4 Reasons Your People Can't Manage Themselves…


Over the years, we have worked with clients who believe that if they hire the right people or build the right systems, they won’t need to manage their employees. “The employees will manage themselves!” 

Related: Is Poor Employee Engagement Management’s Fault?

But this won’t happen, and we try as gently as possible to explain why: We tell them, for example, that hiring good people is just the first step. You need to manage those relationships continuously in order to reap the benefits these people can bring to your organization. It makes sense that “management” is a job. And as much as you might wish the opposite were true, your people can’t manage themselves. Here are four reasons why.

1. Every organization is unique.

No matter what skills and experience employees have when they join your organization, they don’t know your specific organization and how you do things. Your goals, mission, values, processes and clients are unique to your company. So, you have to orient, communicate and train your employees as to what and how you want things done. Otherwise, you will be left wondering how this or that great employee could get things so wrong.

Consider this story of a client of ours who ran a service business and in that context hired an experienced salesperson who had worked in the industry for more than 20 years. Our client thought she had hit the jackpot — someone who wouldn’t need her to manage him.

After all, this man had a record of accomplishment and decades of experience. So, she turned the salesperson loose, with only a sales goal as a guide, to meet with both current and new customers. But, in less than three months, she started hearing dissatisfaction from her current customers about this salesperson’s approach. They didn’t like his communication style and the changes he was making to their service agreements.

Clearly, the business owner had not spent the time to orient the new employee to her company’s culture. She had to spend the next weeks undoing the damage, and ended up terminating her relationship with the salesperson.

2. People need motivation to stay engaged.

Some people are intrinsically motivated. In other words, they are motivated by the enjoyment the activity brings and the achievement they feel from their work. While most employees feel intrinsically motivated from time to time or when doing specific tasks, keeping these employees engaged requires a leader who understands how to manage each individual under his/her employ.

Related: 14 Management Do’s and Don’ts to Motivate Employees

The owner of a mechanical firm we know hired an experienced technician to manage its residential-service division. The new manager had worked hard to distinguish himself from other technicians at a competitor’s organization. And he was known in the industry for his skills and his dedication to getting the job done and serving the customer.

The owner was thrilled when he was able to convince the employee to join his organization, and offered him the leadership position as part of the enticement. However, six months later, the owner was triaging the damage.

Turns out that the new manager was intrinsically motivated and expected that all his employees would be equally motivated. Yet he erred by neglecting  his crew of ten employees, concentrating instead on sales and operational issues. The crew members didn’t receive feedback — either positive or negative — about their performance; and their perfomance quickly deteriorated under their new manager’s laissez faire style.

Without praise or consequences, the crew members became less engaged and started manifesting attendance, quality and service issues. The new manager’s attitude was that these people were adults and shouldn’t need their boss to tell them how to behave.

Ultimately, his time in this new role was short. 

3. People are people.

Put two people together and you will eventually have some conflict. Multiply this by three, 10 or 100 and the possibility for problems increases. Even the best employee will have a bad day or week. Personality conflicts, personal trauma, physical and emotional health problems, financial stress, pettiness and jealousy all compound to cause issues in the workplace. At some point, someone has to adjudicate a dispute, make an unpopular decision, hire, discipline, reward or terminate. This is the job of management.

A business we worked with had about 100 employees. They enjoyed both vacation and sick time as part of their benefits package. But a review of the benefits showed that only about 10 percent of the employees used all of the five sick days allowed. However, when we looked closer, we found that five of those who used all of their sick days used them only on Monday, Friday or a day contiguous to a paid holiday.

The president of the business showed the research to the employees in an all-hands meeting, omitting the names of the five particular employees. He asked that employees use sick leave as the company had intended — when they were too sick to come to work, and not as additional vacation. A year later, we reviewed the company data again. The same five employees had used their leave in the exact same way. The company responded by eliminating sick leave and instituted a paid-time-off policy that was less rich than the former policy.

4. Things change.

As the requirements of your business change, you will need to lead your people in a new direction. This is the essence of management. It is bringing people together to achieve a collective result. In today’s business environment, change is constant and ever increasing. Without strong management, your business may go in the wrong direction or be slow to react; and it may miss opportunities.

Another story: A business with a dynamic owner we knew quickly grew through both sales and acquisition. The owner built a solid team of workers who followed his lead and executed on the goals he set. The business grew to a point where the owner needed to place managers in charge of three divisions.

And two of the managers selected have continued the owner’s strong leadership, setting stretch goals and motivating their people to achieve. They’ve recognized changes in the industry and modified their goals as needed — staying in the forefront. However, the manager of the third division has been less successful. While he has good people on his team, he lacks innovation, is slow to make decisions, doesn’t set aggressive goals and doesn’t push his people to excel. His division is declining in profitability, and the other managers are overtaking him.

This illustrates the power of good management, because organizations need strong management to win. No one can imagine a football team without a coach to set the overall strategy, determine positions or call the plays. And it’s the same in business. Employees cannot manage themselves.

Related: Employee Management: Reward the Best, Replace the Worst

In our experience, over time, people tend to work in their own best interest, and it is unrealistic to believe otherwise. Even the best people need management to create culture, adjudicate disagreements, motivate and determine direction. You can’t hire or systematize your way out of managing employees. So don’t fool yourself that good management will happen at your company without strong, capable people at the helm.

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