Thursday, June 6, 2013

ON MANAGEMENT by Allen Laudenslager and Bryan Neva (2005)

It is important that an aim never be defined in terms of activity or methods.  It must always relate directly to how life is better for everyone.  The aim of the system must be clear to everyone in the system.  The aim must include plans for the future.  The aim is a value judgment.   —Dr. W. Edwards Deming, the father of Total Quality Management

In an ideal world, managers would lead people rather than manage them, but in the real world, this is just not practical.  In most cases, managers exercise both leadership and management over their employees in order to accomplish the work that needs to get done.

Most management practices are based on theories about why people behave the way they do in organized working environments.  In the culture leading up through the 1970s, most managers just assumed that most people worked as little as possible, had very little ambition, avoided responsibility, were selfish, resistant to change, gullible, stupid, and easily manipulated.  Consequently, they formulated policies and management practices that tightly controlled and coerced their employees to work.  These coercive management practices actually caused the very behaviors described above resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy and increased organizational bureaucracy and control.  Dr. Douglas M. McGregor in 1960 called this Theory X.  Today it’s satirized in Scott Adam’s business cartoon Dilbert.

Over the past century, organizational psychologists have proposed different theories about what motivates people to work and how best managers can motivate them to be productive.  Generally speaking, these theories about human work behavior include looking at people as need-satisfying creatures, perceiving and rational information processors, emotional creatures, or learning creatures.  Based on these assumptions about people, there are literally thousands of different management practices in use today.  It all depends on the individual manager, the organization, and the type of business.  

Yet organizational psychologists readily admit that each of these theories of human work behavior is inadequate at best to explain why people behave the way they do in working environments.  In some circumstances their assumptions and theories seem to apply; in other circumstances they do not.  This is why multiple perspectives are needed.  People are motivated by their needs and goals, their emotions and moods, and the emotions and moods of other people.  People are also information processors and are able to learn in a variety of ways.  But there’s more to understanding human behavior than just looking at one theory since all the theories are correct to varying degrees and in varying circumstances. 

Christians don’t pretend to have all the answers either, but they do believe that all truth is God’s truth regardless of its where it came from.  Nevertheless, by looking at human behavior through the lens of Christian beliefs we can better understand people and be more effective managers.  This also helps to filter the good management theories and practices from the bad ones (like Theory X described above). 

Christians readily agree with organizational psychologists that human beings are need-satisfying creatures, perceiving creatures, rational information processors, emotional creatures, and learning creatures.  But, we imperfectly try to satisfy our needs; we imperfectly perceive and at times irrationally process information; we imperfectly show our emotions; we imperfectly react to the moods and feelings of others; and we imperfectly learn information.  At times all of us are selfish and don’t work up to our full potential.   We imperfectly behave these ways because of our fallen human condition.  And since we’re all imperfect, Christians believe we must generously apply mercy, love, and forgiveness while at the same time being just and fair in our dealings with others. 

Just think about how God treats us.  Is God all-just or is God all-merciful?  Well He's both!  But He prefers to be merciful!  As a manager, we believe that you should also be just and fair with your employees.  This is just good stewardship.  But you should also temper these with mercy.  By doing this, you will (over time) win the trust, respect, admiration, and loyalty of your employees, and in most cases employees will continue to give their best efforts.  


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