Simply put, organizations benefit—that is, profit—when managers behave as if their employees are ‘the boss’ of them, as opposed to the other way around.
In other words, managers are most effective when they listen to and support their employees, as opposed to attempting to control, coerce, or otherwise tell them what to do.
Admittedly, this is not how most people think of the management role. ‘Good management’ is thought to require the sort of top-down, command and control-style behaviors that we are all by now accustomed to: Directing, delegating, monitoring, and evaluating. Managers—not employees—are understood to be the organizational decision-makers (or at least the decision-approvers). They are expected to tell employees what to do, how to do it, and by when. And all of this comes with the understanding that there will be a price to be paid for anyone who fails to obey.
But according to the best available research, this is not the best way to manage.
Organizations are actually more profitable when the supervisor-subordinate relationship is ‘inverted.’ Great management means listening to workers, and then giving them what the want – and the calculus as to why this works is not difficult to follow:
- The key to sustained organizational success is not great products, great marketing, or low, low prices; it’s great people
- Engaged and enthusiastic workers outperform their less motivated counterparts
- Workers are more engaged when they have the things they need to do their jobs to the best of their ability; this means listening to, supporting, and giving them what they ask for
This ‘upside-down’ approach to management—where managers support, as opposed to direct employees—is what I call management by loearchy®. It not only reflects the best available research into good management practices, it is consistent with some of the more the fundamental principles of market economies.
And it likely agrees with your own career experiences too.
Who amongst us can honestly say we’d prefer a manager who is controlling and punitive, as opposed to someone who listens to, and supports us in our work? Would you really want a manager who is constantly looking over your shoulder waiting for you to screw up? Or would prefer someone who gives you the freedom to do your job as you best see fit, but is nevertheless there to advise and support you when you need or request it? I certainly know who I’d rather work for.
What all this means for businesses and their managers is the following:
- Most managers today behave in ways which hurt, rather than help, the businesses that employ them
- Organizations that continue to engage in traditional, top-down, hierarchical management practices put themselves at a competitive disadvantage, and leave themselves open to being bested by their rivals
- Your company’s organization chart (if it has one) is probably upside down
If there’s any one thing a manager can do to be more effective, it’s to treat your employees as customers.
In the end, this is the critical difference that will make and you and your business more effective, more competitive, and therefore more likely to succeed.