The culture treats people as commodities

I see it everywhere – people working in jobs which carry little meaning and provide little support for personal development. Worst, the culture treats people as commodities. Performance review systems, manager-employee meetings, and even rewards are set only on recent performance. The recent performance is everything that matters. As a result people feel like they are treading water in their jobs.

Lack of support for people development at work

Part of it starts at the top of the organization. If the leader values people development, then the organization will place a high priority on education and new opportunities. But, unfortunately, people development is not an organizational priority and is left up to individuals to find their own ways. The BEST manager encourages their people to take risks and gives developmental opportunities at work.

What happens when people development is ignored in the organization?

People drag themselves to work only for the money. This is another extreme from doing voluntary work. Creativity goes down, motivation goes down, and spirit at work goes down too. Unfortunately, the bottom line is seldom measured against the amount of joy the workers have at work. However, it is a very real factor to pay attention to. When people feel joy and happiness at work, they will go the extra mile to offer suggestions for improvement. When people feel they can take risks at work without the fear of punishment, they will try new approaches, implement new ideas, and everyone will benefit from this.
The Best manager always has people development as a key priority. This impacts team assignments, new role opportunities, and educational opportunities at work.

What does people development really mean?

I would take this to the extreme. For example years ago I had an employee whose husband had just passed away. I knew she liked to work in her garden. When she returned to work, I paid for her to attend a one day inexpensive class on gardening. This had nothing to do with her job as an IT technician. It had everything to do with her development. She came back refreshed and appreciative of the opportunity to learn something new, which she was deeply passionate about. Did this help her productivity at work? Yes and in fact it helped to ease her transition back into work after a difficult time in her life. Of course, later, other employees wanted their own one day class which I also accommodated as one-time exception. The BEST Manager knows that sometimes doing an extra effort towards employee development will provide great leverage for management. Too many organizations have silly rules that only allow education for job related topics. This narrow interpretation prevents people from exploring new areas and new ways of thinking. The rules based manager will protest and suggest that the organization should not fund education (they call this training) which does not directly relate to the job. This is the usual short term thinking which contributes to why so many people separate their work and the rest of their life. Encouraging traditional and a blend of non-traditional education will encourage intellectual growth, creativity, and actual loyalty to the organization over the long term. This is something that will impact in a positive way the bottom line of any organization.

How do you implement a personal development program at work?

I can tell you the way not to do it! Give people a checklist form which has three columns. They read: Development opportunity, Class, and Date done in this order. This process will guarantee the opposite effect. People will feel pressure to sign up for a class, managers will feel pressure to assess, and the results will be poor.

A better way

People development starts with a plan from the person. The Best Manager encourages each person to make a list of their abilities (things the person is able to do if motivated) and interests (deep interests). The next step is to have the employee align the areas which match. This is where the development should focus. The development should focus around a combination of education, new work opportunities, and self-study. What if a person’s matrix suggests that their current work does not align with what they are currently doing? The Best Manager will encourage a frank discussion of how to get closer to the work the person really wants to do. In some cases this can be a creative exercise to find a better position in the organization. In other cases there might be a plan developed over time to move the person out of the company which is best for all involved.

Motivation comes from inside

Just because a person has a competitive salary, nice office, and 2 weeks’ vacation doesn’t mean at all that the person will be motivated. This is a very personal issue. To get to the root of motivation requires two-way communication between manager and employee around what is most important. Sadly, managers jump to conclusions around poor performance and as a result people start to feel like commodities as they are sorted, ranked, rated, and judged. It is very similar to the work B.F Skinner did with animals in the cage watching which one would find the lever to raise and escape from the cage. This is not different from the person who has been labeled as a poor performer at work and thus placed under a performance improvement plan. Once in the plan (or in the cage) a person will do what he can to escape and improve their condition. This is only short term and in the long run harms motivation and interest in the organization.

The BEST Manager always looks at performance from a systemic view and seeks to understand the reasons for behavior and motivation. The BEST manager helps people learn how to motivate themselves.

The economic crisis needs better managers

During difficult times people will always generate their own crisis and anxiety. The last thing people need during this time is further threats, rewards, punishments, and motivational programs to keep the spirit up. This all can increase instability. The BEST Manager instead focuses on better utilization, better communication, and better planning with their people. The results will be long term and better serve the people and the organization.

Craig Nathanson

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