HR Group, founded in Edmonton Alberta in 1993, is a partnership of highly experienced management consultants who specialize in organizational effectiveness and human resource management, and promote participative, lean, and cost-effective management practices. All partners are Certified Human Resource Practitioners with extensive senior level experience in both the private and public sectors.

Silver Bullets Don’t Work

Reprinted from “Productive Workplaces” (Spring, 2000), the HR Group newsletter.

Core Management Principles and Supportive Organizational Values are all you really need to create and sustain a Productive Workplace. So many organizations, however, continue to embrace the latest buzzword or fad in organizational effectiveness: Reengineering, Restructuring, Total Quality Management, Continuous Improvement, Competitive Benchmarking and Teamwork to name just a few. Now we also have to “measure” everything. Why is everyone still searching for the magic silver bullet? Is it because the last one failed, so they have to try the next one in this endless parade of management’s latest flavor of the month?

We have known for over sixty years that self-motivation (or intrinsic motivation) is the only true means of creating and sustaining a Productive Workplace. Many management experts, past and present, have made the distinction between external (extrinsic) and self (intrinsic) motivation and said that self-motivation could only be achieved through meaningful work. They identify the following means of creating such meaningful work:

  • Provide employees as much control as possible over their own work
  • Delegate authority
  • Increase accountability
  • Provide timely performance information
  • Provide complete units of work
  • Reward performance

This is supported by today’s prevalent participative management theory. The message is still the same: if you want productive, self-motivated employees, you have to provide meaningful work which necessitates providing employees with as much “ownership” of their jobs as possible. More information, greater knowledge, more power through delegated authority, increased accountability and a share in the rewards based on organizational and personal performance all create “ownership”.

Why are these core management principles so hard to understand? Aren’t these, after all, the same principles that have driven business entrepreneurs for years? Aren’t they also the same principles that act as the rewards for senior managers? We all try harder and care more when we “own” something. If we own the house, we care more than if we rent it. If we own the job and our livelihood is directly tied to how well we perform it then we care more. If we own the problem then we will try harder to fix it ourselves. Ownership creates self-motivation.

Most organizations, however, do not follow these core management principles and continually search for that magic cure-all, especially one that is simple to implement and which demands the least change in management style and practice. This cannot work. How can one implement the concepts of continuous improvement, for example, if employees are not given the authority to fix problems or serve customers and can’t obtain the full rewards for initiative and creativity? This is why there is such an increase in reward programs that provide employees with a “stake” in the organization. Gainshare programs and stock options are becoming more commonplace in the private sector and significant bonuses tied to performance outcomes (not outputs) are becoming more frequent in the public sector.

If there is meaningful work and ownership of it, then the self-motivation is there to ensure that the concepts of quality management, continuous improvement, teamwork and customer service are an inherent part of the job and not some magic prescription that is prescribed every so often and frequently changed. If the core principles are in place, you don’t need the silver bullet.

In order for these core management principles to be successfully implemented, however, the organization must possess certain basic values that support them. If the organizational culture is not supportive then the core principles will not succeed. Many an organization is quick to say that authority is delegated, information openly shared and performance rewarded, for example, but in many cases it is only lip service that is paid to these principles and continuing productivity is never gained.

One organization that we work with has taught us the true worth and necessity of such basic values. Part of their corporate culture statement says that:

  • We believe that everyone comes to work to do a good job.
  • We believe in ownership of one’s job. Therefore, we believe those affected by a decision should have informed input into that decision.
  • We believe that it is the job of leaders to ensure that people have the necessary training, experience and information at their disposal and have become well informed in order to make good decisions.
  • Our culture is driven by the rewards of honesty, integrity, trust and high achievement with respect for each other, our assets and our environment. These values will not be compromised for profit.

Having experienced extremely rapid growth, this organization realized that their management practices were no longer congruent with their corporate values. We have learned first hand the power of such corporate values as we have constantly been challenged by the client to prove to their satisfaction that the management changes that we have advocated are congruent with their values. Our impatience with the slow pace of change has been tempered by the client’s desire to take a slower course in order to allow all staff ample time to adapt.

Interestingly enough this client has few policies, does not believe in formal goals and objectives and does not see value in extensive production measurements. They believe, instead, that adherence to their stated quest, “To be the supplier of choice in our chosen fields of endeavor by offering the best quality and the best customer service while maintaining the lowest production costs”,  is what is required to make them successful.  They also realize that they require the core management principles to ensure that all staff are fully motivated to follow through with this quest and their values. Their growth and productivity attest to the value of this approach.

The core principles remain the same and stand the test of time; supporting values ensure their implementation, integrity and protection. With both you don’t need a silver bullet.