Monday, September 5, 2011

When Managing People, What is the Goal?

Before deciding what you are going to do or how you are going to do it, you need to decide where you want to go, right? Let's first then define a universal goal when it comes to managing people - really the best goal.

How we manage employees has some striking similarities to how we manage anything in business. And one striking difference.

Managing anything is simply the act of directing or controlling the use of that thing. Management in a business environment would also entail making the most effective use of that thing or resource, whether it be money, machines, material, supply chains, accounting, engineering, people or whatever.

So what is the most effective use of people?

The answer would be obvious for a machine: as a starting point, use the machine as it was designed to be used and operate it in accordance with its operating manual. But effectively using it must include maintaining it in good condition (well oiled, appropriately fueled or powered, well overhauled, parts replaced when worn, etc, etc).

Very few managers are unaware of the fact that if we only used the machine and never properly cared for it, the machine's capacity would degrade rather steadily over time and eventually suffer a casualty which would render it useless. It is clear then, effective use includes routine preventive maintenance and corrective maintenance in order to "maintain" the machine in tip-top operating condition. The better we maintain it, the better its output. No rocket science here.

In such respects, are people any different than machines? What is tip-top operating condition for people?

Is a tip-top condition extremely high morale or very low morale or somewhere in between? Is it a strong sense of ownership for their work or no sense of ownership? Is it acting like a robot or is it maximizing their creativity, innovation, productivity, motivation and commitment for their work? Most notably, management and leadership experts indicate the difference between the top and bottom of this performance spectrum is about 500% in productivity. That is quite a difference.

To be successful at maintaining machinery or a function like accounting, one must thoroughly understand that machine or function, how it works and what is required for optimal performance. Is it any different in the case of managing people? The answer is not really.

There is one significant difference between machines and people. People have a brain completely capable of deciding what they should do, when they should do it, how they should do it and then actually doing it. This would seem to imply that managing people is more about maintaining the natural capabilities of the "machine" (the person) than about operating it.

So the primary goal of managing people is to maintain them at a high performance level and to even enhance their natural capabilities.

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