Do We Need To Reconsider How We Think About Management?

If you ask a manager in any organisation around the world what his/her job is, the answers are variations of the same core idea about management. The majority of managers view their jobs as a matter of achieving a result through people. The fact that they perceive their role in this way is not surprising, given that managers in general are measured against, and rewarded for, the results they get out of their people.

Managers who view it this way will try to make skill use of the management tools at their disposal, including targets, deadlines, incentives, and verbal communication. This turns into what some people would call ‘carrot and sticks’ leadership, as it amounts to the use of either compulsion (stick) or persuasion (carrot) to get people to deliver.

Managers usually think that to be more successful you must rely more on persuasion than compulsion, and they believe that persuasion works better of the two. The most effective managers are thought to be those who know the best strategy of the two to use in a given situation, and are versatile in their approach.

But, there are a number of problems with this ‘mechanistic’ view of management.

The Inevitable Consequences of ‘Sticks and Carrots’ Management

Compulsion motivates through fear. When you compel, you threaten with negative consequences. People, understandably, feel that they are being forced, coerced or even bullied into doing things. They tend to listen but only in order to get rid of the threat. This produces an attitude of passive resistance: The person will not invest in the thing, they do it only to avoid the threat. It breeds an attitude of ‘I will do exactly what you say and I hope that it fails.’ In the long run, this results in apathy and a lack of commitment.

Carrots, on the other hand, appeal to the greed in human beings. Employees make the desired response but only in order to get what they want.

Limits to What ‘Sticks and Carrots’ Delivers

Coercion and persuasion can, and often do, work. But the problem is that these achievements are not sustainable: Employees are doing what is required of them because they feel they have to and not because they want to. Employees are not buying in and taking full ownership of the contribution that is required of them.

In the face of coercion, they give what is required out of fear of punishment. It is the fear of punishment that drives them, not commitment. In response to persuasive enticement they become concerned by what’s in it for them; they give in order to get. It is excitement of what they want that drives them. Both strategies get movement but not willingness. Employees will only give if either the ‘stick’ or the ‘carrot’ is present. In its absence, they are uninterested.

Persuasion is Often Worse Than Compulsion

Even if you are very skilled, the people you are persuading, or trying to positively influence, will not be continually fooled. If you are being nice in order to get something out of someone, they will sense that they are being manipulated. Their response will go beyond resistance to retaliation, to getting their own back. Over time, this leads to hostility and conflict. Both sides will only be in the relationship to maximise their own self-interest, to get as much as possible for giving as little as possible.

In response to both the compulsion and persuasion, employee reaction is predictable. This is because everybody is hardwired to resist coercion and to retaliate when they feel manipulated. To avoid these consequences, managers need to redefine their own view of their role. They need to stop viewing their role as that of using people to achieve a result. They need to invert their understanding of what their job is. The product of leadership is not a result, it is an exceptional human being.​

The first step to rethinking your management style is to consider the Care & Growth Model which makes up Schuitema’s Leadership Excellence approach to management, which enables leadership transformation across a variety of organisations.

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