Leading a Mass Market of One

Some clients raise questions related to:  “Why don’t my staff feel and act like owners?  I treat them well.”  It’s a good question.  Why is that?  You treat people well, yet they show increasing levels of frustration – absenteeism, complacency, apathy, and short-turn around departures.

So, what do you do?  With probing (not prodding) of staff, you discover that management is recognized for treating staff well – hum. 

Management is frustrated, too.  There appears to be no answers.  I often see the knee-jerk reaction to resort to top-down command and control responses and immediate policy changes.  Increasingly I see this gets little or no results – quite the contrary, I’ve seen it make a bigger mess out of a situation that was already strained.  When I was younger, we just complied.  Now, you see staff really revolting in very passive aggressive ways – not showing up, being late, lack of consistent and quality product, or poor attitudes with clients.

It begs the question:  Does something need to change in our approach and the tools we use in basic management techniques – after all this is about behaviors of others.  Yes, we must! And, I believe we can’t wait because our collective competitive advantage is at risk.

I remember 10 years ago focusing on the “mass market of one” (thank you very much the expansion of the internet, which made this term popular).  Well, I think we may be seeing this at work in organizations.  The expectation from staff is I am a mass market of one.  And, it’s reinforced through infatuation with social media where I can be myself, address my most of my needs, and meet others like me in vast worlds of strangers at any time of the night or day. 

Here are a couple of ideas that come to mind worth exploring further:

  • Management needs to master the art of positive reinforcement for the individual.  Not only does punishment as a form of behavior reform work in very few cases these days, but it also often loses the needs of the individual in the process, which you need to understand to a change their behavior.  Policies and expected behaviors are wonderful to create the guidelines and standards. But when is the last time you put the effort into rewarding the behaviors you want instead of punishing the behaviors you don’t want. Ask yourself if your emphasis is on the wrong syl-LAB-le. 
  • Management should delegate more while not becoming dependent on the individual.  Set the expectations of the outcome and let them deliver.  Stop worrying about the process, instead focus on the results.  If you want to refine the process, great!  But results are the key and process easy to refine when you’re getting results.  If staff can’t deliver find someone who can and replace them.  It’s not cold, rather it’s necessary. 
  • Staff need to own helping themselves – self advocating is a long lost art.  Contrary to popular belief, it really isn’t someone else’s fault that they may not be clearly understood.  However, staff need tools to help them understand what really floats their boats and how to articulate it.  I’m surprised at how often staff do not know what they need or want – what motivates them. Trust me, it’s not always money.  Not knowing the answer to individual motivation greatly reduces management’s ability to succeed. 
  • And finally, staff need to know they are accountable, and they need to be held accountable.  It’s staff’s responsibility to ask questions.  Management unknowingly train staff to stop asking by giving no, poor or degrading responses.  Staff deserve thoughtful responses, like management deserves questions raised early in the process.  It’s not healthy or productive for staff to assume “management should …” or ask “why can’t they just…”  And, it’s not healthy for management to assume staff are being honest and open.  After all, what you don’t know can hurt you.  Learn to deal with all the information and facts – not just some of it.

All parties, both management and staff, own a part in changing attitudes and behaviors for organizations.  There is a new tune playing in the background, and we need to learn the dance that brings it alive.  Although this may be unchartered territory for some, it’s going to raise awareness to some of the inherent skills of others who already get it.  Who do you have on staff who get already get it’s a time to use new management methods.  Might be worth a try.

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