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There’s only one management style that works

Dinah Spritzer

June 24, 2021

4

min read

Hint: It doesn’t involve a “gun” to the head

There’s a single effective management style; it’s the one that motivates employees to be their best.

As Sir Alan Jones, chairman emeritus of Toyota UK, told the advocacy group Engage for Success:

Wherever you work, your job as a manager is to make your people be the best they can be – and usually they don’t know just how good they could be. It’s individuals that make the difference.”

But one could argue that holding a metaphorical gun, (or any other weapon), to someone’s head is highly motivating when you want them to be productive. However, such a negative approach, known as the coercive style, has limited short-term gains.

So is the hyper-empathetic, touchy-feely management style promoted by today’s executive gurus a must-have for successful leaders?

That depends on what you want from your employees. Beyond the buzzwords, the key to a company’s success is quality productivity among employees. It’s not just about being productive, it’s about producing quality services and products that boost a firm’s reputation and profits. Getting people to be efficient and produce a lot doesn’t mean their output is valuable.

Current evidence suggests that personal style is less critical to successful management than the level of engagement leaders elicit from their team. Do employees feel invested in the company’s success? Do they feel YOU are invested in their success? And finally, do they feel they have influence? Within the context of organizational culture, influence means employees feel empowered to make big decisions and contribute to the direction of their team, their department, and even their employer.

Why is engagement so valuable?

“Engaged employees are more attentive and vigilant,” Jim Harter, a chief scientist at Gallup Research told Harvard Business Review. “They look out for the needs of their coworkers and the overall enterprise, because they personally ‘own’ the result of their work and that of the organization.”

As recently as five years ago, engagement would merely require a leader to explain the purpose of the company and make sure everyone knows how they contribute to this purpose. But that’s no longer sufficient. Employees want to feel empowered, influential and fulfilled. They want to know that their work is appreciated, and that they have growth potential. How can you make that happen as a CEO or senior manager?


Here are four tips:

1. Admit mistakes, be open about where you can do better.

Example: James Whitehurst, president at IBM and chair of the board at Red Hat, recalls going to market with a product that his customers disliked. It was a failure specifically because Whitehurst made the decision not to rewrite its code, which he felt would be too costly. His Red Hat employees were furious and demoralized after the product failed, but Whitehurst turned the situation into an engagement win.  Whitehurst explained: “Many Red Hatters told me how much they appreciated that I admitted my mistake. They also appreciated that I explained how I came to make the decision in the first place. That earned me their trust. If you want to have engaged employees, in other words, you need to explain why decisions were made. That’s how you build engagement—which also makes you a stronger leader.”

Result: Failure-tolerant leaders foster a culture of informed risk that boosts innovation.

2. Ask the right questions.

Example: In your spot surveys, ask employees:

-- Do you feel empowered to make changes at the company and influence its direction?

--  How well does your skill set align with your current job?

-- Do you feel listened to by senior management?

Respond to the entire company concerning the survey results and show what changes you plan to make to promote engagement. That’s not HR’s job, that’s your job.

Result: Employees are more motivated because they feel they matter. Or as Virgin Group founder Richard Branson once put it: “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.'

3. Talk about your own engagement.

Example: Speak to employees about why you love your job, and about why the company excites you. Avoid jargon and platitudes, instead provide anecdotes.

Result: Out of all the management styles out there, the one that academic studies indicate has the most positive impact is the visionary style, a la Steve Jobs and Nelson Mandela. What is the visionary style? It means someone is on a journey and invites others to join in the fun, profit and achievement. Employees become part of the journey, they do not feel like mere followers of someone else’s win or fantasy.

4. Measure your organizational culture.

Example: Do your employees have the collaboration tools they need? Is their time being used wisely? Are they able to devote the time they need to strategic tasks and avoid pointless meetings and other communication that inhibit their productivity? Do they get enough 1-1 time with their managers? All of these questions can be measured through data. And you can share the data with your managers and their teams.

Result: Teams feel empowered to perform their best when they feel you care about their time. At Time is Ltd., we saw large jumps in productivity among our clients when collaboration time is fine tuned to meet employee goals.

Management styles that facilitate engagement vary, from highly authoritative to democratic and collaborative. It’s good to be able to switch styles based on the current needs of the company.

During dramatic times, authoritative behavior might be briefly necessary to institute change. Just leave the weapons at home.

Find out more about how to measure the relationship between engagement, collaboration and productivity and contact Time is Ltd. today.

At Time is Ltd., we measure digital collaboration and productivity, without ever sacrificing employee privacy. We provide an advanced analytical SaaS platform that delivers a holistic view of an organization collaboration patterns. We measure your team’s digital footprint to improve communication, productivity as well as save precious time. Our approach only aggregates meta-data from a variety of data sources, to show how your teams work with your collaboration tools so you can get them more productive and motivated.

wRITTEN BY

Dinah Spritzer