Or, Why is the “soft stuff” so hard to do?
The cry for better management can be heard in every corner of the corporate arena. So with all this focus on managing people effectively, why do so many companies have such a difficult time actually making it happen?
First, note that “management” is not one thing. It is the amalgam of insights, skills, determination and often bold, decisive actions. When broken down into its parts, the task of managers appears to be Sisyphean (in Roman Mythology Sisyphus was a king whose punishment was being compelled to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat it throughout eternity).
Here are 5 elements that prevent businesses and the individual in them from doing a better job of managing people.
1. Bureaucratic Rigidity
Most businesses, particularly larger ones, are by nature, rigid. Good management of people requires flexibility to deal with the vagaries of human behaviours. A corporate culture driven by short-term earnings demands does not encourage or enable flexibility. Risk-taking, the kind that tends to inspire employee innovation and engagement, is a key part of the management process; but it is not typically all that acceptable in the executive suite.
2. Looking for Quick Fixes in All the Wrong Places
“Let’s improve our people management practices!” Too many companies hire high-paid consultants to develop new management models and methodologies when they don’t have the foggiest idea how the culture drives management decisions. So often, the people on the frontline who produce the bottom line are ignored.
3. A Paucity of Fresh Perspectives
Few organizations have the abilities, willingness or emotional intelligence to turn themselves on their ears. Yet, that is what would be necessary in order to effectively manage people. Too often, the people who rise to power positions in most companies have been doing the same ineffective things over and over again. Their blind obsession on the task at hand is what got them to the top. It’s what can drive them into ineffectiveness. You have to challenge the status quo if you want to adopt and adapt to a fresh perspective on people management practices. “I have seen the enemy… ” is a powerful, frightening brutal fact for many in power, but one that must be confronted if one is interested in innovation.
“Our people are our most important asset.” First of all most corporate cultures simply does not support that statement. Second, to regard people as assets betrays an impersonal “human-is-a-machine” approach to people. Both of these attitudes reveal low emotional intelligence.
5. We Just Don’t Get It
Maybe the greatest obstacle to managing people better is that we simply don’t pay attention or acknowledge what constitutes the human experience. Management, besides being an inexact art, is not just the stuff of balance sheets, margins, machines, etc. although paradoxically all these things are created and managed by people.
Management is not something you do once then sit back and enjoy your work. It’s a never-ending, unfolding story with many subplots. It is a mindset, a viewpoint, not only of work, or people, but of one’s worldview. It’s about making unique, often seemingly disconnected associations, connecting the interactions no one else sees. It is ongoing curiosity, questioning, searching for something new, different, better — posing the uncomfortable questions like “What if?” or “Why not?” That is the stuff of managing people.
So here we are in a changing world of unknowns, unpredictabilities, surprise events, terrorism and roller coaster behavioural economics and an environment of business that is summed up by,
“The rules have changed, the players have not noticed!”
A few companies like Southwest Airlines, Apple, Patagonia and Google have managed to learn how to manage their people very well. Many smaller less publicized companies are doing a great job too. The ROI in their investments? — profits, highly engaged, aligned, productive people.
I wonder why more companies don’t choose the courageous decision to do a better job of managing their people?