Five years ago or so I read a book by Dennis Bakke called Joy at Work. I found the author’s candor and clarity refreshing.

In this book, Bakke takes on the old school “Industrial Revolution” mindset of many managers, pointing out that holding to this type of traditional mentality is often demeaning and disrespectful to employees.

Bakke’s book should be on every supervisor’s must-read list because it can help them fully utilize their employees’ strengths for the common good, as well as increase their contributions to the organization’s success.

This is accomplished by respecting people as adults and making everyone part of the organization’s decision-making process no matter what their job title.

Employees are often so much more than their pay scale or label—an organization’s best assets are frequently undiscovered because people are expected to function within their job description and dare not step outside the box.

Bakke notes that many managers make the mistake of believing that employees are motivated primarily by money and that they are akin to little children who need a parent to shepherd them.

From experience, I can say that working under a parent-child dynamic is among the most degrading and insulting situations a grown person can encounter.

There have been so many times in my adult life that I’ve wanted to sit people in authority down and tell them that management is not relentless nitpicking or splitting hairs, it is motivating people to be the best they can.

When employees are not treated as adults, but micromanaged or harassed, that can create an abusive work environment that is very similar to the domestic violence many people already deal with at home.

Employees in such situations have to walk on eggshells, stress out about inconsequential details, keep their opinions to themselves, and needlessly waste energy to placate the powers that be and avoid rocking the boat.

When the “children” upset the “parent”, the “parent” may lash out at the children, either directly or in passive-aggressive ways, punishing them for “rebellion”, or even for things they have nothing to do with.

Overall, Bakke is right; there is a very skewed and inaccurate view of what effective supervising is in the modern workforce. Sad to say, the 1999 movie Office Space nailed the art of how not to motivate people and the ridiculousness of what management, in many cases, has become.

So what does motivate people? Former vice presidential speechwriter and bestselling author Dan Pink argues that autonomy, mastery, and purpose are the three biggest motivating factors for thinking people, not money.

While I don’t always agree with his politics, I am paying close attention to his ideas. He is waking international audiences up to the fact that productivity and satisfaction grow in leaps and bounds when those three motivators are present.

His ten minute speech to the RSA has been set to animation, and it is worth a look-see:

Robert Behn at the John F. Kennedy School of Government adds one more factor to the mix of what motivates employees: recognition. In his article “Homo Recognicus not Homo Economicus”, he discusses the importance of recognizing public employees:

Having spent half of my adult life in the private sector and half in the public sector, I find both Pink and Behn’s perspectives very valuable. But my big three motivators are going to be a little different, although they mirror Pink’s:

1. Autonomy. You should be treated as a grown-up in the workplace and trusted to do your job with minimal supervision. Having management breathing down workers’ necks when they’ve done nothing wrong—or excessively when they have—demotivates people like a spike strip to their Goodyears. When you’re free to be yourself (within reason), have room to make mistakes, and to act without fear, it is liberating. Your performance can increase tenfold.

2. Flexibility. I have never been sure why flexibility is only afforded to higher paying jobs. Everyone has obligations outside of work that demand their time; that is not unique to higher income brackets. It’s something we all have in common.

If you are allowed even a small amount of wiggle room in your schedule to accommodate real life, it can be a huge stress-saver that frees up your energy for better performance. This includes being able to trade shifts with coworkers, telecommuting, flexibility in your start time, and not being bound to rigid break and lunchtimes. A little discussion amongst staff can figure out how to accommodate everyone’s needs in a flash.

3. Purpose. People want to know that what they’re doing is making a difference in the world. After a very long stint in the public sector, I took some time off and then did temp work while looking for another job. While I was applying for both public and private sector jobs, I realized something about myself. I wasn’t very motivated to do private sector temp work (I did it very successfully; I just wasn’t “feeling it.”)

The goal of most places I worked for was profit, not service. I want the primary goal of my job to be helping people and bettering the world, not making money. I’ve been in sales; I was good at sales, but can say that when I’m working in a job that I know is having a direct positive impact on people’s lives, my motivation level is exponentially larger. It is so much bigger because I feel that I have a purpose, a purpose I can believe in on an ethical level.

I hope that literally everyone in a leadership position will take time to evaluate how they treat their employees in light of research like Bakke’s, Pink’s, and Behn’s. I will go so far as to call many modern management practices Cro-Magnon because treating people like cogs in a machine that don’t dare step outside their preassigned boxes really is that archaic.

If a hierarchical management structure is necessary at all—I challenge businesses and government agencies to justify the many levels of management they have—managers should lead by example, focus on developing their employee’s strengths, and encourage them with MEANINGFUL motivators, not just money.

As Dennis Bakke said, “Research show that when employees feel like tightly controlled robots, with no opportunity to make decisions or take action on their own, productivity and performance decline.”

Let’s turn that around! It’s 2010 and it’s time for a radical shift in management practices that will bring out the best in people in the worst of economic times!


If people are coming to work excited . . . if they’re making mistakes freely and fearlessly . . . if they’re having fun . . . if they’re concentrating on doing things, rather than preparing reports and going to meetings– then somewhere you have leaders. -Robert Townsend

©2010 H. Hiatt/ All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/

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