Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Book: Brain Science Shows Current Management Techniques Do More Harm Than Good

I can't begin to count the number of "management gurus" I've interviewed over the years. They explain how to use 360-degree feedback; give ideas for 1,001 employee rewards and incentives; and outline how to set achievable goals for employees.

Then I interviewed Charles Jacobs, and he basically said these people were full of crap. OK, those are my words, not his. But he's done the research, and he says that the brain science shows that all these management techniques don't work. In fact, they usually achieve the opposite: They create hostile, demoralized, unproductive and uncreative employees.

When I wrote the story, I expected to hear some laughs from employees around the country, along with a "damn straight!" response. It wasn't long before the first e-mail arrived from a businessperson, who noted that too many MBAs had stuck their nose in this person's business over the last several years, and this pro was sick of it.

Treating employees with the best management technique around -- The Golden Rule -- had worked for decades, the person said. What doesn't work? "Goals, incentive plans and weekly mandatory sales meetings" the worker wrote, which had led to declining morale.

“A lot of what managers are doing now doesn’t work. It may make them feel better, but it’s not helping their employees,” says Jacobs, managing partner of 180 Partners in Boston. “Much of this came out of Greek philosophy 2,500 years ago, but now we have the brain science to prove it.”

In his new book, “Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn’t Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Science” (Portfolio, $25.95), Jacobs says:

* Performance feedbacks backfire. Employees aren’t going to change their behavior because they have a “deep seated” need to hang on to their self image. So, they will either attribute a performance failure to something else, or discount the source of the feedback. “When the source is our bosses or people we don’t especially care for, this is an attractive option,” Jacobs says.
* Rewards don’t work. The brain is wired to produce feelings of pleasure when we’re fully engaged on the job. Financial incentives actually decrease our intrinsic motivation – the need for achievement that comes from inside us.
* Goal setting doesn’t produce results. It’s emotion – not numerical objectives – that keep us focused and committed to a larger mission. “Objective goals should be in the service of a larger mission than just profit,” he says.
Further, the key to managing effectively is realizing that management practices that “are the way things have always been done” simply don’t work, and the brain science proves it, Jacobs says. Instead, he says it’s time companies realize that leaders must learn to manage “both mind and behavior.”

“No one wants to be controlled by a manager or anyone else,” he says. “We all want to do a good job. So, what’s going to work is them (employees) is doing it on their own. You can’t force people. They can be successful on their own.”

Jacobs says that if organizations will learn “to channel our innate selfishness rather than attempting to counter it,” employees will be more engaged, more motivated and more successful – and that translates into real bottom line results for a company.

He says managers should:
* Use questions to engage employees. “They should stop worrying about the right incentives to motivate good performance and should instead leverage the universal human desire for meaningful work,” Jacobs says.
* Ask for more employee input. While the tough economy and potential layoffs has everyone on edge, managers need to motivate employees by asking for their ideas on keeping a company successful. For example, workers can feel more empowered when managers ask for their ideas on how to cut expenses. “When employees are fearful about what’s going to happen, their behavior can change. The brain slows. The result is that people become less productive. You don’t need hokey recognition programs. You need to give as much information as possible and let them know where the business stands. You’ve got to keep them really focused when they’re scared.”
* Let employees be their own judge. Jacobs says that no matter how constructive managers try to make it, feedback from them is just perceived as negative. It’s much better to let workers appraise their own performance, using whatever hard data is available. “They have a greater ownership of any shortfalls,” he says. “It then becomes in their best interests to correct them.”
* Tell stories. Stories are the way our brains naturally work; they make sense of the world. By telling stories to illustrate a point – how Americans didn’t give up during the Revolution , for example – the “mental environment” is created that helps get them to do what is needed.

“It’s not like you’re turning the asylum over to the inmates. What will happen if you do these things is that people are going to like working there, and they’ll do better,” Jacobs says.

Do you think currently accepted management techniques should be changed?


Wayne Turmel said...

Anita, I just interviewed Charlie Jacobs for Episode 192 of The Cranky Middle Manager Show, and he's one of a kind to be sure. I think his work is intriguing, and certainly helps explain why you and I have talked to hundreds of experts and few of us are any better at managing than we've ever been!

Don't let the weasels get you down.

Anita said...

This is great! Here's the link for people who want to listen: http://cmm.thepodcastnetwork.com/
I wonder what the experts will have to say....??

karim said...

I absolutely agree with the author, yes I am one of those MBA, with a small difference, I tend to violate corp culture, I walk about and 'shoot the breeze' and at the same time get valuable input from my team on what they are working on and what outside of the job may be impacting them... throw that crappy Mission statement, strategy and all that crap out and get people more engaged on what has to be done and what the next two steps out might be, force people to create possible vision, it may amaze you...
karim Abdullah, MBA.

Anita said...

Thanks for sharing your story. Keeping employees engaged in tough times is definitely a challenge, and your strategies may be something others can learn from.