AKRON (May 10, 2004) — Over the long term, respect is a much more effective motivator than fear.
Experience shows that respect appeals to more employees more often than fear does. After a while, a boss' attempted “fear factor” may wear thin—and could backfire.
In my last column, I described how two spineless bosses broke into the toolboxes of two solid and trustworthy technicians I know. They were looking for allegedly stolen or hidden shop tools. In both instances, these workers actually were de facto caretakers of certain shop tools at both of these businesses.
In reality, these workers were saving their bosses money by tending and accounting for certain specialty tools and smaller pieces of equipment that are vital to the service department's success. Unfortunately, both men made the same mistake of leaving tools locked up in their boxes on their days off.
Neither boss had issued any verbal or written warnings about “harboring” specialty tools for any reason. Instead, they showed the ultimate disrespect to these technicians by literally breaking into their toolboxes while they were at home.
In spite of being in the service business for years, somehow these managers never learned that fooling with a tech's tools—especially when he's not around—is the equivalent of a mortal sin.
Meantime, both techs assured me their home and cellular telephone numbers were readily available to their service managers. But no one called to offer an opportunity to retrieve the tools and perhaps apologize like gentlemen. I believe the techs when they say this because I've worked alongside them enough to know how they behave.
The service managers involved, who couldn't manage a one-man picnic if someone helped them, pulled cheap, heavy-handed stunts. In both instances, breaking into the toolbox of the shop's smartest technician was a misdirected show of authority intended to strike fear into the hearts of the work force—especially the “troublemakers” most attuned to the boss' antics and mental games.
Readers, this isn't a column about the legality or illegality of breaking into a worker's toolbox. At the very least, good managers issue verbal warnings about infractions first and note the warnings in the worker's file. That should be followed with written warnings and a requirement that the worker sign a copy of the warning. If you must confront an employee, do so personally and privately in your office.
No, this column recognizes the lengths to which insecure, incompetent managers sometimes go when their rule-by-fear tactics fail. These are bosses who habitually overschedule jobs and then berate good, conscientious employees who simply can't turn out the unrealistic volume of work demanded of them. These are bosses who routinely overpromise on tough troubleshooting jobs. Then they keep visiting the diagnostic tech's service bay, haranguing him about his progress on a job no one else in town would touch—let alone finish by 5 p.m. These are managers who pitch temper tantrums every time productivity numbers decline.
The net result of these break-ins is that one tech has left, taking his best customers with him. The other tech is about to leave and most assuredly will take clientele with him. Both men love their work and had successfully tuned out their managers' antics for many years. But eventually, they explained, the threats and disrespect take their toll.
Some bosses are in the top chair by luck or happenstance and have managed to hang on mostly by bullying everyone around them. In some cases, this breed of boss will admit that because his boss bullied him, it's the only technique he knows. Plus, striking fear in employees is the best way he knows to direct attention away from his own shortcomings and lack of people skills.
Recognize that workers don't expect the boss to know everything or to be Mr./Ms. Lovable to everyone all the time. But they definitely expect and deserve fairness and respect. The best way to achieve that is to get their input and keep them involved. After all, they often know the best way to do the job right and keep customers coming back. If you communicate with them, the worst reaction you'll get is, “Wow, he listens to me!”
Try that technique and let me know what happens.