Dear Dave: The economy is bad, and our competition is trying to kill us. I think that managers like me should just keep workers busy and they should be happy they have a job. I have systems my workers must learn, and I have ways of measuring performance – and I post our performance results for all to see. I have meetings regularly and talk about my plans and goals. My workers know what to do and they do it. They know that if they slip up a few times, they are gone. That’s how we get things done and you can tell your readers about my management methods. – A

Dear A: From what I can tell, you sound like a hard worker and expect others to work hard, too. That is a good thing, and hard work often gets things done. Also, I agree with you that workers who have work should be grateful. I believe, in general, any organization realizes what you realize, and the fact is, survival rests on out-selling, out-servicing, and out-delivering their competition.

Companies want results, and they need smart, driven, skilled, and experienced employees to deliver them. And companies set plans in action to achieve their targeted goals. However, results and a paycheck only tell a part of the story and – probably, just like you – employees crave and need respect, appreciation, recognition and acceptance. This is not a fantasy; it is a reality. I believe that talented employees will migrate to companies that provide these things.


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Therefore, management requires more than accountability, intense monitoring, and pressure and necessitates true motivators such as instilling trust, delegating work responsibly, empowering and inspiring workers, and helping workers become the best they can be. Simply, if your workers are treated shabbily, they will provide minimal, shabby results. And if they are treated with respect, trust and dignity, you will witness turned-on people doing amazing work.

So, you have a choice: you can ride employees like rented mules or you can motivate them to want to contribute, crave to be a part of something special, and aspire to learn more, so they can help the company succeed and they can then advance their careers. I am not a psychologist and I don’t want to appear like one, but, I do know that employees want to work where they are happy – yes, I said happy – and where they can become more and do more.

What motivation does for workers

First, let me say, you appear to be well-intentioned and feel you have a management formula for success. The problem is the way you are going about it and that you are dealing by intimidation – even if you do not believe it. When employees are tense and work under strict commands, I believe they will make more mistakes. There is nothing worse for your employees than to have someone breathe down their necks all day. From what I can tell, there is little room for your employees to “color outside of the lines” a bit and come up with innovations that will help them do their work better.

Studies reveal that most employees want to think on their own and solve their own problems. However, there are a vast number of managers who believe employees must not think and only adhere to the systems in place and do nothing but the work defined in the systems. This style of management leaves little room for autonomy, creative thinking, experimentation, and quality enhancement. In short, the employees will keep their mouths shut, do their work, and go home, but the ability of the company to breed future leaders has been squashed.

In my estimation, it is essential that managers share their knowledge with staff members to help them grow and achieve more. You must remember that employees take pride in being a part of the solutions that companies are trying to find. Not including employees – especially those closest to the work being investigated – is like telling the employees that their opinions and ideas are worthless. In time, the employees will not share anything that may be important, because they don’t want to face the humiliation of being shot down each time they provide some insight.

Also, please realize that the most powerful people in organizations are often those with no formal authority whatsoever. These are the “go to” experts and everybody knows who they are and how much knowledge they possess. Employees believe they can go to these nonmanagement experts for help and information when needed. These informal experts do not show off what they know … they are just ready, trusted resources.

In conclusion, I ask you to just be nice to your employees. They come to work with “personal life baggage.” Be there for them and just care for them.

Contact Dave Conrad with questions or comments at Conrad is an associate professor of business at Augsburg University in Rochester.