A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
October 14th, 2013 by William

What Have You Done For Me Lately

In just about all aspects of life, we live in a “What have you done for me lately?” society. There is never a time when you can rest on your laurels of past achievement and successes. This is no truer than at work. It’s ironic in a way because it’s in direct opposition to the fact that many organizations do, in fact, rest on their laurels as I detailed in my blog post back on September 25th re; “The Self Licking Ice Cream Cone.” It’s interesting how many businesses have the “What have you done for me lately” mentality when it comes to employee personal performance yet those same organizations, as a whole, have fallen into a lethargic existence milking whatever business they have with very little “motivation” or innovation to develop new products.

The “What have you done for me lately” mentality is prevalent partially because of the constant state of turmoil–the Chaos Theory–in which organizations are constantly struggling to stay afloat. If you don’t see it in your organization you certainly do see it in sports. It’s why players get traded (or in the corporate world laid-off). They are having a bad year–despite maybe being hall of fame material–and they are dropped from the team or traded. I always find it funny how many times those dropped, or traded, players move to another team and once again become stars–Peyton Manning being the most famous example lately.

Could it be that they excel because they’ve moved to an organization with a different management mindset?

I’m convinced that if nothing changes we’ll always be mired down in the “What have you done for me lately?” mentality. It’s just another manifestation of the “me” focused society we live in today. “What have you done for me lately” reinforces the selfish attitude that everyone around us is here to serve us. Unfortunately this may never change and seems to be getting even worse–if that’s even possible.

That said I believe it can and needs to change. If this mentality in business is ever to change it will require management to change–to focus on changing their practices that perpetuate this attitude. The first “practice” that comes to mind is the infamous performance review system. It’s a practice because, in the case of performance reviews, practice does not make perfect.

Most performance review evaluations are based on what the boss has observed of the employee in roughly the past 30-60 days preceding the review, so good deeds or achieved goals early in the year are most often brushed over if not totally forgotten. It truly becomes a case of what the employee has done recently that will drive whether he/she gets a good, or bad, review and whether he/she will get the usual pittance of a raise in salary or nothing at all.

For management, the real question to ask is “what’s the employee going to do moving forward,” versus them always having to defend themselves for what they’ve done, or not done, in the past. Business needs to change the focus of the annual performance review process from a backward-looking, narrow perspective that asks the question of the employee, “What have you done for me lately?” to a forward-looking, more productive (in the long run) approach that asks, “How can you contribute in the future, and (most importantly) how can the organization help you to achieve the organizational goals all the while benefiting your career?”

Of course changing the focus on the future, not the past, also applies to all other management thinking. Thus the real question of “What have you done for me lately” should be asked of management by the employees. What management must be doing is creating an environment in which every employee is motivated to give their best effort every day of the year.

You see a feeble attempt at this many times when you hear management say, “We’ve got to motivate our people?” At least they’re recognizing that they have a motivation problem. However their answer is usually to try to come up with some silver bullet scheme to motivate the employees. This is a sure sign of a dysfunctional organization and it’s a sure sign of failed management. Saying “We’ve got to motivate our people” shows a lack of understanding about what motivation is and how it is achieved. Management has the wrong understanding of motivation when the word “motivate” is used as a verb. Whereas using the word “motivation” as a noun shows they understand it’s a state of mind not an action that only they need to take.

What’s always missed is that motivating the employee is not really the task of management. Motivation comes from within each of us and it’s the culture of the organization that either enables or extinguishes motivation. Thus the real task of management is to create the right workplace environment–culture–for self-motivation to flourish. An example is when management sets a believable vision and goals, then allows the workers to use their initiative to get the job done as they see fit. That’s the true definition of motivation

The way to create this is to build a culture of trust, empowerment and shared accountability. Management must also create an environment in which it’s encouraged to voice differing opinions without fear of reprisal. Fear is one of the biggest demotivators there is. Thus employees motivate themselves because they have everything to gain by being motivated to do a good job and because they feel they’re part of a winning team and do not want to let the team down.

Achieving a state where all people are fully empowered, engaged and motivated is a large undertaking. It requires tremendous focus and leadership to achieve. It cannot be something management does at off-site meetings once a year, through the annual performance review process, or by decrees posted on the lunchroom wall.

And it certainly can’t be accomplished by constantly asking the question, “What have you done for me lately?” That’s the biggest demotivating statement that can be asked of anyone.

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