Six Sigma
Last Word


Last Word
Joseph H. Foegen, Ph.D.

An Apt Analogy

Today's managers can learn from yesterday's leaders.

In the early days of World War II, England stood alone against Hitler's armies. France had fallen, and most of the British Expeditionary Force had been evacuated from Dunkirk. The German Luftwaffe was bombing London nightly. Nazi submarines were sinking ships faster than they could be built.

 Faced with potential defeat, Winston Churchill made a desperate appeal to President Franklin Roosevelt, essentially requesting that Roosevelt at least send bombs and bullets, if not troops.

 Fast-forward to the present. Churchill's half-century-old words--"Give us the tools, and we will do the job!"--could really be another definition of the managerial function. The traditional management motto has been, and still is, "Getting things done through other people." A second motto that better reflects Churchill's approach, a close approximation of currently popular "empowerment," could be "Getting proper tools into the hands of good people motivated to use them well."

 Employers do provide basic tools, of course: an office or other work space; a computer terminal and related hardware and software; and stationery, paper clips, disks and more. But these are necessary and obvious resources without which desired work couldn't be done properly. Supplying them is considered routine; a worker's well-being is not necessarily a prime factor involved. However, a world-class organization requires more than this minimum.

 Churchill found himself in the unenviable position of leading wartime Britain with little more than his unquestionable charisma going for him. Today's managers aren't facing nightly terror from the skies or imminent invasion, but their jobs aren't easy. Competition is keen and often global. Technological and other changes are rampant, rapid and ongoing. People can be as difficult as ever. Getting needed work done efficiently and effectively when faced with all of this is a real challenge.

 Churchill was pleading for the "sinews of war:" bombs, bullets, tanks, ships and a host of other materials. Today's managers need psychological "weapons." Effective tools are needed for countering employee boredom, alienation and adversarial relationships. Others are needed to gain respect and self-actualization.

 Churchill had no time to be devious or subtle. His country's needs were basic, embodied in one word: survival. He needed tools immediately. Today, managers are wise to be alert to an ongoing, implied cry from employees. It's true that, if things get bad enough, complaints are more direct, as with collective bargaining, strike threats and the grievance procedure. But good managers are proactive; they don't wait for such developments. They're alert to both verbal and nonverbal cues from their people concerning psychological needs in the workplace.

 To their credit, some enlightened employers have sensed workers' needs intuitively and have provided their people with the psychological tools desired and deserved. Stressing teams and teamwork, for example, can be a way to foster cohesiveness, creativity and cooperation.

 Almost commonplace by now, near-universal access to the same database from employees' individual desktop computers is another indicator of openness, a practical tool fostering good management. Rapidly becoming just as common is remote access via laptop or palm-size terminals. Company-specific intranets can tie everything together.

 Though basically financial, stock options can also be a more general employee motivator. They can assume a potent psychological dimension when made available not only to top management but also to those in the ranks. Whatever their titles, people respond similarly to incentives aimed at better performance and in-group feeling.

 Whether concerning potentially intricate options or a host of other topics of employee concern, training is yet another tool. Typically, it has both short-and long-run aspects. It can increase competence in whatever is at hand, making the wheels turn more smoothly.

 All of these measures and more can be folded into today's popular empowerment concept. This involves extending both the power to make decisions and the tools needed to do a good job. The action must be sincere, of course, or it will eventually be counterproductive.

 In too many cases, unfortunately, managers are still failing to provide what's needed to enable good work. Changing managerial culture to give employees what they need requires more than just conning the workers. Rather, a still-widespread mindset needs changing. Because the idea has long been talked about and advocated, it would seem that the notion of management and workers really being "partners in production" would have been accepted generally by this time. Management pioneer Frederick W. Taylor advocated it decades ago; he called such rejection of the adversarial relationship a "mental revolution." Given what has happened since, and general conditions still prevailing, the word "revolution" wouldn't be an exaggeration, if and when it's realized.

 The United States finally responded to Churchill's plea for tools. Hitler was defeated and the war was won. The job was done as the prime minister and president intended.

 Today, some managers are giving some employees the psychological tools to do what needs doing, but their contributions are far from what they should be. The psychological managerial war has not yet been won--but final victory is still possible. Managers worthy of the title will take up the challenge.


About the author

 Joseph H. Foegen, Ph.D., is a professor of business at Winona State University in Minnesota and a member of the Academy of Management, Industrial Relations Research Association, Society for Business Ethics and the World Future Society. E-mail him at jfoegen@qualitydigest.com .

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