I already hate myself for that clickbaity piece of a title – but it serves a purpose in illustrating the problem with taking advice from articles such as this one:
The Abundance of Contradictory Advice
There’s no shortage of “valuable advice” on how to create a better Employee Experience: My LinkedIn and Twitter feeds are full of experts and gurus, telling me what to do. “HR professionals” share articles from Inc, Harvard Business Manager and Forbes, fanning the fire of “best practices” for making employees’ lives worth living. And let’s not forget the comment sections – that beautiful place where everyone and anyone will pitch their personal favorite idea (which I often feel they’ve never seen implemented) as the holy grail of employee well-being and organizational happiness. Here’s what employees need, according to the internet:
- Clearly defined goals
- No goals
- Inspiring Leadership
- Less leadership
- Clear processes
- Freedom from pre-defined processes
The list goes on and on; and for every suggestion being heralded as the redeeming feature of working life there is an equal and opposite suggestion: It’s Newton’s Third Law of influencer blogging.
More often than not, the reason for someone to create or share the piece you’re reading seems to be to further their own brand as a consultant, employer or solution provider. Let me be open about my own intentions right here: I’m writing this piece of a rant because I need to vent.
The Problem: Employees Are Not Idiots
Almost every piece of information out there will tell you what it is your employees really want – or how they should be enabled to express what they really want. Then you, as a manager, are told how to best implement this piece of advice.
Imagine for a second this wasn’t about work: Imagine someone gave you advice like this on how to treat your partner. On how to raise your children. How to treat your pets. How to handle your friendships.
The only places where this is still socially accepted is trashy magazines, running pieces like “Six ways to drive your man wild in bed” or “How to develop killer abs in four weeks” – and I want to believe that most people see that stuff for what it is: A cheap, low-effort way to fill some blank space and bait people into buying your stuff by use of manipulative titles. Again, sorry about that.
Right now there is a huge wave of articles very much like these rolling through the sea of organizational management/change, offering simple measures and promising huge rewards. But real people are not machines and will therefore not respond to any input in a predictable or reproducible way – I’ve touched on this subject before when I wrote about why prescribed change is doomed to fail.
What do you think is going to happen when you approach your team with this all-new super food of organizational excellence you just read about? If your hope is for them to develop rock hard abs within a month I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. And not only that – you’ll feel like a failure and become frustrated: Since you relied on “proven expert advice”, the problem has to be you, your team or your company.
This is the shameful secret of content that’s generated as part of inbound marketing efforts: More often than not it doesn’t sell you a recipe for success, it only sells you the idea of success – and the bill can be hard to stomach.
The Solution: Employees Are Not Idiots
The lesson that can be learned from this is mind-bogglingly simple: Stop searching for a way to make your employees lives better – let them do it on their own. Most of us would never dream of manipulating our friends and family into changing their behavior, or allow it being done to us. The fact that we’re actively looking for ways to do just that to our peers in the workplace shows how much toxic baggage we’re still carrying around since management consulting first became a thing and how effectively education and the labor market are brainwashing us.
If a change or a problem needs to be addressed, let it be addressed – just be ready for the conversation not to be about what you wanted it to be (or what you thought your employees “should” want it to be): If you really want the workplace to cater to your employees, chances are it won’t be the workplace you envisioned – and you need to be okay with that. Claire Lew put it beautifully in an article of hers: “You shouldn’t treat other people the way you want to be treated because the other person isn’t you.”
You’ve hired mature and responsible adults as employees. Treat them like it.