Carrots and Sticks

December 14 2010,  3:16 PM  by Augusto Albeghi

This time I’m going to discuss about the working environment, this has little to do with Business Intelligence but has lot to do with the decision of many founders to move out of the corporate world.

I recently read this book :

Carrots and Sticks Don't Work: Build a Culture of Employee Engagement with the Principles of RESPECT.

Just have a look at the reviews and you’ll realize that it’s another book on the “employee centric” mainstream. Another excellent example along the same lines is:

Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams

They are both enlightening readings and should be required for all the people who manage other humans. No use to say, I agree with them. Actually it’s rather difficult to disagree if you stay on the politically correct side of the street.

I had the honor to come across a couple of working environments where these principles were applied, at least partially. I was rather lucky because I know well that these are quite hard to find. I could learn a couple of things or three, out of those experiences.

These environments are unstable. This trend rely on the idea of someone who has the power to put these principles in place and does it. Than the person is moved, promoted or leaves the company and the new management will likely apply a more traditional management style. Also, when the economic times get tough, all this freedom is seen as an inopportune slacking of the reins that is no longer affordable. It appears that the natural mood of the workplace is roughness, sometimes hidden under the “tough love” sticker. It appears that the law of the jungle is an unconscious reference for workplace behavior.

These policies are totally unnatural.  The traditional entrepreneur sees the company as her own toy (I know nobody will ever admit that, but we all know it’s true, nonetheless). Trusting employees and relying on their judgment is exactly the opposite of what the entrepreneur wants. The least enlightened see the employees as a necessary evil, people who are there to do things that she would do much better and much faster alone if only she had the time. They usually put pressure on the employees even when it’s not necessary, just to be sure that they’re working at fastest pace possible. What’s worse, they think that all of this is and healthy management policy and sometimes even succeed to convince employees too.
A manager, on the other side, will never give away her new, hardly won, power just because those slackers who she happens to manage desire some respect. She has power and she wants to make use of it. The better explanation of this comes from the court hearings of the, now defunct, Mafia boss Tommaso Buscetta. Being questioned by the judges on how the Mafia bosses were willing to hide in rat holes, being chased for years by the police, moving with extreme caution, mostly at night, to run a terrible life just to keep their dirty business running, Buscetta replied “Your honor, commanding is better than sex”. Commanding is such a great pleasure for many that they will not let anything chip off a shard from their power.

Enlightened policies are implemented only where there is awareness of the role of the company.  Companies that have a clear perception of their role in the society are most  likely to implement and foster policies based on respect, initiatives and autonomy. A bright example is FogCreek , which resembles more a kibbutz than a company.

I’m not particularly positive about the future. While the benefits of a new form of people management is beginning to be talked about, the command paradigm is so deeply engraved in our culture that I do not see any relevant change coming in the near future.

However, I still have hope.