Seth Godin recently wrote, "The relentless search for 'tell me what to do'", in which he argues that people want to be told what to do because that absolves them of responsibility.
He's absolutely right. What his post could improve on, however, is his recommendation on how to address this, namely "When asked, resist."
He's missing the larger point here; this "resist" tactic is reactionary and whilst at first glance it may seem reasonable, it's actually counterproductive. How about attacking the problem at its source?
What is the problem in this case? Could it be that as a leader, you haven't created a workplace environment in which it's okay to fail, or drop the ball? So the person begging to be told what to do is afraid of doing just that – dropping the ball.
How about embracing failure, and particularly embracing the lessons to be learned from it?
The old saying that "anything worth doing is worth doing miserably at first" implies that before you get good at doing what needs to be done, you may experience failure, while at all times recognising that you aren't a failure.
When people know they can try and fail and not be reprimanded for doing so, they soon get good at what they do. Then you won't have to resist telling others what to do, because they won't be asking for it. Growth means trying, so encourage people to try!
In his blog entry, Just Pay Attention To Me, Steve Roesler gives a brief history of the Hawthorne Effect and summarizes it as follows:
"When you pay attention to people, tell them what you are doing, and ask their opinion about things, the response is a boost in morale and productivity."
It's a fairly commonsense principle, so even if a manager hasn't been explicitly exposed to the Hawthorne Effect in the course of their management development, they're generally at least aware of the idea. However, this knowledge all too often doesn't get put into practice. Because too many managers only pay attention to their top performers.
The problem, of course, is that you can't build an organization only on top performers. The backbone of any organization is always the good, steady, medium performer, the one who is always there, rain, hail or shine.
Paying attention to only your top people is entirely reactive, and this 'what-have-you-done-for-me-lately' approach breeds discontent among your middle performers.
Managers must be proactive and pay attention to all of their people, from day 1. Yes, the top performers will still bubble up, but they succeed in spite of management, not because of it. It's those middle performers – the backbone of your organization – that need to feel appreciated, and who will drive your business forward.
Further, it's often said that your staff will treat customers as you treat your staff; it's a trickle-down effect. So by paying attention to all employees, so will your employees pay attention to all customers.
To the single employee, Roesler's title gets it right: "Just pay attention to me." But for managers, the mantra must be "Just pay attention to everyone."
A belated Happy New Year to everyone!
After some great down time from the blog, certainly much longer than expected as we found ourselves quite busy with clients, we're back! A good problem to have, we like to say.
So we're now working on several new posts. Expect at least one a week moving forward, and possibly more than that.
Here's to a great 2010.