Do you want compliance or engagement?

Gorilla Here’s a conversation I once had with a small business owner, though it applies to traditional bosses everywhere.

It illustrates the suppressive effects of top-down management on self-motivation and engagement.

JO: How come you didn’t talk with your staff before you made your controversial announcement?

Small Business Owner: I call the shots here.

JO: Understood. But you didn’t want to hear their concerns?

SBO: This company isn’t a democracy. I KNOW what my people need. And it pisses me off when they waste time second-guessing me.

JO: Nobody’s questioning your right to do what you do…

SBO: But everybody is! They’re questioning how I make my decisions and how I communicate them. If they spent more time doing their job we’d get more done around here.

JO: You have the right to make decisions on your own—it IS your company—but it’s not a question of rights. It’s a question of RESULTS. Do you want to lead the company in a way that gets the results you want, or not?

SBO: I’d get the results if everyone would stop bellyaching.

JO: Right now the result you’re getting is an angry, rebellious staff. Agreed? To get the result you want—a team that’s bought into your plan and is enthusiastically acting on it—you have to AT LEAST listen to their input—and then communicate in a way that respects it. Even better if you give them a say in the decision. Do you want COMPLIANCE or ENGAGEMENT? Compliance will only give you a resentful crew doing mediocre work. It’s your choice.

I left him to ponder the sage advice of business author Robert Waterman—coauthor of In Search of Excellence with Tom Peters—about the importance of “giving up control over people to get control over results.” But somehow Mr. Boss missed the clue train. He’s still living in the world of Father Knows Best. And of course he’s not alone. This species may be dying off, but way too slowly.

One of the things I love about the world of rock & roll—and especially bands (small business teams): decisions for the most part are consensual and leadership is distributed. Different situations call for different members to step up. And the band (the team) has the final say. (More about this in a previous post.)

Does the 800-pound gorilla call the shots where you work? Or is that a fading echo from the past?

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  1. Presumably if the SBO decided to do something that he didn't realise was illegal or was clearly a gross misunderstanding of a customer's request, he'd expect the staff to shrug, get on with it and let him wreck his own business?

  2. I used to work for one of those. No, two of them, in a row. Three years each of overt bullying (in the first case) and passive/aggressive bullying (in the second case.)

    We don't have employees, we have subcontractors, but I like to think they don't see Best Beloved and I as 800 pound gorillas.

    Perhaps successfully raising 6 kids (with the 7th coming along quite nicely) has taught us some management lessons — things like letting go of control over the kids in order to have control over the results.

    1. "letting go of control over the kids in order to have control over the results." Great application of Waterman. Everywhere I go I see the effects of ignoring THAT principle.

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