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The Daily ParadoxHandling People

The Daily Paradox: Ends & Meanies

In the debate that seems to rage permanently around Elon Musk two things are obvious. He is regarded as having a clear objective. Several, actually, and not always consistent ones, but quite clear objectives. He is also regarded as indefatigably mean in his handling of people. I’d caution wariness about both these extreme views. Mr Musk is a very clever person whose emotional intelligence appears to have been dropped off in the carpark. His appetite for commercial risk seems undiminished, possibly even a little overdeveloped.

All business builders are faced daily with the need for quick, exemplary financial returns plus the continuity of their colleagues’ work and agreeable lives. To achieve one without the other means losing both. Socially, the employee pendulum swings between slavish working conditions and pampered, spoiled staff. Financially, the swing is more between opportunistic profits and steady growth. There are investors for both types. The sale p/e of a business increases with the steadier record and declines with the more mercurial.

In some countries sympathy for employee sickness has morphed into the right not to attend work at all. In Britain, I am told, many in the workforce registered as disabled are still actually attending work – when they feel like it, I assume – and drawing their disability pay at the same time. Their bread is buttered on both sides, then. Perhaps kindness has overtaken sense. Whatever it is, it is certainly reducing a beautiful and thoughtful country to despair. All for the want of insisting that people pay something towards the cost of their health and fulfil their work contract responsibly. You couldn’t tell it as a fairy tale.

Respect is one of the most important reasons people do their best for someone. Respect, not fear. But all discipline has some element of fear in it, even if that fear is internalised. The best sort of discipline fear is the occasional quick sharp reminder of who is boss. The worst sort is the nitpicking, nagging, directional whingeing exhibited by the micro manager. Relaxed control needs hawk-eyed firmness at times.

Managers often think that the money they pay their employees is the reason the employees work for them. That is partly true, of course. But it’s only the sine qua non part of the story. It accounts for presence now, not for quality or continuity of work. The employee who stays with you, at whatever level of the business, knows what the company is aiming for, is clear about the importance of their part in the process of getting there and is praised when it is reached. As Peter Drucker said ‘You cannot hire a hand; the whole person always comes with it’. Management becomes complicated when the need to aim competes with the need to see. That is why the ‘End’, or purpose, of a business must always be clear. Making money is not its purpose – that is the way its purpose is fulfilled.

John Ruskin summed it up clearly in the 19th Century when he said ‘In order that people may be happy in their work, three things are needed: they must be fit for it; they must not do too much of it; and they must have a sense of success in it’. There are very few places where these simple rules are applied today.

Motivation would be greatly enhanced if Ruskin’s advice was followed.

Good morning

John Bittleston

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Too many have dispensed with generosity in order to practice charity
Albert Camus, writer and philosopher (1913-1960) 

09 May 2024