Workplace Wisdom

What Happens When Management Won’t Change?

It was almost like watching a train wreck of two separate cultures, or two sets of generational expectations. One was eager and striving, the other, dictatorial and autocratic, although cloaked in a sort of benevolent “we know what’s best for you” tone.

Over the course of a four-day visit I observed as a small management team become somewhat, well, derailed. Junior players were pushing to participate in corporate decision making as an attempt to improve customer satisfaction and reduce operating efficiencies. Senior colleagues were working fiercely to shut the juniors down and preserve the status quo. The juniors made so many reasonable and logical points that the seniors had a hard time fending them off even after resorting to manipulation and guilt.

You don’t see this kind of battling so often any more, at least not right out in the open. Decades of executives have learned the difference between Management Theory X and Y, have studied Deming and Drucker, and have been part of quality circles or self-managed teams. So now when most autocrats rule in the board room, they pay lip service, at least, to the accepted mantras of employee participation and engagement; sometimes they permit a modicum of participative discussion and even some direct action by junior members of the team.

It’s natural for those in power to think they know best. And in fact, they often do. But to sustain loyalty—and to foster any hope of innovation or growth—even the most successful management team in situ must learn to encourage and incorporate the views of the up-and-coming. Otherwise, the juniors eventually give up. They may not actually go away, but they don’t try so hard, or think so much.

Over time, the Suggestion Box becomes a coffin for stillborn ideas, and everyone calcifies in place. Ironically, that’s often the point at which you can hear frustrated seniors wondering why the juniors don’t care enough to participate more, or to invest extra time in their own development.

If you don’t purposefully tolerate, encourage, and foster growth and change, it’s hard to get either growth or change. They require work, and patience, and sometimes courage. You lose both productivity and loyalty when you deny junior members a say in governance.

Onward and upward,

LK

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2 thoughts on “What Happens When Management Won’t Change?”

  1. It is sad how many well documented good business practices are not adopted decades later. The resistance to change is enormous. It is one reason that, sadly, being pushed to critical failure (possibly going bankrupt) seems to be necessary for some to change.

    On the positive side, it leaves plenty of opportunity to compete effectively just by adopting well known, decades old management ideas. You don’t need some secret new innovation to manage much much more effectively than most organizations.

    • Sometimes it does seem as if organizations are doomed to repeat old patterns. Wouldn’t it be great if we all could learn from observing others’ mistakes instead of having to make so many fresh ones?

 

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