woensdag 11 juni 2008

What makes Sammy run?

It’s in to listen to your workers. To try to reach their inner motivation, for then people will get really engaged. By doing so you create cultural controls and these are more effective and cheaper than other kinds of control.

Roy Jacques reproaches those who adhere to this vision that their intrest in their workers is instrumental and does not really stem from real concern for them. Perhaps it has to be that way because as a manager you operate within limiting conditions like the targetted return on investment, the quality of products, the need for managementcontrol and the income-dependency of the workers. All those conditions limit the space workers can get or dare to take.

But given those restrictions it’s good to know you cannot just in a non-committing way talk of inner motivation and engagement. Because this rhetoric has its own dynamics.

When you promise somebody that he will be listened to and that his voice will count, then at a certain moment he will not be content anymore with a small present, a bit of empowerment and so-called participation. He will unmask the windowdressing and if behind the surface he doesn’t find any real concern he will turn cynical. The nice management will be experienced as hypocritical.

When indeed the managerial intrest is conditional and instrumental it is also dubious whether you can ever get to know at all what motivates your workers. This in spite of the huge research efforts labor-psychologists and motivation-economists invest in the field. Could it possibly be that we not even know 10 percent of what people consider as ‘nice work’? Wouldn’t that be plain logic as long as managers and controllers, be it right or not, stick to a number of unnegotiable conditions such as return on investment and control?

If you really would let people speak for themselves, the outcome could very well be unwelcome to management. That’s to be learned from a newspaper article about a unique situation where one of the usual limiting conditions was not met. The subject was the – for the greater part voluntary – Dutch fire-brigades where the interesting combination exists of serious management and income-independency of many workers.

The paper reported that the Minister of the Interior wants the fire-brigades to regionalize. That means that local corpses are going to be encapsulated in regional corpses, because of the scale advantages and possibilities for more effective actions in case of calamities and crises. The idea is that volunteers from small communities after the regionalisation can be deployed in other communities within the region. Many volunteers reject this plan because they volunteered as firemen to combat fire in their own town or village. A big number of them now threatens to quit the fire-brigades. As 22.000 out of the 27.000 firefighters are volunteers this can have major impact on fire safety in Holland.

This story offers, for who wants to see it, a glimpse into the soul of organizational workers. Serious management apparently asks for scaling up, nice work for the opposite. Probably this will be the case not only with the fire-brigades but also in healthcare and educational organizations. Managers, controllers and labor-psychologists can take advantage from this insight, when they are really intrested in worker welfare. If not, sooner or later, fysically or mentally, Sammy just runs away.