David, the owner of a company with seventy staff contacted me via LinkedIn last week to ask my advice on a particular problem that has been brought to his attention. He has just received the third complaint this year from members of the company’s most successful sales team; each has been about Rick, their manager, and his methods of motivation and his abuse of his organisational power over his staff team.
He was a little reluctant to upset Rick, after all he has maintained incredible results and productivity, despite the company’s general sales flat lining. David had decided not to disturb the team’s balance or work patterns; in fact, he has done nothing except contact me for advice.
At this point, I am reminded of a line from a story my father used to tell me. “When one person tells you you look like a monkey, ignore them. When a second person tells you you look like a monkey, ignore them too. However, when a third person tells you that you look like a monkey, surely it’s time to consult a mirror”. Perhaps this little adage works at some levels to ensure self-esteem and personal wellbeing, but in management, ignore the first accusation at your peril.
What could it be that makes Rick’s team so successful? It seems that they are currently working at maximum output (or perhaps even beyond), and are therefore motivated. I have seen teams before working to unsustainable levels with the manager using fear as the fuel for their output. In the short to medium term this looks good, but will certainly result in burn-out and team implosion.
Managers can lead their teams to achieve incredible output if a short term goal is being sought. “We need to get this order out by Friday, I know it is going to be hard, but if we all pull together, we should be able to achieve it”. By so saying, this hypothetical manager will be working alongside the team to perform. Perhaps longer than usual hours will be put in, but this manager is likely to reward team members and there is unlikely to be grievances made to senior staff.
I can guess Rick’s motivational talk. “You know that your jobs are on the line, which means mine is too. If we maintain our position as the top team any redundancies will come from elsewhere. You’re just going to have to work harder and get better results. It’s a time to push, push, push!” This seems OK, but for how long can people work at maximum output? My guess is not too long.
David ignored the first and second complaints. These should have been signposts suggesting not all is well in Team A. He is obliged to take each complaint seriously, investigate them and offer support where necessary. I am not for one moment suggesting that Rick is a bad manager, he has just resorted to abrasive behaviours in order to achieve. I suggest that most managers do at some time or another.
I will be offering David a series of workshops for all the company’s sales teams on how to improve output without threat or other negative behaviour. Certainly for Rick, a coaching course from the “Men in Management” or “Leading from Within” programmes would be of benefit to help him develop improved motivational skills.
Let’s see where this one goes.