The current MBA subject I am doing is Managing Contemporary Organisations. For such a dull title, it has rocked my world.
In my experience in management, one of the areas where I was never able to reconcile common practice with my own reason was application of ‘human resource’ policy to people. I saw processes which I knew were common in many places, but which unintentionally stripped people of dignity, or treated them as cogs in some machine - because the system could not cope with the rich complexity of humans. I always thought there must be a better way.
As previously posted, organisations are more like complex systems than machines. They are organic, not mechanical. Therefore, what is the role of a manager? A traditional answer may be ‘to motivate people’. If that is the case, then how do you do that? Incentives, like money or promotion? Or punitive measures like firing the ‘bottom 10%’ every year? A mix of both?
As with most areas of study, the matter came down to two schools of thought: either people come to work already motivated to do well (intrinsic motivation, Theory Y); or they are inherently lazy and require motivation by management (extrinsic motivation, Theory X). For many years, and the dominant current practice, is that people require external rewards to ‘incentivise’ them to work. Though lip service is paid to Theory Y, in my experience the actions of many managers reveal an underlying assumption of Theory X. Provide more incentives, people will work harder. Apply punitive measures, and people will do what it takes to avoid them. It is a rational conclusion to make.
However this did not match my experience in the not-for-profit sector. There, people worked very hard for very poor external rewards. It also doesn’t explain the data, where surveys often rank money or promotion as fourth of fifth on a list of reasons why they work. Nor workplaces where punitive measures are common and productivity is low, as people achieve the bare minimum to avoid punishment.
Therefore I come down strongly on the intrinsic side, because the evidence supports it, and it makes rational sense to me.
The role of management therefore, is to provide an environment in which people can pursue their intrinsic motivation - to remove barriers, and improve systems. To quote Maslow:
“I think of the self-actualising man not as an ordinary man with something added, but as an ordinary man with nothing taken away”
In a Christian setting it provides interesting critique of the ‘hellfire and brimstone’ method of evangelism, where people will do the bare minimum to achieve salvation and nothing more. In a Church, it is instructive to leaders in managing volunteers - their role is to remove barriers to those seeking to contribute - not motivate them to do what they want, promising the reward of satisfaction or recognition.
Having gained this new understanding, I am still applying it to different contexts and learning from it. More to come no doubt. An immediate question I have though, given that extrinsic rewards are often assumed, is what this means for ‘performance management’. Lucky for me, that is the topic for this weeks lecture!