Project Practitioners > Challenging the Way We Work and Manage

Challenging the Way We Work and Manage

By Brian Irwin

As I work on writing my next book, my research is increasingly supporting the premise that we are working under a very outdated model of management.  In this post, I will challenge the current model and hopefully cause you to pause and consider your own experiences.  I will begin by posing a few questions.  Are the projects you lead very straightforward?  Can they be completed by your team employing checklists and a predetermined set of steps?  Are the problems you and your team are addressing easily solved?

If the answers to the questions above are no, as I suspect, then you should take note of what follows.  If this article resonates with you, I would appreciate hearing your thoughts. 

The majority of work we perform today requires an enormous amount of creativity.  The problems are complex requiring considerable thought be expended to find a solution, if a solution exists at all.  Additionally, information is ubiquitous (everywhere).  Anyone desiring information, on virtually anything, has ready access to it.  Those individuals with the ability to see the big picture and assemble information for competitive advantage and differentiation are becoming valuable assets to their organizations.  But, the management model we work in today is antiquated and archaic.  The inception of modern scientific management has widely been attributed to Frederick Winslow Taylor in 1903 with the publication of his paper titled Shop Management.  Since that time, management has advanced surprisingly little.  Management, since not occurring naturally in the world, is a technology, a human invention.  When compared to other technologies management lags immensely.  Technologies like the cell phone, computer, and networking have transformed the way we work.  But, they haven't yet transformed the way we manage.  

The latest research in neuroscience, made possible by several advances in technology , has discovered that several of our assumptions about motivation, creativity, and work have been incorrect.  For example, we readily accept that one of the best ways to motivate individuals is through the use of rewards such as money, time off, and recognition.  This is often called the "carrot and stick" methodology - we reward good performance and behavior, and punish bad.  Neuroscience is now largely invalidating that assumption.  While good motivators for simple, repetitive task, the carrot and stick method are actually counterproductive for complex, challenging, creative tasks and work.  The major long-term motivators continue to be intrinsic such as liking and being passionate for the work one is doing and being part of something that is for the greater good.  In other words, work must align with one's talent for it to be rewarding and have that individual produce outstanding results.

Here is another challenge about the way we work.  Do you believe you should be paid by the time you spend on the job?  Before you answer consider whether you owe a company your time or your results.  A new movement is underway called the Results-Only Work Environment, or ROWE for short.  The idea is simple, but flies in the face of almost everything you think about work today; you can work anytime, from anywhere, in any fashion you want - as long as you deliver results.  Also, meetings are not mandatory.  The entire methodology is based on the profound assumptions that we are adults and will do what is necessary to get the job done.  I am a firm believer in that assumption.  During my career I have worked in several organizations, and numerous projects, where individuals show up for work and put in their time but produce little results.  In a ROWE environment, these people would not last very long if results were not delivered - consistently.  Best Buy was one of the first organizations to adopt this methodology.  It was born in-house by Jody Thompson and Cali Ressner.  What was the result?  What has been the result?  The numbers speak for themselves, 35% productivity increase and voluntary turnover that has decreased by 90%.  Simply put, people like working in this type of environment.  It's my belief that we need to become renegade managers, challenge our assumptions, and change the environments in which we work.

Over the next few blogs, I'll be providing some additional research findings.  I will also be discussing what all of this means, from a project manager's perspective.  How can you apply this to your team and the way in which you manage?  More on that to follow.  Please let me know your thoughts on this subject.  Here are a few resources for further reading.  They are thought-provoking and very interesting.  

Further Reading:

  1. Smashing the Clock
  2. Throwing out the Rules of Work
  3. Why Most Leadership and Coaching Initiatives Fail
  4. VIDEO: Daniel Pink TED talk on Motivation

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