Good management is all about achieving the right balance between control and motivation.
Little control and lots of motivation equals anarchy. Everyone does what they want, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, but the business goes to pot.
Lots of control and no motivation means repression – you have a police state! And if there is no control and no motivation in the organisation, the result is stagnation.
Control means clear standards and robust procedures. Control means there is a firm framework within which everyone works. All organisations must have rules because people must know what is expected of them. They must be expected to perform and they must know how their performance is measured. And, of course, to perform they need to be highly motivated.
Procedures are the priority
What you need are procedures that are strong enough and flexible enough to stand up to everyday use. The exact procedures will of course depend on what kind of industry or service you are in, but, as ever, the most important procedures are those that cover dealing with the customer.
All organisations should be continually improving, which means continually looking for the best way of doing things. There is never a perfect way. Control means having a system in place to ensure that what is currently the best way is used by everyone, every time.
Central control vs. empowerment
One of the problems with talking about control is that management theorists have come up with the idea that there are broadly two ways to run a company: either with a centralised command structure or else with empowerment. Centralised control now seems to be thought of as old-fashioned, bureaucratic and inefficient, whereas empowerment is wonderful and trendy.
This is rubbish. A well-managed organisation can use both strong central control and empowerment. Each technique has its uses and the two together should be complementary.
Freedom to serve
We can’t tell them to deal with customers without giving them the tools to do the job. Empowerment is too often used by senior management as a way of palming off responsibility onto junior staff, but we believe it is management’s responsibility to make sure their teams are fully equipped to cope with whatever arises. You have to develop an effective toolbox, train people how to use the tools and then allow them to get on with it.
Freedom to innovate
The other area of empowerment lies in coming up with new ideas. All staff, from the newest trainee upwards, have total freedom to come up with ideas and communicate them to management.
Many otherwise liberal companies miss out on this area of empowerment and do not give their staff the freedom to communicate. We must tell every employee that if they have an idea, they are not only empowered to tell us about it, they have a responsibility to do so.
Freedom of views
Your team can tell you so much of value, but only if you make it easy for them to be honest with you and if you are prepared to give an honest response. Getting people to devise questions as a group has many advantages. You are more likely to get the questions that really matter instead of trivial complaints. Individuals have personal gripes, but a concern shared by twenty people is an issue you must address.
If you have nothing but empowerment, with people free to do as they like, eventually they will conclude that managers are stupid and just not interested in either them or the job.
Managers who are interested in their business will always be looking for that continuous improvement. It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Everyone would agree organisations ought to be improving all the time, but not many businesses are. They muddle along, doing things in a certain way because they have always been done that way, or perhaps are so intent on pushing up sales that they have not paid attention to day-to-day operations.
To achieve continuous improvement, first of all you have to think of the improvements that could be made. If your reaction is, ‘There aren’t any’, you are bound to be wrong! Second, once you have developed improvements, you have to make sure they are implemented throughout the organisation.
Carrots and sticks
To impose control, you need the stick and the carrot. Most organisations do not offer much in the way of carrots, although some are heavy-handed with the stick.
Every company has to decide its own balance between carrot and stick.
At Richer Sounds we only bring the stick out in extreme circumstances and, for us, the worst crime is theft. Integrity is the core of our culture so we show no mercy to staff who cheat us. We make sure there can be no excuse for stealing, because anyone in real financial straits only has to turn to our Helping Hand fund (we put 1 per cent of profits into a Helping Hand hardship fund to provide grants or interest-free loans for staff use).
Staff do not object to these tough sanctions as long as they know the rules are applied in full and applied consistently. Respect for the rules would break down if people thought that some offenders were getting away with being dishonest while others were punished.
If you are making improvements, you want them implemented consistently throughout the organisation. This is why it is essential to measure performance constantly.
We make sure that our staff’s performance is fed back to them all the time. This is done through weekly measures, which set out each shop’s or department’s performance the previous week, measured against a range of criteria.
Ten ways to improve your business – today!
So where do you start? A few piecemeal measures won’t really do much: you need to begin with the basics. Here’s a plan of action, which anyone can use, from the smallest corner shop to the largest international company or the most complex government department.
- Talk to your staff and managers. Change in organisations is always greeted with suspicion, even cynicism, so start by telling everyone that you are seeking improvement and why. Change can only happen when everyone is infected with enthusiasm for it.
- Examine your mission statement. If you haven’t got one, form a working party to draw one up.
- Organise an attitude survey to find out what your employees really think and to discover the baseline from which to measure progress. Then repeat it at regular intervals.
- Spend some serious time thinking about fun. How can you liven up the workplace? What goodies can you offer the people in your organisation? How can you treat yourselves better and create a happier atmosphere? Look at the reward structures – are they really designed to motivate your staff?
- Go through the rule book and get rid of outdated regulations and meaningless traditions.
- Set up a strategic customer service group to examine your customer service and how it can be improved, including gathering and monitoring performance data.
- Devise ways of asking your customers what they think of your service at each stage of their contact with you.
- Launch a suggestion scheme with the backing of the top person in the organisation. Get ideas flowing from everyone and use them!
- Examine your recruitment guidelines and interview techniques. Find out what happens on the first day for new recruits. Does motivation and communication start from day one? Design a welcome pack.
- Ask yourself if you are happy with the value for money of your service or product. Could the quality be improved or the price lowered.
All efforts to introduce cultural change need the microscope and the knife: the microscope to examine every aspect of your organisation and its operations in detail, and the knife to make radical change where necessary.
These ten suggestions are just the start of a continuous process of discovering how you can manage and motivate people better, and also improve your service to customers. None of these changes can happen overnight, but all these ideas can be initiated today. And once they are initiated, follow them up – remember the principle of continuous improvement.