You and your team have been working non-stop for a very long time on a project with unrealistic milestones and barely possible deadlines. You have all just broken your backs to meet yet another critical but nearly impossible deadline, you’ve spent many nights and weekends to get this done. You’ve all missed important family events to accomplish this.After all of this, after accomplishing what looked to be impossible, you meet with your boss, expecting heartfelt thanks and appreciation, but instead you are told that what you did was simply not good enough and your boss is disappointed in you all for failing to deliver on what he promised, and that if things don’t improve, you are all in danger of losing your jobs. How’s that for a great work motivator! You are one of the “lucky” teams to have a boss who comes from the “Floggings Will Continue Until Morale Improves” (FWCUMI) school of inspirational management.
It would be nice to think that this type of management approach isn’t common, but it is far more common than it should be. The view is to concentrate on what you’re doing wrong and to ignore what you’re doing right. In the industrial age, where the means of production were predominantly the equipment used to produce products and where that means of production remained at the company when the employees went home at night, this kind of approach might work, although it would hardly be effective. But in today’s information age, particularly with “knowledge workers”, the means of production resides in the brains of those “knowledge workers”, and goes home with them every night. Using the “FWCUMI” philosophy is not only foolish, it is counter-productive and destructive.
Managing “knowledge workers” is like herding cats (see Herding Cats: The Art of “Managing” Knowledge Workers, and related articles Herding Cats 2, Herding Cats 3, Herding Cats 4, Herding Cats 5, Herding Cats 6). The value of these people is their brains, their creativity, and their independence of thought. Management succeeds only when they succeed. They are more knowledgeable than their managers about how to properly develop their products and determine the ultimate success of their projects and products. Management needs them far more than they need management.
The “FWCUMI” approach may work in the very near term. People want or need to keep a paycheck coming in and may be afraid that if they don’t comply they will find themselves without one. It may work when there is a downturn in the economy that makes finding a new job harder. However, the “FWCUMI” approach simply won’t work in the long term. A manager’s best employees can always find a new job in a healthier work environment where their capabilities are appreciated and rewarded, even during an economic downturn. These “best” employees are usually the first to leave. Then the manager is left with the “second best” employees. The process continues. Eventually, only the “least best” employees will remain, and how can the manager effectively develop products then? Recruiting people into such an environment is extremely difficult; after all, who would want to work there? The “FWCUMI” philosophy is self-defeating. This is particularly true when the job market is good with very low levels of unemployment.
Why would any boss adopt this management approach? It really comes down to the personality of the individual manager or management team; bad managers can poison the work environment (see Mis-Managers series of articles: Mis-Managers: How Bad Managers Can Poison the Well, Mis-Managers 2: Janus & Old Yeller, Mis-Managers 3: Builder-Upper & Tearer-Downer, Mis-Managers 4: Micro-Managers - People, Design & Process, Mis-Managers 5: Power Tripper & Turf Builder and Mis-Managers 6: Mentor, Tactician & Strategist, and Mis-Managers 7: Hands-Off, Wheeler-Dealer, Credit Taker/Thief & A$$hole). When reviewing performance, managers typically evaluate employees “strengths” and “areas for improvement” (a euphemism for “weaknesses”). Some managers believe that they will see better performance if they concentrate on the “weaknesses” and point out what the employee is doing wrong rather than praising the employee for what he/she is doing right. They seem to think that the employee already knows what he/she is doing right, so why bother “wasting time” talking about that. This approach is often exacerbated when working with a team. If a schedule is not met, why not simply concentrate on what remains to be done rather than “waste time” talking about what has already been done? Such managers tend to feel that they are most “efficient” by concentrating on fixing the product/project problems that need “their” attention. They do not recognize that the people are as or more important than the individual technical issues and that without them, the project will go nowhere.
If all you do is beat people up and tell them why they’re bad, inadequate, incompetent, or ineffectual, they will seldom respond by jumping into the job with all they’ve got, to “do it for the Gipper”. They will be discouraged and will do only what they need to keep their job until they can find a new one. This is hardly a recipe for success.
When a team is highly motivated it is simply astounding what they can accomplish (see Pigasus: When Pigs Fly!). If they all feel their efforts are recognized and appreciated, they will redouble their efforts to do even more. Any alternative approach that acknowledges what has been accomplished, expresses gratitude for the effort that has been made, and then expresses understanding that what remains may be challenging but can be accomplished by the team, will provide the motivation for the team to proceed with vigor and enthusiasm. Simple but heartfelt appreciation goes a very long way.
Don’t be a boss who practices a “FWCUMI” approach. Recognize that your people need encouragement and recognition and not continual “flogging”. They should be asked for their opinions and be encouraged to make decisions that you as the boss will agree to stand behind.
Don’t tolerate a boss who uses an irresponsible “FWCUMI” approach on a team you’re a member of. If your boss is approachable, do so and let him/her know that this approach is counterproductive. If he/she responds and changes, then the change should be good for all. If he/she doesn’t, then it may be time to make others aware of this behavior to see if they can help address the problem. If after trying to get the behavior to change, it still doesn’t, then it is probably time to look elsewhere for a new position. Life is too short to put up with such treatment. There are many other opportunities out there, where your work ethic and efforts will be appreciated and valued.
Morale will not improve when you are being continually “flogged”. Don’t let that happen!