How we manage employees has some striking similarities to how we manage anything in business. And one striking difference!
Managing anything is simply directing or controlling the use of that thing. Managing in a business environment would also entail making the most effective use of that resource or function, whether it be money, machines, material, supply chains, accounting, engineering, people or whatever.
So what is the "most effective use" of people?
For a machine, it is obvious that using it as it was designed to be used and operating it in accordance with its operating manual is a starting point. But effectively using it would also have to include maintaining it in good condition (well lubricated, appropriately fueled or provided power, well overhauled, parts replaced when worn, etc, etc).
Very few managers are unaware of the fact that if we only used the machine and never properly cared for it, the machine's capacity would degrade rather steadily over time and eventually suffer a casualty which would render it useless. So effective use includes routine preventive maintenance and corrective maintenance in order to "maintain" the machine in tip-top operating condition. The better we maintain it, the better its output. No rocket science here.
In such respects, are people any different than machines? Not at all! But what exactly is tip-top operating condition for people?
Is a tip-top condition extremely high morale or very low morale or somewhere in between? Is it a strong sense of ownership for their work or no sense of ownership? Is it acting like a robot or is it using their full potential of creativity, innovation, productivity, motivation and commitment on their work? (Note that the experts indicate the difference between the top and bottom of this performance spectrum is about 500% in productivity.)
To be successful at maintaining machinery or a function like accounting, one must thoroughly understand that machine or function, how it works and what it needs. Is it any different for managing people? Not really.
There is one significant difference between machines and people. People have a brain completely capable of deciding what they should do, when they should do it, how they should do it and then actually doing it. This would seem to imply that managing people is more about maintaining the natural capabilities of the "machine" (people) than about operating it.
So the primary goal of managing people is to cause them to unleash their full potential of creativity, innovation, productivity, motivation and commitment on their work because fully committed and highly motivated people will beat all competitors.
Bennet Simonton, author of the book "Leading People to be Highly Motivated and Committed", managed people for over 30 years and made all the mistakes a manager can make. After 12 years of using the top-down command and control approach to managing people, he changed his ways. That change and subsequent learning allowed Ben to achieve four successful turnarounds including a nuclear-powered cruiser and a 1300 person unionized group. Ben now helps managers to become effective at managing people. His website is www.bensimonton.com