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You need a new relationship with your employees

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

by Steven L. Blue

The old attitudes will not work anymore. Rather than exploit, today’s leaders need to capitalize on and nurture the human spirit.

People want to do good work. We just do not let them, with our silly rules and procedures, and our cultures that are messy at best and destructive at worst. Then we try to “manage” them. Do this, do that. Do what you are told and nothing else.

I travel extensively and see evidence of the “do this” management style all the time. I was once in a hotel in Buenos Aires and noticed the cleaning people followed a checklist. Do this, do that. The checklist dictated exactly what the automaton was to do. But by virtue of dictating what must be done it left no room for unexpected circumstances. It left no room for creativity or inventiveness. In fact, if the cleaning people saw something that they thought should be done, they probably were not even allowed to do it. How can the hotel expect people who are imprisoned by a checklist to feel empowered and satisfied in their work life? How much value does the hotel lose by treating the cleaning people like kindergartners?

I know what you are saying: Without rules and checklists, anarchy will rule the workplace.

If you have a culture by default and not by design, then this is true—it will.

And you say, these people have to be “managed.” Well, I have bad news for you. You are not managing them now; your checklists are. And there is no management of others, only self-management. You cannot manage or control anyone.

I have created many businesses in developing countries. Every time I entered into one, people would say I was crazy because I would not be able to manage and “control” a business halfway around the world. In fact, I have had businesses that were separated by as few as 20 and as much as 8,000 miles. And you know what? The so-called control issues were always the same.

Control is an illusion.

There is no control—only influence.

You cannot control anything. But you can influence everything.

How much value is your company losing with “checklist” management? How many times do your employees see something that would clearly reduce cost but the checklist forbids they try it? How many times do your employees go home at night and tell their spouses how stupid you are because you will not let people close to the action make things better when they clearly know better than you?


Steven L. Blue is the author of American Manufacturing 2.0: What Went Wrong and How to Make It Right, from which this article was adapted.

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