if the tenor of the conversation changed and our responsibility was to engage in and develop substantive strategies with our folks?  What if we didn’t take the easy out and refused to create any more versions of ‘Groundhog Day’ because of its expediency in the face of our other responsibilities?  What’s stopping us?   Have we lost our motivation and/or forgotten one of the most critical components of great leadership?  When was the last time you turned around to see if anyone was following you? I imagine it would be a serious bummer to realize that there may be no ‘there there’.

If you’re out in front then this is your primary objective.  If the goal is to increase employee satisfaction,  realize a greater ROI, build an environment where people are jazzed and engaged, then let’s at least begin the hard work.  Turn around.