Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

Hey Boss, People Aren’t Machines

jorgen mcleman/

"People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel." —Maya Angelou

Some executives see their organization as a machine with people as gears. They implement rigid processes to establish control and are disappointed when people respond by expecting to be told what to do in new situations. Effective leaders on the other hand see their organization as a collage of individual dreams connected by a higher purpose. Their conversations motivate and inspire as well provide direction.

Why do I make such an obvious point? Because too many executives devalue people and their ideas. With laser-like precision, they tell people what to do, how to do it, and when it must be done. By way of illustration, consider the following conversation between James, a sales manager trying to increase sales in a flat economy, and Susan his top salesperson:

James: "Be in the office at 8 a.m. every Monday this month to telemarket new clients in your area. No excuses, just be here."

Susan: "In 20 years as a top sales rep, I've had more success pursuing referrals than with telemarketing. I connect far better with prospects in person than over the phone."

James: "If I make an exception for you, everyone will want exceptions and they don't have the selling skills that you do."

Susan: "The goal is to increase sales, right? Trust us to do that in ways that work best for us and tailor your support to the individual."

James: "I want everyone to use the same techniques.  I'm asking you to be a team player."

Susan: "As an alternative, I'd be willing to teach face-to-face skills by having new sales people ride with me. I also could help you work with each person to find their sweet spot for selling."

James: "Sorry, no exceptions. We'll do this my way."

You can probably predict the outcome of treating Susan like a gear in a sales machine: sales fell, and Susan and two others left the company. Soon after, James was demoted.

One reason coaches are brought into organizations is the inability of executives to treat co-workers, customers and stakeholders with respect—to value who they are and the unique ideas they contribute. Motivation evaporates when executives ignore their people's ideas by focusing on what they want done but ignore how people feel about doing it. Instead they should explore differences between their ideas and other ideas in order to agree on an approach and deepen their mutual appreciation.

Dick Stieglitz is a business consultant, author and speaker who works with companies and government agencies to change the way they do business. His books include Taming the Dragons of Change. This post first appeared in his newsletter The Change Challenge.

(Image via jorgen mcleman/

Close [ x ] More from GovExec