You will catch more flies with honey than vinegar – but be careful!

You may have heard the truism, ‘You catch more flies with honey than vinegar’ and many of us will have experienced the delights(!) of working with or for someone who just doesn’t get it. They think the way to motivate people is to use a larger stick!

That style of management may have worked once upon a time, but for many in this day and age it is very unproductive. It may even lead to a run-in with the HR department.

That kind of conduct is becoming even more of an issue with younger members of staff, as many more appropriately skilled advisers than I could tell you.

At the other end of the scale, the ‘ask rather than tell’ style of management fits very well with the style expected by these younger people.

But there is a danger with this style. It can be misinterpreted either accidentally or deliberately as a sign of weakness.

There are some who will decide to ignore the ‘request’ you’ve made, knowing full well that it’s a command in disguise. They are testing to see if you are serious – do you really mean it? – or is it just a polite request.

Let me illustrate this. I’m running an engineering business these days and, as part of our quality requirements and our health & safety policy, all drinks in the workshop and assembly areas must be consumed in non-spill containers. We provide suitable containers to all members of staff, of course.

A couple of the older hands have decided that they prefer to drink tea from their own favourite mugs. However, these mugs are not spill-proof – and covering the steaming tea with a piece of paper or card (!) doesn’t comply with company requirements.

When challenged on this infringement, the response is something along the lines of, ‘I’ve been doing this for 40 years’.

The polite request hasn’t worked. I could go as far as instigating disciplinary action – this is a clear breach of company policy – but these guys have worked for the company for a very long time and are also very good at their skilled manual jobs.

My preferred route in this situation is to offer a little bit of sarcasm. There’s a cartoon going up in the canteen showing a mug of tea with a paper lid over it and a message beneath it saying, ‘This isn’t good enough’.

Not everyone wants to be a leader

In any organisation there are more junior staff than senior. A sports team has one captain, a ship has just one captain – but they aren’t the only people on the field or on board.

There are many people in business who aren’t leaders. There are some who would like to be leaders and, of those, some have the ability to be leaders.

There are many other people – the majority – who don’t wish to be leaders and are quite happy doing day-to-day jobs.

Those who are happy doing day-to-day jobs want someone to lead them. A large part of their motivation is going to be provided by their leader, so the easiest way to lose these staff is to deliver weak or second-rate management.

Those who would like to be leaders should be given opportunities to lead, together with the help, support and guidance they’ll need to enable them to be successful. Asking someone to lead a team without supporting them is likely to lead to failure – and you risk losing the team leader as well as some of the team members!

The people who are the most difficult to manage, motivate and retain are those who would like to be leaders but who, for one reason or another, aren’t suited to being leaders. Sometimes (in truth quite often) it’s a question of individual maturity; sometimes it’s a question of priorities; and sometimes it’s simply a question of needs and wants.

It could well be that a particular individual thinks they want to be a leader but, actually, their passion and motivation lie elsewhere – perhaps in the deployment of their technical skills.

It could also be that the ‘power behind the throne’ at home believes a particular individual should be a leader. That’s not really what the individual wants, but to admit this would mean having a disagreement with their partner!

In order to motivate and retain such would-be leaders, the issue – not the individual – needs to be confronted during the review and appraisal process. People with leadership ambitions need help to understand what really matters to them. If necessary, you need to work with them, identifying areas for further development that will help them become leaders.

The worst you can do is to ignore such potential problems, in the vague hope that they will just go away.

Manager or doer?

All of us start our business lives as doers. We’re hired to complete a set of tasks which, when added together, form a job. When we’re advertising for a position, we usually write a job description and a job advert listing the tasks for which the person doing that job will be responsible. That’s the ‘doer’ end of the scale.

However, if a doer is promoted to take on the role of a team leader (for example), there are a number of things to be aware of –

  • The first is very common. You promote a doer to a managerial position because they are good at ‘doing’, but they aren’t successful in the new role. This scenario was set out in the classic management book, The Peter Principle. The effect on the business is that you lose a good doer and get a poor manager
  • When you’re making such a promotion, consider first the personality and characteristics of the doer. The right person for promotion may not be the best doer
  • The next point to consider is how you will support your newly promoted person. You don’t really expect them to know intuitively what to do – how to be a manager rather than a doer, do you? They’ll require clear objectives, guidance, coaching and possibly some management training
  • The last point is related to personality. When someone is promoted, they’re no longer ‘one of the boys and girls’, instead, now they’re the boss. Taking that step up can be difficult, not only for the newly promoted person, but also for those they supervise

The further you move up the ladder in business, the less time you’ll have for doing and the more time you must spend managing.

But what exactly is ‘managing’?

When I write a job description I start with the answer to the question, ‘What is the purpose of this role?’  A well-defined role will have clear objectives and criteria by which they can be measured.

A manager’s role is no different – it will have clear objectives and criteria by which they can be measured. The difference with the manager’s role lies in how those objectives are to be achieved.  The manager is responsible for the objectives but achieves them through the efforts of others.  Coordinating others and enabling them to carry out their roles successfully is a job – it’s called management.

A system set for failure

The surprising thing from reading the news about the misbehaviour of RBS is that a structure where RBS have their own property business was not seen to be a recipe for trouble if not disaster.

If you have a business, or a department or a division, they need objectives and targets. You can guess that in this case the property business had a set of targets to maximise returns from the properties in their portfolio.

If that’s the case, you have the bank’s internal property company competing with the property companies who are borrowers from the same bank.  It’s not that much of a stretch to see that the internal company, incentivised only to maximise returns, would influence the lending teams to turn over any business that even began to struggle. Someone undoubtedly misbehaved, but the system was setup to encourage that bad behaviour.

One of my clients had a problem with their collections; very long days outstanding, and it wasn’t getting any better. When we drilled into it, the credit control team were doing their best but sometimes had to go back to the customer service team.

The customer service team’s incentives were all around speed of customer response and satisfaction  and had nothing to do with credit control, so of course the requests for help from the credit controllers were very low priority.

We made the credit control team a “customer” for the objectives of the customer service team; many of the problems were cleared up and the debtor days were greatly reduced.

When you set your departmental objectives, do you make sure they align with the overall business objectives?