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Floggings Will Continue Until Morale Improves!
Dennis – President, Effective Engineering
You and your team have been working non-stop for a very
long time on a project with unrealistic milestones and barely possible
deadlines. You have all just broken your backs to meet yet another critical
but nearly impossible deadline, you’ve spent many nights and weekends to get
this done. You’ve all missed important family events to accomplish this.
After all of this, after accomplishing what looked to be impossible, you
meet with your boss, expecting heartfelt thanks and appreciation, but
instead you are told that what you did was simply not good enough and your
boss is disappointed in you all for failing to deliver on what he
promised, and that if things don’t improve, you are all in danger of losing
your jobs. How’s that for a great work motivator! You are one of the “lucky”
teams to have a boss who comes from the “Floggings Will Continue Until
Morale Improves” (FWCUMI) school of inspirational management.
It would be nice to think that this type of management approach isn’t
common, but it is far more common than it should be. The view is to
concentrate on what you’re doing wrong and to ignore what you’re doing
right. In the industrial age, where the means of production were
predominantly the equipment used to produce products and where that means of
production remained at the company when the employees went home at night,
this kind of approach might work, although it would hardly be effective.
But in today’s information age, particularly with “knowledge workers”,
and even more particularly with engineers, the means of production resides
in the brains of those “knowledge workers”, and goes home with them
every night. Using the “FWCUMI” philosophy is not only foolish, it
is counter-productive and destructive.
Managing “knowledge workers”, and even more specifically engineers,
is like herding cats (see
eN-031106 – Herding Cats: The Art of “Managing” Engineers, and
related articles). The value of these people is their brains, their
creativity, and their independence of thought. Management succeeds only
when they succeed. They are more knowledgeable than their managers about
how to properly develop their product and determine the ultimate success of
their projects and products. Management needs them far more than they need
The “FWCUMI” approach may work in the very near term. People want or
need to keep a paycheck coming in and may be afraid that if they don’t
comply they will find themselves without one. It may work when there is a
downturn in the economy that makes finding a new job harder. However, the “FWCUMI”
approach simply won’t work in the long term. A manager’s best employees can
always find a new job in a healthier work environment where their
capabilities are appreciated and rewarded, even during an economic
downturn. These “best” employees are usually the first to leave.
Then the manager is left with the “second best” employees. The
process continues. Eventually, only the “least best” employees will
remain, and how can the manager effectively develop products then?
Recruiting people into such an environment is extremely difficult; after
all, who would want to work there? The “FWCUMI” philosophy is
self-defeating. This is particularly true when the job market is good with
very low levels of unemployment.
Why would any boss adopt this management approach? It really comes down to
the personality of the individual manager or management team; bad managers
can poison the work environment (see
eN-040205 – Mis-Managers: How Bad Managers Can Poison the Well,
and related articles). When reviewing performance, managers typically
evaluate employees “strengths” and “areas for improvement” (a
euphemism for “weaknesses”). Some managers believe that they will
see better performance if they concentrate on the “weaknesses” and
point out what the employee is doing wrong rather than praising the employee
for what he/she is doing right. They seem to think that the employee
already knows what he/she is doing right, so why bother “wasting time”
talking about that. This approach is often exacerbated when working with a
team. If a schedule is not met, why not simply concentrate on what remains
to be done rather than “waste time” talking about what has already
been done? Such managers tend to feel that they are most “efficient”
by concentrating on fixing the product/project problems that need “their”
attention. They do not recognize that the people are as or more important
than the individual technical issues and that without them, the project will
If all you do is beat people up and tell them why they’re bad, inadequate,
incompetent, or ineffectual, they will seldom respond by jumping into the
job with all they’ve got, to “do it for the Gipper”. They will be
discouraged and will do what they need to keep their job until they can find
a new one. This is hardly a recipe for success.
When a team is highly motivated it is simply astounding what they can
accomplish. If they all feel their efforts are recognized and appreciated,
they will redouble their efforts to do even more. Any alternative approach
that acknowledges what has been accomplished, expresses gratitude for the
effort that has been made, and then expresses understanding that what
remains may be challenging but can be accomplished by the team, will provide
the motivation for the team to proceed with vigor and enthusiasm. Simple
but heartfelt appreciation goes a very long way.
Don’t be a boss who practices a “FWCUMI” approach. Recognize that
your people need encouragement and recognition and not continual “flogging”.
They should be asked for their opinions and be encouraged to make decisions
that you as the boss will agree to stand behind.
Don’t tolerate a boss who uses an irresponsible “FWCUMI” approach on
a team you’re a member of. If your boss is approachable, do so and let
him/her know that this approach is counterproductive. If he/she responds
and changes, then the change should be good for all. If he/she doesn’t,
then it may be time to make others aware of this behavior to see if they can
help address the problem. If after trying to get the behavior to change, it
still doesn’t, then it is probably time to look elsewhere for a new
position. Life is too short to put up with such treatment. There are many
other opportunities out there, where your work ethic and efforts will be
appreciated and valued.
Morale will not improve when you are being continually “flogged”.
Don’t let that happen!
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