Command and Control
Carrot and Stick

I was reading Peter Drucker this morning. He wrote an article essentially about good management not having to be “nice”. He means mushy nice. I put his entire article into a sentence so don’t judge him by that, judge my editing.

The article wraps up by saying that the carrot and stick approach has been around for a long time because it works. Reward good behavior, punish bad. Maybe we need more stick.

There’s a mixed bag. On some level I agree with Drucker because often really bad managers are the squishy type. But that is not because they are too nice. It is because it is easier to avoid the hard stuff and just be ‘nice’. Failure to communicate correction isn’t nice as it leads to the eventual destruction of the employee. We all know the type. Nice in person followed by a crappy email.

So there is nice as in not overtly mean and nice as in decent.

As I wrote that, I realized there is a whole spectrum and not simply two forms of nice. At one end is ‘playing nice’ and at the other is ‘being kind and ethical’.

I’m not going to write a thesis this morning. Neither of us have the time.

I don’t think we need more ‘stick’ in management. I see plenty of stick. I see really low morale too. And I see a workplace where the beatings (figuratively) are common enough but the follow-through on total performance is lacking. Employees can be written up, lectured, scolded and demeaned but seldom corrected or dismissed. Oh no, we have plenty of stick.

I think we lack fun in the workplace. People in general are not happy at work. The tight economy, which I believe is a new reality, has a lot to do with workplace unhappiness. Agreed. But when things are tight economically, that is the time to do everything possible to reduce stress and build comradery. It’s foolish to get out the stick when going gets tough. Doing so flattens morale and in turn, performance.

Fun needs to be fostered. People, believe it or not, want to produce. They want to contribute and they want to be heard. They want recognition for what they contribute. Allowing people to produce and recognizing their efforts is the first step to fun. True.

Think about some of the most fun you’ve had at work. When I’m out speaking and ask people to tell me about a fun time at work, it always comes down to a time when they worked their hardest! HARDEST. Get it?!

Where to start?

Managers need to communicate that input is welcome. Simple. ASK PEOPLE WHAT THEY THINK.

I feel a little mad having to even write that because I can point to so many places where they never ask for employee input. Never. And when they do, they treat employees like children. There’s the smirk followed by why that can’t be done. Or the usual, “we’ll have to think about that.” I see that crap all the time too. It’s degrading and both sides know it.

Management usually doesn’t want employee input. Though the business may suffer, poor managers are threatened by any employee thinking. You see this in businesses with very closed cultures. Everyone wants to guess what the big boss wants to hear and that’s the line they deliver. When an employee makes a suggestion, the incompetent manager will say something like, “we need to watch spending right now because, as you know, business is slow.” It’s funny to get that when a cost-savings is proposed. Duh.

Back to my point.

Having fun does not undermine good management. A smile, a laugh doesn’t destroy authority. And fun can be as simple as giving a little recognition. Giving of your time, time to listen, is a huge morale booster.

For the less capable managers, more honest communication with employees will make it harder to treat people like pawns on their game board. This is probably why the behavior is so prevalent.

Business has changed. We are not in a recession. We are in a new normal. Your company’s edge may be in introducing fun back into the workplace.

But that will require management training. It could even require new management.

Things won’t improve until we realize this.

Chris Reich, TeachU