Grow from the Bottom, Kill from the Top

Personnel at the work face are the key to organisational success; management is the key to organisational failure.  Good management is critical to quality but management’s ability to ensure success is limited by the staff who work on the front line.

I’ve previously written about motivation, focusing on Herzberg’s hygiene factors but, when speaking about motivation, I often point out that a good manager shouldn’t be measured by how well he/she motivates – but by how well he/she avoids de-motivating.  Whilst many organisations will have a few staff who never intend to pull their weight, the majority of staff set out to do as good a job as they can.  Engineers don’t set out to design a sub-standard product, planners don’t plan to fail nor do welders intend to make poor welds.  Most people want to do their best, achievements bring satisfaction, but poor management gets in the way forcing people to do less than their best.  Failing to train welders properly for the welding standard required, providing sub-standard equipment, not allowing sufficient time – all these make it impossible for a welder to feel proud of his/her work.  Project timetables that rush engineering design, insufficient time for proper checks and reviews, forcing compromises on standards – when delivering something on-time is more important than delivering it right, any pride in work goes straight out of the window.

I could easily continue listing examples of how management can de-motivate, some are quite obvious but not all.  Insufficient training is rarely considered until failures are being investigated, but it’s then often seen as contributing to the failure of staff rather than a failure of management.  How about work:life balance?  If the organisation doesn’t take that into account in its HR policies, management need to accept responsibility when home life issues interfere with work.  One example I sometimes use is flexi-time: somebody may set off to work in a good mood (and motivated) but less so after fighting through an hour of rush-hour traffic; arguments about who does the school run don’t help, either.  There are many situations where it’s not possible to give flexible hours to everyone but I rarely find organisations where flexible working is seen as the first choice – it’s usually something that is only considered as an option when it doesn’t need other changes to implement.

Good management will almost inevitably engender good front-line staff, staff who will do their best to deliver quality products and services to satisfied customers.  Poor management will ensure that, no matter how good the intentions of the front-line staff…

(Published as a blog 4th June 2019)