An article entitled: “The two magic words that motivate staff the most” (link below) implores organisations to solve the staff disengagement issue by saying ‘Thank You’ (and using recognition schemes). This is, in my experience, addressing the wrong issue and could make things worse. Instead, those managers who stop parenting, molly-coddling and pandering to people, approach them as a partner (instead of a master) and say this immediately boosts engagement. This should come as no surprise; as far back as 1937, Napolean Hill wrote that “In the future, the relationship of employer and employee will be more like a partnership……” That has turned out to be wishful thinking. (Perhaps he meant it SHOULD be rather than will be.)
Yes, people when asked (even when not asked) complain that there’s never a thank you and there’s not enough recognition. In the absence of a manager who treats them as equal, values their input and regards them as critical to success, many people doubt their worth, question their value and regress into preoccupation and discontent with their manager’s behaviour and how they are being treated.
Say ‘thank you’, but it doesn’t address the real issue and worse: further embeds an outdated and inappropriate superior/inferior norm resulting in paternalistic benevolence at best and dictatorial arrogance at worst.
People’s need to feel valued is one of the most culturally-consistent phenomena, yet Gallup’s revelation that ‘a bad boss’ is the number 1 reason people leave a job suggests many managers don’t get this. Giving ‘superiors’ a title that reinforces their importance in the pecking order could be the single biggest mistake when it comes to full productivity and a sound return on payroll investment.
Many managers are specialists first and foremost; they have the title manager but do not ‘have staff’ (an unfortunate and demeaning phrase) – they are not in question here. Many more are primarily there to ensure ‘their staff’ (another unfortunate phrase) are productive. Most managers are somewhere in between. Consider the impact when these managers don’t get the people side of their role right and are instrumental in spreading discontent.
Until there is a complete overhaul of structures (Agile methodology in many tech teams has perhaps started this overhaul), managers will be essential to people’s productivity, esteem and connectedness with their ‘employer’. Until we replace ‘managing others’ with a more accurate term reflecting what a business actually needs a manager to do, let’s get real about what ACTUALLY engages people.
Simple: for people to invest their full capability in any role, holding nothing back, the ‘manager’s’ role is to (on a daily, weekly, monthly basis, whichever is appropriate):
- check in with people – face to face – so each can see the whites of the others’ eyes
- equip them for tomorrow’s ‘unknown’
- inform them (only about what they can’t/shouldn’t find out for themselves)
- challenge them to keep their capability expanding and so they remain value to the collective
- prompt resourcefulness and teamwork across all functions
- re-focus people when ‘cross currents’ distract
- expect extraordinary accomplishments believing in their goodwill and human ingenuity (yet never so that they feel overwhelmed, abandoned and taken advantage of).
More simply put: treat people as adults and admire their inherent ability to make things work better with their commitment and keen thinking. Those managers who don’t ‘have the time’ nor inclination to do this are a significant liability in the workplace.