Common management practices don’t work – and here’s why
Much of today’s people-management practices originate from the “machine view” of organisations, where top-down compliance and efficiency was the dominant approach. This worked well enough when workers were largely uneducated, change was slow and this hierarchical style fitted within top-down social norms.
However, over time it has become appreciated that organisations perform better when employees are seen as contributing more than simply physical labour on command. And as initiative, innovation and discretional effort are now recognised as core competitive advantages, it is not sufficient to simply have workers comply – they need to be engaged.
A common problem for many organisations is getting the balance between social and performance needs wrong – they simply do not understand or practice good organisational and management habits. In trying to achieve a bit of both they actually achieve neither, with a large but largely detrimental social system that dominates performance concerns, or a de-humanised push for social enjoyment that becomes an exclusive domain that can isolate those not in the “clique” – this is commonly excused by claims of poor cultural fit for those excluded, a cover for narrow thinking and poor management..
Organisations that are typically less performance oriented, such as charities, education and government, revert to the normal human pattern of being a social system first and a productive system second. However, because those social systems form organically in line with the personalities and power of the people involved, the social system tends to be complex, fractured and focused on things other than organisational goals. Commonly, because the organisation doesn’t communicate well, dominating discourse and allowing people to lack feelings of purpose, value and importance, the many diverse micro-cultures can come together with the organisation as the common enemy, leading to increased unrest and lower productivity – this is only too obvious in government and other bureaucracies.
Employee militancy is a key indicator of this problem, as is pursuit of better rewards for less effort – typical signs of poor engagement.
As businesses and individuals, there is always a choice between productive capacity and social needs – but social needs always find a way to the top because we humans are first and foremost social beings – it’s in our DNA to be social – it is not in our DNA to make more widgets. Consider:
In socially-based organisations productive capacity is often severely compromised – often to the extent that there is no cultural capacity and management willingness to improve, or even implement, performance standards or accountability.
In (theoretically) performance-based organisations social needs are often ignored or only attended to on a superficial level – creating the disengagement that haunts the productivity shortfalls of those same organisations.
Yet it is also true that from time to time organisations can achieve supremely well in satisfying the needs of maximising productive capacity and social satisfaction – and there are some factors that come up consistently in those cases:
Inspiration or connection to purpose
Matching personal and organisational values
Social desirability, acceptance and approval
Feeling that personal achievements matter and are appreciated
Survival or social betterment
Project-likeness (ie there is a reason, a start, a finish and a worthwhile outcome)
So the ideal way to produce great performance is likely to be around meaningful project-based work and fulfilment of social needs – which bears no likeness to the concept of normal management practices including memos, tedious meetings and annual reviews.
A naturally better way
We are social creatures and live in social systems. What’s more, we live in social systems within social systems. That is, dating back from Neolithic times, we naturally create weak links to maybe 150 people, which was the size of a typical settlement or village. However, we typically only create strong links to many less people at a time. This how families work – some bigger, some smaller, and over millennia apparently averaging between 6 – 10. This is the size where it’s much more likely that you can sustain a monoculture where everyone is on the same page on the basis that these people are in regular contact – that is, they’re not just a conveniently sized work team, they’re a functional social system where people have a level of investment and care for each other.
As an example, if you have a team of 36 people, it is very likely that you will have 5 or more micro cultures or groupings, each with their own perspectives and common stories, some of which might be helpful, and others that aren’t. Instead of trying to force this disparate group into a well-oiled super-efficient machine, it is more useful to split the bigger group into a collection of tighter, smaller groups. This allows each leader of those smaller groups to have closer contact with each team member, and with some good management skills to build a highly productive work culture on a highly supportive social culture – this is an extremely important part of achieving superior performance and engagement.
This structure facilitates the sharing of common purpose, values, mutual commitment, social acceptance, a sense of worth and achievement and so on. It also means the continuing conversations serve a purpose – for social and practical reasons – and this communication is face to face and regular. Og the caveman did not do memos, emails or annual reviews. And then Og, the leader of his clan and his cohorts went and hunted together to feed the family group – a project with a clear purpose, focus, a belief they are better off individually if each other succeeds, a start and a finish, social recognition and reward.
This is how we evolved socially, it’s how we got things done, it’s how we survived and it’s how we grew to dominate the planet. But it’s not how we run organisations. For some reason, many managers think that listing everything that they want someone to do will actually influence what anyone does or how well they do it. They think that telling people what they want them to do, or assuming they know what they want them to do, will ensure they do it, and do it well. And then once a year they discuss what went wrong, utter shallow thanks for achievements, talk of what the plans for team members are, if there are any, and maybe talk about money for an embarrassed minute or so.
This is how we know that “performance management”, as commonly practiced, doesn’t work – not only does it not work, its usually a complete failure because it does not address the human condition. In fact the words performance management are often used to describe a way of getting a perceived non-performer out of the business. It’s time performance management got performance managed. And that’s why we developed Mars, The Ultimate Performance Management System.
In doing so, we recognised that Mars had to be easy and quick to learn, administer and use, improve communications, reduce stress and be highly productive in building engagement, performance and relationships. And as it happens Mars meets all of those criteria with ease – while also being low cost to implement and run – in fact we’re pretty positive, and based on the development work done with real-world Australian employers, Mars can be expected to produce a return of between 2x and 10x, with less stress and much improved culture – and yes, of course, Mars is completely Fair Work compliant.
If the idea of a highly effective and easy to use performance management process appeals to you, to read more about Mars – The Ultimate Performance Management System, click here or here to take the free test. Alternatively, contact us directly to talk about how we might be able to help you.