Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Book: Brain Science Shows Current Management Techniques Do More Harm Than Good

I can't begin to count the number of "management gurus" I've interviewed over the years. They explain how to use 360-degree feedback; give ideas for 1,001 employee rewards and incentives; and outline how to set achievable goals for employees.

Then I interviewed Charles Jacobs, and he basically said these people were full of crap. OK, those are my words, not his. But he's done the research, and he says that the brain science shows that all these management techniques don't work. In fact, they usually achieve the opposite: They create hostile, demoralized, unproductive and uncreative employees.

When I wrote the story, I expected to hear some laughs from employees around the country, along with a "damn straight!" response. It wasn't long before the first e-mail arrived from a businessperson, who noted that too many MBAs had stuck their nose in this person's business over the last several years, and this pro was sick of it.

Treating employees with the best management technique around -- The Golden Rule -- had worked for decades, the person said. What doesn't work? "Goals, incentive plans and weekly mandatory sales meetings" the worker wrote, which had led to declining morale.

“A lot of what managers are doing now doesn’t work. It may make them feel better, but it’s not helping their employees,” says Jacobs, managing partner of 180 Partners in Boston. “Much of this came out of Greek philosophy 2,500 years ago, but now we have the brain science to prove it.”

In his new book, “Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn’t Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Science” (Portfolio, $25.95), Jacobs says:

* Performance feedbacks backfire. Employees aren’t going to change their behavior because they have a “deep seated” need to hang on to their self image. So, they will either attribute a performance failure to something else, or discount the source of the feedback. “When the source is our bosses or people we don’t especially care for, this is an attractive option,” Jacobs says.
* Rewards don’t work. The brain is wired to produce feelings of pleasure when we’re fully engaged on the job. Financial incentives actually decrease our intrinsic motivation – the need for achievement that comes from inside us.
* Goal setting doesn’t produce results. It’s emotion – not numerical objectives – that keep us focused and committed to a larger mission. “Objective goals should be in the service of a larger mission than just profit,” he says.
Further, the key to managing effectively is realizing that management practices that “are the way things have always been done” simply don’t work, and the brain science proves it, Jacobs says. Instead, he says it’s time companies realize that leaders must learn to manage “both mind and behavior.”

“No one wants to be controlled by a manager or anyone else,” he says. “We all want to do a good job. So, what’s going to work is them (employees) is doing it on their own. You can’t force people. They can be successful on their own.”

Jacobs says that if organizations will learn “to channel our innate selfishness rather than attempting to counter it,” employees will be more engaged, more motivated and more successful – and that translates into real bottom line results for a company.

He says managers should:
* Use questions to engage employees. “They should stop worrying about the right incentives to motivate good performance and should instead leverage the universal human desire for meaningful work,” Jacobs says.
* Ask for more employee input. While the tough economy and potential layoffs has everyone on edge, managers need to motivate employees by asking for their ideas on keeping a company successful. For example, workers can feel more empowered when managers ask for their ideas on how to cut expenses. “When employees are fearful about what’s going to happen, their behavior can change. The brain slows. The result is that people become less productive. You don’t need hokey recognition programs. You need to give as much information as possible and let them know where the business stands. You’ve got to keep them really focused when they’re scared.”
* Let employees be their own judge. Jacobs says that no matter how constructive managers try to make it, feedback from them is just perceived as negative. It’s much better to let workers appraise their own performance, using whatever hard data is available. “They have a greater ownership of any shortfalls,” he says. “It then becomes in their best interests to correct them.”
* Tell stories. Stories are the way our brains naturally work; they make sense of the world. By telling stories to illustrate a point – how Americans didn’t give up during the Revolution , for example – the “mental environment” is created that helps get them to do what is needed.

“It’s not like you’re turning the asylum over to the inmates. What will happen if you do these things is that people are going to like working there, and they’ll do better,” Jacobs says.

Do you think currently accepted management techniques should be changed?

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Monday, December 1, 2008

Is Any Job Beneath You?

I think there's probably nothing more demoralizing than looking for work and being unable to find a job.

Because let's be honest: Despite all the pep talks you give yourself, it's miserable to send out resumes and not hear anything back, or land an interview and then never get an offer. You try to stay upbeat, but day after day of not finding work is tough. Anyone who tells you differently is either lying or living on vodka.

Still, there may be one thing that makes you feel worse than not getting a job -- getting an offer that is beneath you. Wait. Let me amend that: There's nothing worse than getting a job you believe is beneath you.

Why? Because the minute you believe a job is not good enough for you, the minute you sell yourself against the idea that a job won't make good use of your time and talents, then you've set yourself up to be miserable. More miserable, in fact, than not getting a job at all.

The people who feel this way need to spend about an hour with Paul Facella, and they'll soon change their minds about how demoralizing it is to accept a "lesser" job.

Facella is a top management guru who used to be an executive at McDonald's after rising through the ranks from his position at age 16 manning the grill. He's got a new book, Everything I Know About Business I Learned at McDonald's" and I spent some time talking to him about how tough it is to find a job these days. He says that in this economy, you gotta do what you gotta do.

That means you put your ego aside, and take whatever job you can get. Oh, yeah -- and check the attitude at the door.

"Look at it as an opportunity with a big ‘o’”, he says.

Facella notes that anytime you take a job that knocks you down the ranks, you should look at it as a chance correct sloppy habits and improve others. In fact, it's sort of like an on-the-job business school as you "can see how management operates and what works – and what doesn’t. It will help you get ready for your next job by observing both the good and the bad.”

At the same time, Facella notes that any job where you have direct contact with the public will hone your skills faster than any formal training and probably give you a great deal of satisfaction at the same time. "Nothing teaches you quicker than getting feedback and recognition from the public," he says. "And, people in lower level jobs are often very social and close-knit. They have a lot of fun together."

Facella also advocates taking a lesser job because chances are very good you'll quickly move up the ranks, and be better for taking that path.

"There's a certain power you have as a manager when you know the job. When you talk to employees, and they know that you understand what they do every day, then the trust and leadership factor for you as a manager goes way up," he says.

Facella also notes that those who work in the trenches together often form lasting bonds that can pay off big dividends in the future. He says many of those he worked with at McDonald's now are top executives at other companies.

"You learn a lot about collaboration and cooperation when you depend on one another. Teamwork becomes very important, and you learn to create opportunities for yourself," he says. "You make a decision to be the best at whatever you're doing."

Do you think there are advantages to accepting a job at a lower level or pay?

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Friday, October 24, 2008

10 Things Overheard at the Last Management Meeting

As an employee, it's often nerve-wracking to see managers troop into a meeting during these difficult financial times. What are they talking about? Is it good? Is it bad? Are they debating who is going to get laid off? Plans for a big project? What critical decisions are they making that the fate of dozens -- perhaps hundreds -- of employees hinge upon?

It would be interesting to a fly on the wall during these sessions. That's why I thought I would speculate about 10 things overheard at the last management meeting:

1. "I told you we have auditors."

2. "We need to make some decisions about personnel. Anyone got a quarter? OK -- call it. If it's heads, Trish goes. Tails, it's Larry."

3. "We've got to find a way to cut down on distractions around here. All those in favor of moving our next meeting to the golf course, say 'aye.'"

4. "I could have been the next David Hasselhoff, but noooo --I had to get that MBA."

5. "It's unanimous: We use the 'Deal or No Deal' model for payroll this next quarter."

6. "So, no one really batted an eye when I told them to re-use envelopes. But the 'bring your own toilet paper' memo didn't go over so great."

7. "Hey -- I'm hitting the dollar store after work to pickup up a few 'forced early retirement' gifts. Anyone wanna come along?"

8. "It was all I could do to keep a straight face when I told my staff: "Don't panic. Everything's fine."

9. "I just found a great new website to help with performance evaluations. It's called "make-em-squirm.com."

10. "Oh, Lord. Is that the FBI?"

What else might be overheard in a meeting of managers these days?

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Thursday, September 4, 2008

When Times are Tough, How Do You Keep Workers Focused and Engaged?

While no one would dispute the fact that workers are stressed because of continuing layoffs, stagnant wages and rising consumer prices, the pressure may be compounded for the people in charge of keeping workers enthusiastic and motivated -- managers.

I recently interviewed Michael Stallard, CEO of E Pluribus Partners in Greenwich, Conn., and he told me that at times like this, managers have to be even more vigilant about staying close -- physically, mentally and emotionally -- to their staff.

That's because employees can become unfocused and unproductive when times are so uncertain and challenging.

“Stress sort of short-circuits the brain,” Stallard says.

Still, Stallard says managers have some tools to help bring teams together, such as making sure all workers "feel like they’re connected.”

That means that managers need to make sure they keep an open-door policy" and assure workers they’re available to talk about any anxieties they may be experiencing. At the same time, Stallard says managers should actively work at finding ways to get employees out of the office, which can be ground zero for work stress.

“Go to lunch with your employees. Go for a walk with them. Spend time with them one-on-one, and let them express their feelings,” he says. “And make sure that when they are at work, you give them some tasks that they enjoy doing.”

Stallard advises managers trying to energize and engage employees during these tough economic times to:

• Stay focused. Employees should be reminded that they have an obligation to their other team members, and that means everyone must pull his or her weight and work toward targeted goals. Remind them how important their work is for everyone on the team, he says.
• Keep the panic at bay. “Let them know that if they’re feeling especially anxious, they should come and talk to you,” he says. “You’ve got to make sure they know they can talk about whatever they’re going through.”
• Use social media. Some employees may be more comfortable communicating through e-mail or social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter. “Face-to-face contact is always the best, but more managers have employees on different continents or in different cities. Social media is a great way to stay connected with your team and keep them engaged.”
• Remember to laugh. “Humor is a great reliever of stress,” he says. “Try and find ways to have some fun with your employees.”

But what if the worst thing happens – and a manager must lay off workers?

“The first time I had to lay someone off it made me physically sick,” Stallard says. “You have an obligation to be respectful, and show empathy. That’s critical. You also need to try and help them as much as you can in finding another job.”

Stallard says he strongly disagrees with employees being immediately escorted from a building upon dismissal from a job, which he calls “humiliating.”

“You should let them finish their day and communicate with the other employees,” he says. “One other thing to think about: The existing employees will remember how you treated those who left.”

Finally, Stallard says the key for managers trying to cope with these challenging times is to practice a management philosophy that treats people with respect and compassion through good times and bad.

“A lot of what goes into keeping people engaged through the tough times is the history of how you have managed,” he says. “It’s almost like you’re building up an emotional bank account.”

What else can managers do to help keep employees engaged and enthusiastic?



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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Was Rodney Dangerfield a Manager?

I saw a study that said a great majority (71 percent of 972 workers surveyed) would not like to be the boss, and not only did they not want to be in charge, they didn’t think they could do a better job than the boss.

That seems odd, considering the number of “bad boss” books on the market today. We have books saying that bosses are crazy, raised by wolves, micromanaging ogres and in short, the most horrible two-legged creatures on the face of the planet.

OK, so maybe that’s just used to sell books. The truth is that some bosses are good, and some are not so good. But before we claim they should be dropped into abandoned mines, let’s consider what they do every day.

They put up with employees who smell and look like they slept at the bottom of a laundry basket. They have to referee spats between co-workers arguing over who left the dirty dishes in the sink. They have workers who don’t show up for work because, well, because it’s a nice day and they don’t feel like working. They put in many hours at home after their families go to sleep because they can’t get any work done in the office with all the constant interruptions from their staff.

Their own bosses demand constant reports, insist that budgets be cut without affecting production and order that their lips be sealed regarding potential layoffs.

They are, in other words, constantly between a rock and a hard place. Their loyalty and energy are constantly being divided between the employees they oversee and the senior managers. Little respect or consideration is offered from anyone for what they go through every day.

Yeah, who wouldn’t want that job?

That’s why Wayne Turmel (a.k.a. The Cranky Middle Manager) speaks up for middle managers, offering them sound advice – coupled with humor – to help them keep going. He notes that while companies offer little or no training dollars to those in middle management, it’s not always a bad job.

He’s right. Many managers talk about the sense of satisfaction they get from coaching employees, helping them improve their skills and reach their goals. They like being the kind of leader that inspires; they even enjoy providing pizza on a Friday afternoon to recognize good work.

So, the next time you’re quick to dump on your manager, take a moment and consider what it’s like to stand in his shoes. Maybe it’s a job you don’t want, but that’s no reason to make it a job he doesn’t want, either.

If you are in management, a couple of places you might want to check out for further support and education include:


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