“So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work.” Who is noted for that quote? In fact, it was the late management guru Peter Drucker.
Did he say that, yesterday? Well, no, in fact, he probably uttered that at least a generation or more ago when he was hitting his stride. Have things changed much? No and yes. A proverb says that “there is nothing new under the sun”; in other words, patterns are the same but the dress looks different.
Organizations were different a generation ago than they are today. But how they look on the outside may not reflect the same things going on in the inside that were similar to the great days of Drucker. How can I say that? Well, people are people and though our business climate has changed, intrinsic principles have not. Perhaps Drucker saw management as just that–keeping people in tow and driving them to get results to fuel the business; focusing on one or two directives and not capitalizing on the creative abilities that may have been hidden but needed in developing good leaders.
That is still largely an issue today. We may “say” we are developing our personnel but in reality, given the number of people who are not engaged at work, we are not giving people the room to grow. So that hasn’t changed much in 30 years.
Engagement in the Workplace
Is there a space for people to come alive, to thrive at work, given the focus on instant communication, instant everything? In many ways the issue has come full circle and it is growing; downsizing, restructuring and turnover has led companies to over manage and overwork their labor force. I have the privilege of helping people re-engage after being downsized from two very large reputable firms here in Indiana. One whole department was disseminated leaving the remaining few to take up the slack, finish the undone and ask a whole lot of questions. The ones left behind often are not given a good reason for why this happened, so they are left to wonder whether it was just the bean counters at play?
In her book, The Five Regrets of the Dying, Bonnie Ware shares the second regret: “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” On our deathbeds, we will scarcely have wished we had spent more time in the office. Some of my clients retired or took early leave, as it was offered. Remarkably, when I ask them about who they “want to be when they grow up”, or “how do they want the next chapter of their book to be written”, the questions are very difficult to answer. Their identity had been so wrapped up in who they were becoming for the organization, their work identity, their place in this world that the loss of all these things was overwhelming. They hadn’t had the chance, or made it an imperative, to ask the deeper questions of themselves.
True Appreciation For Service
And even if their inner nudges were beckoning them to something deeper, they found the company landscape tougher to navigate—more work for less personal reward providing little time to reflect. Though some have been paid quite handsomely for their efforts, interestingly this wasn’t enough to keep them doing the same thing over and over and getting the same results: lack of appreciation, lack of challenge, and oversight from graceless managers adopting different rules. It is a painful thing to watch someone–who has given a four decade commitment to a company–leave under less than joyful circumstances with little thanks.
Coincidentally, this is the same conundrum that Robert Greenleaf experienced while being a Training and Development manager at AT&T in the early sixties. People left a “marriage” to an organization with a plaque, a cake and a gold watch. He was troubled with the lack of significant contribution employees felt upon leaving. The same rules apply today, except that in our culture, few individuals get married to an organization—most professionals today will hop from one talent seeking venue to another at least 5-7 times in their career. Yet the company (lover) still wants the commitment of marriage without a dating period, and the promise often can be “fire at will”.
The Exchange: An Amazing Workplace for Amazing Service
Let us consider today what we are asking of those who give their best for our organizations. Let us create space for them to grow, to stretch, to offer themselves in true engagement so that should there be a parting, they do not resent the hand that fed them. I invite leaders to look beyond outcomes to envision a picture of a thriving workplace, so that on our deathbeds we can say our work played a role in who I became through my growth and development.
Robert Greenleaf left us his belief and best test of a true serving leader:
The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that the other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer is: do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?