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September 2009

The Pledge for Better Management

Today I received a request from the Chartered Management Institute to pledge my support for their Manifesto for a Better Managed Britain. You may click here to download the PDF but the pledges requested are:


  • We pledge to make the development of effective mangers and leaders a national priority.
  • We pledge to develop professional management and leadership skills in the public sector


  • We pledge to develop professional managers and leaders in our organisation.
  • We pledge to foster a culture in which managers and leaders are competent and accountable.


  • I pledge to demonstrate professionalism in the way I manage and lead setting an example for others.
  • I pledge to develop my management and leadership skills throughout my working life

Regular readers might well guess my reaction to this, but I thought that, for once, I would keep my opinions to myself and rather research what others think. Accordingly I would like to know:

  • Whether you think there is a need for such an initiative
  • Whether you would be willing to make the pledge applicable to you as they stand
  • Why you feel that you would or wouldn't make your own pledge
  • Your own suggestions for appropriate pledges - either improving these or adding your own, including covering any issues that you think are missing.

Consequently, I am setting up a competition for the best comments, and by best I mean the ideas that are most constructive and will be most likely to change the workplace as we currently know it - for the better. While the context is British, the principles are universal, and thus there will be no geographical restrictions - all entries are welcome.

The competition will close on 13th October 2009 in order to allow me the time to consolidate the ideas mooted and incorporate them into my own response to the CMI, although naturally comments will still be welcomed after that. I will publish the name of the author of the winning entry (as judged by me) on this page as soon as possible around that time, and (upon receipt of their contact details) send him/her a free copy of my book "Lean Organisations Need FAT People." My judgment will be final.

Enjoy the challenge. I look forward to your comments.

How is employee engagement a management issue?

There is so much discussion on employee engagement at the moment. David Zinger's Employee Engagement Network now has 1507 members, having just passed the 1000 mark a few short months ago. Clearly this is a hot issue right now.

However, rather than going over all the reasons why this is so, I thought we should look at it from a different perspective today and ask whether, like motivation and happiness, it is another one of those no-win causes that 'humanitarians' foist upon management?

Now, that might be a pretty controversial question, but if it has made you feel somewhat aggrieved, that is most likely because you are taking exception to the implicit assumption that motivation and happiness are no-win challenges for management. Many of you may dismiss the idea and stop reading while others will cite research that 'proves' happy motivated people are more engaged, and that businesses with high-levels of employee engagement outperform the competition. So you would argue that it is imperative that management makes more effort to look after their people and ensure that they are happy, motivated and engaged.

Of course you would be right. The fact is the two positions are not actually contradictory.

"Being miserable is a habit. Being happy is a habit. The choice is yours." (Tom Hopkins)

There are possibly hundreds of similar statements that allude to the fact that we are all ultimately responsible for our own experience, and that it is the way we respond to things that differentiates us. Whether or not you accept this, or the extent to which you do may vary, but I am sure most will concur that happiness is personal, and thus largely innate. Well the same is true for motivation and thus must also be true for engagement. Consequently, any effort to stimulate it from the outside or from the top down, can at best only be transitory and have little lasting effect.

So, while it may be possible to stimulate bouts of enthusiasm, efforts by management to do it on a long-term basis are ultimately doomed to failure, hence my 'no-win' claim. Indeed I would go so far as to suggest that the extent to which management has been encouraged to introduce such initiatives and failed to see the promised benefits is probably one of the biggest management divides, and the single biggest reason why the HR is neither as well respected as it would like to be nor more widely represented at board level.

Be that as it may (and I would welcome your thoughts on the subject) the fact is motivation, happiness and engagement do have an important effect on business performance. They therefore have to be a management issue, but cannot be implemented in a traditional top-down manner. It boils down to management's responsibility being simply to create the appropriate environment; something that can only be done through values and cultural transformation. 

Cost vs. Value

On a course recently, the trainer repeatedly used the example of you giving him a pound or a dollar and receiving 5 back. He confirmed that you would happily keep giving him money as long you received the same return. He pointed out that it was an investment, and that if you begrudged the 'cost' of the pound or dollar you were under no obligation to give it to him, but you would have to forego the return.

Of course this was very simplistic, but it illustrated the point very well. Thinking about it afterwards, it struck me that no sane businessman spends money without expecting more back for it than he outlays. This applies to ALL expenditure in any for-profit business, including people costs.

Thus it follows that, when it comes to salaries and wages, your payroll costs are effectively an investment in your people and you naturally expect more in return than what you outlay. This has two significant implications.

  • The outlay being less than the true value of your people creates an inherent source of conflict, because individuals not only intuitively recognises that they are being paid less than their value, but are also likely to value themselves at more than you are paying them.
  • Dispensing with people may be analogous to withholding your pound or dollar in the earlier example. It is your choice, but it takes value out of your business that diminishes your short-term earnings potential and that could have an even greater impact on your long-term prospects.

Unfortunately current accounting practice assesses people only as a cost and so does not directly recognise the investment aspect. This exposes you to a significant, and often unrecognised, risk when making decisions about people. People are truly your greatest asset and it is no longer good enough to "fly by the seat of your pants" on these matters. It is essential that you start managing them more effectively and that starts with formally valuing them as assets and treating them as such.

For starters valuing people openly would:

  • Introduce an element of consistency and objectivity that is currently missing
  • Eliminate much of the latent dissatisfaction with present 'hidden' valuation and the jealousy and dissatisfaction it causes
  • Provide a more realistic basis for valuing people contribution and thus for assessing rewards
  • Perhaps remove some of the disparity of earnings that adds to the general dissatisfaction and disengagement of your workers
  • Facilitate greater organisational teamwork. 

What benefits do you see from this approach? And what drawbacks?