Managing people: What is key for managers, and what is truly motivational to employees
- January 1, 2024: Vol. 11, Number 1

Managing people: What is key for managers, and what is truly motivational to employees

by Geoffrey Dohrmann

Not everyone who reads this column is responsible for managing people, but at some time in your career, if not now, you may be called upon to do so. Ferdinand Fournies, the author of the book Why Employees Don’t Do What They’re Supposed To Do and What To Do About It, points out that being promoted into a management role for the first time is akin to being knighted.

He says to imagine that instead of being promoted into the role of manager, you have just been promoted into the role of F-18 fighter pilot. You most likely wouldn’t go home and tell your significant other what an amazing thing has just happened to you and how much you have earned and deserved it. More likely, you would be wondering how in the world you are supposed to know how to do what an F-18 fighter pilot actually does.

He then makes the point that flying an F-18 is just a series of “things you do.” But, he adds, management is a series of “things you do” as well. What amazes him is that so many people are promoted into a management role without much in the way of training in how to do it. You are just supposed to somehow intuitively know what to do, and how to do it.

Fournies notes the most important “thing” a manager is supposed to do is to start producing results through the efforts of other people. And, he notes, the people you are managing instantly become a whole lot more important to the overall success of your operation than you are. (Take a few days off, and most of the work of your department continues to get done, he argues. But let your team take a few days off, and not much will get done until they return to work.)

It is truly sad that some “managers” never recognize the very nature of the work they are doing has changed. They continue to focus on the things they have always done, instead of on the things they want and need the colleagues who now report to them to be doing. Or worse, they micro-manage those people to the point of driving them straight up the wall.

The way in which you keep score also needs to shift from monitoring and measuring the things you produce to monitoring and measuring the things that your subordinates produce. In addition, making that shift requires recognizing that the people who report to you are not clones. Most likely they are going to do things differently than you would do, and the unique way in which each of them approaches the tasks at hand needs to be respected.

You have a right to set performance standards, of course. Just make sure those performance standards don’t require them to do things in exactly the same way you would do them. (If you set clear objectives without telling them how to accomplish them, they will often surprise you with their ingenuity.)

Coupled with this idea is the question of how you as a manager can motivate your teammates to consistently do the things they need to do in order to produce the results you want and need them to produce. Fournies says the things that motivate employees and drive their performance aren’t what most people think — things such as money or status, positive incentives, perks or a great working environment characterized by things such as comfortable surroundings, the latest technology, good training, or great leadership and direction. Those things, Fournies suggests, are just hygiene items, critical when they’re absent but quickly taken for granted once they are present.

The most important things that keep most folks motivated and performing on a sustainable basis include a well-developed sense of contributing to something worthwhile — the feeling they are contributing to something greater than themselves. Additional sustainable motivators include a sense of achievement; meaningful recognition for that achievement; and, most important, autonomy. (Autonomy is a reflection of the trust you have placed in them and speaks much louder than simple praise, although praise is important.) Your role as a manager is to help them experience that sense of contribution, achievement, being recognized, and being trusted and valued.

Someone once asked Fournies if he meant that managers had to keep recognizing and praising employees for the things they are being paid to do. After all, shouldn’t you expect them to do what they are paid to do? Do managers really have to continually recognize employees for what they should be doing anyway?

“Of course not,” Fournies responded. “Only if you want them to keep doing those things.” The bottom line here is that if you’re a manager now or thinking you may one day become one, don’t forget to be careful. Be very, very careful. It’s a wacky world out there.


Geoffrey Dohrmann is president and CEO, publisher and editor-in-chief of Institutional Real Estate Inc., parent company to Real Assets Adviser.

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