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Sail the “Seven C’s”

By December 4, 1996July 12th, 2023Management and Leadership5 min read

How many times have we heard the expression, “The only constant in business is change?” Enough, probably, to make our ears sore. But like many cliches, this one also rings true.

Over the years businesses have been revolutionized, renovated, restructured, remodeled, reorganized, and reengineered. Both giant corporations and small family businesses are adopting the latest technologies, applying global perspectives and spending billions of dollars on management training programs. They are doing this in an effort to become more competitive and increase market share and profits. Everything seems to be changing at breakneck speed except relationships with employees.

Throughout history managers, whether sovereigns, military leaders or straw bosses, have had to deal with dramatic change. Today, entire categories of jobs have disappeared while new jobs, with new skill requirements, have emerged almost instantly to take their place. The jobs may come and go and the industries may turn on a dime, but people will always be required to “make it happen.” Knowing this, have managers kept pace with learning how to motivate employees?

The latest trend and most quoted source in management these days is DILBERT, the harassed and unappreciated comic strip worker. Maybe our fascination with DILBERT and his gang comes from a recent survey that revealed up to 80% of American workers are not satisfied with their jobs.

The biggest challenge for managers is not with the inevitable industry changes, but with the people they manage. Managers are responsible for discovering the keys to employees’ motivation to perform their jobs and contribute to the organization’s goals. If managers are still adhering to the management/worker attitudes of the Samuel Gompers era, it is time to recognize that today’s workers are better educated, have higher expectations, have abandoned the traditional work ethic for new life-styles and desire meaning from their work.

Today’s workers are more demanding and are constantly challenging the traditional manager’s way of thinking and acting. Yet, unfortunately, some managers attempt to force modern employees into centuries-old structures that were better suited for indentured servants.

Douglas McGregor, a pioneer in organization behavior, classified managers’ values as either Theory X or Theory Y. Theory X held that workers are basically lazy and will avoid work, dislike responsibility and lack ambition, are generally not intelligent, innovative or entrepreneurial, and are self-centered and resistant to change. In contrast Theory Y affirms that workers are not passive by nature and the expenditure of physical and mental effort at work is as natural as it is at play, that employees are willing to learn to accept and will seek out responsibility and will exercise a high degree of imagination and creativity to solve organizational problems.

Students of management may argue endlessly, and with passion, over which view is more accurate. But if you are the manager on the job, the most important and really the only view that matters is your own. If you treat employees as though they are basically no good, that is probably what your company will reflect. More often than not, while at work, employees mirror the beliefs of their leader.

Day in and day out, good management is the best and most durable of all methods to motivate employees. And, just like sailing, good management is a skill that can be learned. Good management is producing results without unintended consequences. Producing results hinges on doing lots of little things, everyday, correctly. Vision, strategy, marketing plans etc. are all absolutely critical, but the real survival test for an organization rests with the managers who use their tools to create environments that motivate others to perform and contribute.

Skillful managers are able to move comfortably between the hard and soft issues of management. Hard issues, such as setting job standards, teaching new jobs, resolving conflict, overcoming resistance to change, correcting problem behavior, interviewing, following procedures, measuring performance, etc. are all skills that most people can learn by combining hands-on experience with good mentoring and relevant course work.

The softer side of management is about achieving desired results. Gaining buy-in, encouraging creativity, improving attitudes and building positive work environments all help motivate people in an organization to contribute.

Bridging the gap between these hard and soft issues is a delicate task that begins with driving out fear and building trust. Trust between managers and employees, although uncommon at the turn of the century, is a prerequisite for motivating today’s employees. Building trust is a constant effort. It is a process that, in part, is created by adhering to the seven characteristics of good managers.

CONSISTENCY One of the cardinal rules of management is “no surprises.” Being consistent reduces organization stress and has a calming effect.

COURTESY Effective managers are courteous, whether it is with a subordinate, peer or superior. Being courteous is not a 9 to 5 requirement for these managers but is a trait of their personality.

COMPENSATION More than just meeting financial obligations, pay is closely tied to self-esteem. For many people, fair pay is one way of “keeping score.”

CONCERN Workers that feel high levels of trust respond that their bosses have a genuine concern for their co-workers. These managers know something about what “winds the worker’s clocks.” They know the name of the children, the hobbies and the dreams of their employees.

COMPASSION Good managers are able to show compassion and empathy for their fellow workers in times of need without crossing the line and sympathizing or assuming the pain and responsibility of their co-workers.

CONFIDENCE Effective leaders are self-assured. Being self-assured requires a high level of work related self-esteem, which allows managers to take action in a direct manner.

CARE Remember, very few employees will ever care how much you know until they know how much you care.

It is unlikely that you will ever find these seven Cs in a text book or as part of the course offering in a graduate business class, but good managers, just like good sailors, are not born; they are developed