I had one board member ask me why I was wasting time on these people issues. I said, "What business are we in?" As I see it, we are in the business of forming teams of people to do things for companies that create value for them. Without our people, we have no business. We don't make anything tangible.
He said, "I know that, but you are dealing in this soft stuff. People don't want the creativity, the freedom, and the things that you are trying to give them. They aren't trying to find meaning in their work. People just want to come to work, do their job, and have a clear understanding of what's expected from them. They want to be paid fairly and that is all that they want."
I said, "You couldn't have stated more clearly everything that I don't believe about people and work." - Mort Meyerson, former chairman and CEO of Perot Systems and former chairman of EDS. (From interview in Maslow on Management. Meyerson's classic Fast Company article.)
We're going to need a lot more of Meyerson's mindset for inspiring instead of coercing the creative class in the Conceptual Age (buzzword quota met).
I just started reading a galley copy of Confronting Reality : Doing What Matters to Get Things Right by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, authors of the best-selling business book Execution. If you thought it was only individuals that were freaked out about the changing global marketplace, I'm starting to suspect that corporations are much more terrified about the implications of competing in an ultra-competitive global marketplace. Confronting Reality is a call to action (full review at 800-CEO-READ blog in a few weeks) for organizational leaders that the future will not resemble the past whatsoever. Incremental innovation - I'm not just talking products - isn't enough. Bossidy is calling for facing reality without denial and re-thinking the guts of our businesses - from business models, processes, value-chains - everything is up for reconsideration.
Coincidently Larry Bossidy was vice chairman and executive officer at General Electric from 1984 to 1991. My first job out of college was at General Electric during Bossidy's tenure - back when it was the Fortune 1 company and largest private employer in the world (at least that's what I recall). The worst (and most demotivating) manager (and I've been through a lot when they switch every few months) in my entire career was at General Electric. He exemplified Theory X management taken to the hilt; he had absolute distrust in all of his people.
McGregor states: "The assumptions management holds about controlling its human resources determines the whole character of the enterprise."
I believe organizations that 'confront reality' will recognize the glaring disconnect between the growing reliance on creativity, knowledge and capital as the prime revenue-generating resources - especially for a developed country's organizations - and the way that individuals (human capital) and relationships (social capital) are often treated no better than farm implements and animals.
Confronting reality? A good place to begin is confronting underlying assumptions about people and relationships that hold back the full potential of individuals, teams and organizations.
Google "Theory X Theory Y" and you'll find tons of information. Theory X is the status quo. In order to go beyond paying lip-service to creative destruction and innovation, Theory Y is the future. Theory X is power; Theory Y is rational faith. One of the central assumptions of Theory Y about workers is:
Employees have the capacity to exercise a high degree of imagination, ingenuity and creativity.
Don't believe it? Your expectations - whether they are low or high - for others will usually be met. This is an true story by Halley Suitt that I've kept bookmarked that demonstrates exactly that. A very very worthwhile read.
Assume in all your people the impulse to achieve. - Abraham Maslow, Maslow on Management