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9 Reasons Why Management Theories are (Literally) Killing Your Business

What is death? In spite of a plethora of books about “zombies” and movies featuring “the living-dead,” we know little about death. But we do know a lot about life. Perhaps the best way to define death is as “absence of Life.” Another way to put it: Death is when we stop living.

Death could be seen as the end of our physical life. But there is also something called dying before the death. This is when we are living as if we are dead. What causes this death before the death? For many of us, our work constitutes a major part of our lives. That’s why, one of the causes of our death is the meaningless, soul-sucking, boring, drudgery of work that some of us haul ourselves to every single day.

A business is made of people. When its people are dying before their actual death, the business organization is also on its way to its grave. One of the reasons why this death occurs is because of the so called management theories. Here, I present to you 9 reasons why management theories could be killing your business. 

1. Management theories view business as machine and its people as machine-parts.
Most of the management theories in circulation today have their roots in the Scientific Management Theories developed in the 1880’s (that was 130 years ago!) by a fellow named Frederick Taylor. This was the time of Industrial Revolution and people were fascinated, even infatuated, by machines. Taylor, like most managers of the day, viewed people as machine-parts and the business as a giant machine. He and many of his contemporaries were obsessed with how efficiently a task could be performed. For example, Frank Gilbreth, a 1920’s scientific consultant, did a series of studies with his wife, Lilian, to find out how long it took for them to bathe their 12 (that’s a dozen!) young children. As they bathed them using various processes, they kept track of the time it took with a stop-watch. By trial and error, they figured out the most efficient way to bathe their children!

While this kind of obsession with time-based efficiency had its place in history, it does not apply very well to today’s knowledge-intensive work. 

From the perspective of the people we manage, there is nothing more soul-sucking than to be looked at as machine-parts - as “things.”  Each of us knows deep down inside that we have much more to offer than the simple efficiency of a machine. Nobody wants to be a part of a giant machine that churns out productivity. We want to be part of something that’s soul-stirring, something that brings out the best in us, something that compels us to reach down deep and find our deepest, most meaningful essence and share it with the world.

This mentality - of seeing people as things to squeeze out the maximum productivity from - is buried deep inside the psyche of even modern managers. One of the most cliche’d sayings of the business world - “People are our most important asset!” - has its roots within this mentality. An asset is a thing from which you profit, not a living, breathing person to inspire and appreciate and stir at her deepest levels so that she is compelled to show up to work as her best self.

2. Management theories view people as “things.”

We have put man on the moon and brought him back safely. We have made tremendous advances in science and technology, in medicine and space exploration, in rocket science and brain surgery, in the way we connect people and in the way we get our work done. But when it comes to managing our people, we are not that far from the way that the Egyptians built their pyramids or the Romans built their monuments, which is by “owning” those we manage and using fear to get them to do what we want them to do. 

Most modern management theories don’t challenge - or even question - these two basic assumptions: 1) We own those we manage, (The modern-day equivalent of ownership is salary and preset work-hours.) and 2) We use fear to get them to do what we want them to do.

Salary and work-hours are important, of course, and we can’t get rid of them just yet. But we don’t have to use them as a leverage to get our employees to perform well. One of the challenges I present to the business owners I coach is to manage a group of people that’s fully made of volunteer workers. Because they don’t get paid to do the work, you can’t use fear of getting fired as a motivator. In such a situation, the manager is forced to use the only tool she has available: inspiration and positive reinforcement.

Most business owners report that it’s extremely difficult to manage people this way. To me, this implies that we really are not trained to manage people through positive means. This is not the fault of the managers. If there’s someone to blame, it’s the conditioning of humanity in the last few thousand years of our history, perhaps made more concrete during the Industrial Revolution through Scientific Management Theories. 

3. Management theories perceive people as fragmented entities. 

Because we have viewed people as “things,” we have always tried to do away with those aspects of us that make us human. Emotions. Awareness. Organic energy. Life force. Inherent gifts and talents. Our predispositions, intelligence, creativity and initiative. 

Recently, the term Emotional Intelligence has become quite popular. While a step in the right direction, it’s still rooted in our tendency to view people as things. Emotional Intelligence tries to intellectualize emotions with the assumption that our emotions should be controlled by our intellect, making us a robot or an automaton, like the character Data in the cult-fiction TV series Star Trek, the Next Generation, who is an “android” aspiring to be human. Emotions are not something to intellectualize; emotions are something to feel. We have - we feel - emotions whether we like it or not. And they are powerful. When we temp down our emotions by intellectualizing them, we rob ourselves of one of the most powerful forces of nature - and of us. 

Traditionally, just as well as today, we have viewed - we have wanted to view - people primarily as made of two faculties: 1) Intellect and 2) Actions. We have always wanted to keep things this way as it makes a human-being less complicated to manage: predictable and controllable, like a computer.

But reality is quite different. People can’t be tied up in conceptual confinements enforced by management theories. They are much more complex than the two-dimensional things that we have wanted them to be. I like to view people as more integrated entities, keeping in mind that even this view of mine is a conceptual confinement of the human being. However, I think that this view is more expansive and encompasses the ignored faculties of us as human beings. 

These faculties are: 1) Behaviors, 2) Energy, 3) Emotions, 4) Intelligence, 5) Identity, 6) Wisdom and 7) Awareness. 

4. Management theories confine and trap the true potential of your business. 

Because we see human-beings as fragmented things and design our organizations based on management theories that have such a view, it’s impossible to have a workforce that operates at its full capacity or near-full capacity.

We all have a need to express ourselves to our fullest capacity. Within the confines of management theories, many of our human dimensions remain unused and unexplored in our work, causing us to seek outlays in others pursuits such as volunteer work and hobbies.

This has two negative side-effects. In a strictly business sense, the organization misses out on most of the contribution its employees are capable of making, tapping only a small part of it. From the personal view of an employee, she remains unfulfilled and frustrated because most of her capacity to contribute remains unexplored and untapped.

5. Management theories rob you of your people’s creativity and ingenuity.

Every business faces unique challenges and obstacles that they may have not faced before. Such problems require creativity and ingenuity from its people. Our people’s creativity and ingenuity don’t come from their intellect or their behaviors, especially if they are disconnected from their other faculties. Our people’s creativity and ingenuity come from the alignment of the 7 faculties we talked about before. When these faculties are active and aligned, they create magic. When they are not, they create a heavy, dead feelings apparent in so many organizations causing stagnation, apathy and boredom among employees. 

6. Management theories make your business less flexible and more rigid.

Today, we live in the world of management “systems.” Seems like everyone and his brother has some sort of a “system” to sell to businesses, whether it’s sales, leadership, management or many of their variants such as marketing and personal development. As managers, we love systems as with systems, we can control people just like we can control machines and robots. But when we manage with systems, we also miss out something far more important: the uninhibited, deep-to-the-soul engagement from our people. Perhaps a better mindset to develop is that of developing “ecosystems” in our organizations. A system is a dead thing made of machine parts; an ecosystem is a collection of living, breathing entities that work together in a set of interconnected relationships.

7. Management theories make your people skeptical of the management and question its leaders’ integrity, authenticity and originality.

Why are the Dilbert cartoons so popular? Because they star a manager who manages by the fad of the day, without truly understanding, integrating and owning what that fad means to him personally and to his organization. The fact is, Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss is not that far from reality in the corporate world. We have all seen such managers, may be even worked for such a manager. Some of us may have even been such a manager in our own lives. 

We see such managers coming from a mile away. We know they are not authentic or original. They are simply regurgitating what they read about in the latest leadership book or heard in the last management seminar they attended.

I do think that management theories have value. But I think the right way to benefit from management theories is to let it inspire us to develop our own way of managing, perhaps even our own management theory. (Although I recommend that you don’t get too hung up on it yourself and feel free to change it and update it often.)

8. Management theories make a religion out of your business.

In its most basic form, a religion is a set of ideas formulated by someone who has lived them and experienced them. At the heart of every religion is dogma: a set of ideas that were true for the person who lived them, but may or may not be true for those who try to follow them.

When we take management theories literally and make them a dogma in our organizations, our business becomes a follower of the religion proposed by the management theory. This is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, in some circumstances, it could be a very positive thing. Sharing a set of values and principles often give us a sense of collective identity that allows us to function better as a team.

But when our following of a particular management theory becomes so deeply ingrained in our corporate culture that we lose our capacity of discrimination and independent thought, it confines our business into a set of arbitrary boundaries that work against the business rather than for it. 

9. Management theories make people afraid to try out new things, to draw outside the lines, to break new grounds, to start a revolution.

Once a management theory is successfully installed in the psyche of our people, they become their psychological boundaries. If a proper attitude to risk-taking is not cultivated within the corporate culture, these boundaries, while making the organization more efficient, can be debilitating to the organization when it comes to breaking new grounds, reaching for ambitious goals and overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. 

What’s the Alternative to Management Theories?

A better alternative is perhaps a framework that, while creating a philosophical foundation and providing a basic structure for sustainable performance, frees up our people from the shackles of confining and debilitating management theories. I don’t think such a framework could be bought off-the-shelf, however. It must be something that the people in the organization gradually develop over time themselves. This might be a difficult undertaking for most organizations as they have a business to run while also making up how to run it. 

At Awayre, LLC, we have developed such a framework. We call it Management by the Way of Awareness. While providing basic markers forming a fundamental outline from which a business can build its own management philosophy, its real value is that it encompasses the whole of a human being - not a fragment - and aids in engaging and unleashing all that a person has to offer.

The best way to get to know this framework is to evaluate your organization with Awayre Quotient, our Business Health Check. Awayre Quotient takes you through a series of questions and gives you a set of scores that help you gain insights into the strengths and weaknesses of your particular business. It also comes with a score interpretation guide that serves as a basic framework for creating your own management philosophy. 

Click here to get started. 

Copyright 2014 Bhavesh Naik. All rights reserved.

Bhavesh Naik is the Founder and Creative Director of Awayre, LLC, a management consulting and human resource development firm specializing in activating the hidden power of a business process by engaging its people’s awareness. Awayre, LLC is a pioneer in bringing human awareness to the field of management and human resource development as its structural and fundamental component.

“I am Tired of Firing My Employees!”: The Single Most Important Reason Why Employees Don’t Work Out

When I looked at the caller ID on the ringing phone, I knew it was something important. It was from a client who almost never called. Outside of our weekly coaching sessions, she preferred emails and texts. I checked my watch: 20 minutes before my next meeting. “I can do this,” I thought, and answered the call. 

She plunged right into it. “Do you realize how many employees I have fired in my career?” she asked. I admitted that I didn’t have a clue. “16,” she said. “I would not admit this to anyone for the fear that they might think I am cold and heartless. I am not. Each and every time I had to let someone go, it was very, very painful.” 

Click the image to discover a people-centric blueprint for building the next phase of your business.
“You know what?” she said, with a tone of finality in her voice, “I am done. I am done with having to let people go. Isn’t there a way to stop this madness?”

It’s not unusual, I assured her. Many, if not most, presidents of growing and mid-size businesses face this challenge. They know that they have to let some people go. But they also find it agonizingly painful, not just because it’s an unpleasant experience at a personal level, but also because letting people go often carries a significant amount of risk to their businesses.


There Once Lived a Consultant…

One of the great American success stories was a Japanese success story - at first. 

There once lived a consultant named Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Dr. Deming proposed a very simple idea to the American manufacturers: The majority of defects in a finished product could be traced back to the beginning phases of its development. During the customer’s requirements clarification, for example. So the idea of factories making their products first and testing them later was flawed. The better thing to do, according to Dr. Deming, was to make sure that the defects don’t get introduced in the products in the first place.

It was a simple idea. The health-care industry had talked about it for centuries. Preventing a disease is much more effective than having the disease and treating it later. Nothing new there. 

But Dr. Deming’s idea appeared quite revolutionary to the American manufacturing industry. So revolutionary, in fact, that the American manufacturing industry did to Dr. Deming the only thing that’s worse than ridiculing him: They ignored him. 

Dr. Deming took his ideas of quality assurance to Japan where they were enthusiastically accepted. These ideas brought about a revolution in Japanese manufacturing. Japanese products became synonymous with quality. Honda motorcycles, reputed for dripping oil onto the showroom floors, slowly morphed into some of the best-selling-ever Japanese cars in the American market. Their electronic gadgets ruled the world markets for decades. Their “quality culture” became a benchmark for the rest of the world to aspire to. Ultimately, a tiny nation with an acute shortage of land and natural resources cemented its status on the world stage as one of the top economic superpowers. 

Dr. Deming was invited back to the American factories with the respect and adoration he deserved. Till his last days, into his 90’s, he imparted his wisdom to those who were willing to listen and ultimately helped bring about a “Quality Revolution” in American manufacturing.


What Would Dr. Deming Do?: The Statistical Science of Proactive Hiring

Over the course of my career, as I have worked with over a hundred businesses in helping them hire the right employees, one thing has gradually became quite clear to me: Dr. Deming’s ideas about quality manufacturing apply equally well to the hiring processes used by most businesses. 

The corollary of Dr. Deming’s basic idea, when applied to the hiring process, is this: Most of our employee problems could be traced back to the time we hired them. 

In other words, most of our employee problems stem from the fact that we had hired the wrong employee in the first place.

So why is it that we hire wrong employees in the first place?


To Be/Do/Have or Not to Be/Do/Have?

The single most important reason why we end up hiring wrong employees is this: We pay too much attention to “Do” and “Have” and little attention to “Be.” 

Let me explain. 

You can see a person in a job from three angles: 1) What that person has (Have), 2) What that person does (Do), and 3) what that person is (Be).

Most hiring practices revolve around the candidates’ experience, skills and educational accomplishments (Have) and what they are expected to carry out on a day-to-day basis (Do). But seldom do we look at what the candidate is naturally inclined to do: their talents, gifts and tendencies. In other words, what they are “hard-wired” to do. 

For the reasons unknown, it’s a bit of a touchy subject for many business owners I talk to. 

They would accept that if they were coaching a tennis team, they would not dare hire a tennis player who is not gifted in playing tennis. 

If they were putting together a musical production, they would not work with a singer who can’t carry a tune or a dancer who can’t move with the rhythm.

If they were a professional basketball coach, they would not bet their coaching career on a basketball player who can’t dribble the ball, much less get it through the hoop.

If they were conducting an orchestra, they would not work with a violinist who breaks out in hives when she sees a violin.
But they will happily pay big bucks to someone who looks good on the resume without having a clue as to whether they are a natural fit for the job they will be doing day in and day out. 


Why We Don’t See People’s Hard-wired-ness

A part of the reason why we don’t look at “Be” when we hire people is because we really have no training in doing it - or in doing it well. Except for a gifted few who seem to have the knack for always hiring the right talent, most of us really don’t know how to look for people’s hard-wired-ness for a given job.

The whole industry of personality tests was created for this specific reason: To help managers identify people’s inherent tendencies. But turns out that, in and of themselves, most personality tests are not any real help in choosing people.

The biggest problem with personality tests is that they are computerized tests that pretend to take away human intelligence from the process of choosing the right employee. 

But, ultimately, the best judgment is made not by computers but by people. 

A better way to use personality tests is to get to the most basic of the fundamentals of personality testing and use those fundamentals in helping us make the right hiring decisions.


Back to the Basics of “Be”

The easiest way to include the “Be” in a job description is to go to the very basics of the modern “personality testing” but remove all the fluff. The ancient knowledge that started out with the Chinese system of I-Ching provided three basic scales of human tendencies. These three scales form the basis of most of the modern personality assessments such as DISC, Myers-Briggs and Enneagram.

These three scales define how we interact with our world and make decisions and judgments about life and living. 

These three basic scales are: 

1) Intuitive vs Sensing

On one end of this spectrum are people who view the world from their “internal compass,” sometimes referred to as intuition. On the other end of the spectrum are those who interact with the world around them through their five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. Intuitive people seem confident and self-assured. Sensing people often are analytical and reflective.

2) Thinking vs Feeling 

On one end of the spectrum are those who think through life. They seem preoccupied with things, objects, data and other such “dead” things. (No wonder they often seem “cold” to the other extreme of the spectrum.) On the other extreme are those whose world is made of feelings. They seem preoccupied with people, feelings and relationships.  

3) Introvert vs Extrovert

Introverts are those who find their life energy through their own internal resource. They don’t need an external source of energy to move through life. In fact, they often perceive their internal source of energy as a finite quantity and protect it from others. That’s why, they seem internally tuned and, in extreme cases, aloof and dismissive. Extroverts are those who seek energy from external sources, both from other people and other things. They are more expressive and up-front with others than introverts. 


A Simple Template for a “Be”-centered Job Description

With that as a background, the rest becomes simple. Think of a position you are trying to fill in your organization and answer the following questions as best as you can:

1) Does this position require more of an intuitive person or a sensing person? 

2) Does this position mostly require the person to behave based on their feelings or their thoughts?

3) Does this position require the person to be able to energize more through their interaction with other people or by being to themselves?

As you answer these questions, you will begin to get some clarity about what kind of person will most likely succeed in the position. 

You can include these qualities in your job description, describing them in everyday words and make that description a part of the job posting. You can also develop your interview process around a series of questions to “test” the candidates on whether they have these qualities. One of the best things you can do is give these questions to each of the interviewers who will interview the candidate. After each interview, you can get together and compare your notes on whether these qualities exist in the candidate.

Once you develop the basic skills to look for hard-wired-ness in candidates and employees, you can build on them and develop finer skills and observations. As you become more confident in thinking in these terms, personality tests take on a whole new meaning. Now they are a tool to help you make the decisions, not making the decisions for you.

A People Centered Blueprint for Business-Building

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Copyright 2014 Bhavesh Naik. All rights reserved.
Bhavesh Naik is the Founder and Creative Director of Awayre, LLC, a management consulting and human resource development firm specializing in activating the hidden power of a business process by engaging its people’s awareness. Awayre, LLC is a pioneer in bringing human awareness to the field of management and human resource development as its structural and fundamental component.

The Slowest Way to Go Out of Business

Friday afternoon. I was catching a connecting flight back home from an airport in the middle of nowhere. The airport lounge was almost deserted. Not a soul as far as the eyes can see.

Finding out that my connecting flight was delayed by 3 hours, I loosened my tie, picked up the novel I had in my briefcase and started reading it. 

The woman who walked through the doors was in her late 40’s. She seemed a bit intense but was friendly, perhaps because she also had 3 hours to kill at that deserted airport. She smiled and said “hello” as she took the seat next to mine. We started chatting. Soon, I was surprised to find out that she was the woman I had tried to get hold of many times from list of prospects I was calling. She was the majority partner in a successful, mid-size law firm with about 40 lawyers and over 100 employees. And I had her all to myself for the next 3 hours! 

Image: Sheep herd in Ede, Holland. Is your business built around your unique identity? Click on the image to take Business Health Check, AQ. For the next 2 hours, she talked and I listened. As we began to get into some of the technology issues that her firm faced, I started asking some questions about their Information Technology investments.

One thing led to another and we decided that it made sense to draw up a preliminary contract to implement a software package I was representing. When I mentioned the price-tag, $200,000 over the term of 2 years, she didn’t even flinch. When I showed her the contract that I always carried in my briefcase, she said, “Where do I sign?” (”Is she really a lawyer?” I remember thinking to myself.)

“Here,” I said, pointing to the “X.” Then it happened. She said something that caught me completely off-guard. She didn’t have a pen. “Do you have a pen?” she asked. In a moment of panic, I realized that I did not have a pen with me either. 

I looked around. There was only one store at the airport, a news-stand with a built-in coffee shop. I walked over and asked the store-keeper if I could buy a pen. “Sure,” he said and pointed to a cup with some pens stuck in it. Nothing fancy, just your regular “BIC” brand pens that you could buy at a local Target for 50 cents each. Each pen had a white price-tag tied to it with some hand-written numbers. I looked at the price tag. $5 each!!

“You must be kidding me,” I mumbled under my breadth and, without missing a bit, handed him the credit card. Once I had the pen, I went back to my prospective client, joked about being glad that we were at a deserted airport otherwise she would be gone and asked her if she still wanted to sign the contract. She laughed, took the pen and signed the contract.


Monopoly vs Commodity

Let me ask you a question: Would you have paid 10 times its “fair value” for an object, a pen in this case, because it was key to getting something that was 40,000 times what you paid for it? Of course, you would.

The next question is: Did the store-owner “price-gauge” me? Being a capitalist that I am, I would say, absolutely not. He provided what I needed, when I needed it, at the price I could afford and to solve a problem that would have cost me many multiples of what the pen cost. There is a good chance that I would have paid $50 or even $500 for that pen if I had to. 

At that store, in that situation, the store owner had a monopoly on pens. Because he had that monopoly, he dictated the terms of the contract and would be able to charge me the price he wanted to charge me. 

Now, think about the situation above but with a twist. Pretend that there were two stores side by side and the second store sold the same pen for $2. There is a good chance that I would have bought my pen from the second store, provided that the store-keeper delivered the one thing in this case that was most important to me: Speed. 

If the second store was selling the pen for $2 but was unmanned and I had to ring the bell and wait for someone to show up, I still would have gone to the first store and paid $5 for the pen. However, if the first store was selling the pen for $50 and the second for $2, I would have perhaps gone through a little bit of discomfort to buy the cheaper pen. 

If both of them sold their pens for a very high price, say $50, I may have even gone to one store and tried to lower their price - bargained - by threatening to go to the other store if he didn’t lower his price. 


Is Slow Death Better than Quick Death?

Coming to the main point of this article. The way to die a slow and painful death in business is to be exactly like your competition, so much so that your prospective clients can’t decide why - and why not - to choose you over your competition. When your product or service is so similar to your competition’s that they can’t tell you apart from other similar products or services, your products and services have become a commodity in the marketplace. 

If you are exactly like your competition, one of you is not needed in the marketplace. And the marketplace will find a way to weed out those who are not needed. This “weeding process” is not pretty. Businesses fight hair-and-nail in that marketplace until a winner emerges. The rest have to fold their tents and go home or - worse - hang by their nails as long as they can, which is probably worse than quickly going out of business.

At the end of this weeding process, the successful business would have figured why they remained standing still - what was their Meaningful Difference - and then build the next phase of their success deliberately around that Meaningful Difference. 

But such success does not have to be accidental. A business can deliberately choose to build their business around a meaningful difference at any time and avoid having to live through the stressful experience of being a commodity provider in the marketplace. 


Pricing Pressures

Back to you. Think about your business. Under what situations and circumstances would you have a monopoly for one of the products your business offers? Remember, no matter how “commodity” your product or service may be, it can’t get any more “commodity” than a pen. Any business, and I do mean any business, can find situations in marketplace where it’s more of a monopoly than a commodity. 

One of the most deadly side-effect of for a business to be a commodity presence in the marketplace is that they get price-shopped by their prospective clients. This happens because businesses don’t do a good job of positioning themselves as a monopoly or a near-monopoly in their chosen sub-set of the marketplace. 

Ultimately, there is only one reason why there are pricing pressures: You are perceived as a commodity in the marketplace. In other words, your products and services are perceived as exactly like those offered by your competition. Another way to look at it is that the perceived value of working with you is not higher than either doing it themselves or hiring your competition. 


The Foundation of a Long-Lasting Business

The good news is that you don’t always have to overhaul your entire product or service offerings to prove your value-add and stand out in the marketplace. After all, the fact that you have been successful thus far shows that value-add exists. In most cases, it’s just a matter of communicating your value-add to the potential customer in a way that she finds valuable. 

It does require, however, that you know your products and services from three angles:
  1. What is it that your customer gets by doing business with you in concrete, specific terms?
  2. Why should they believe that you can deliver this value-add (and not your competition). 
  3. What makes you different from the other options that your customer has in getting this value. In other words, what’s your meaningful difference?
The better you can answer these questions, the clearer you are about your unique identity in the marketplace. The clearer you are about your unique identity, the better positioned you are to build a successful, long-lasting business.

Here’s an article I wrote that helps you go through this process step-by-step. 

Is your business built around your unique identity? You can find out here by taking Business Health Check AQ. It’s free and comes with a strategy guide to help leverage your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses. 

Copyright 2014 Bhavesh Naik. All rights reserved.

Bhavesh Naik is the Founder and Creative Director of Awayre, LLC, a management consulting and human resource development firm specializing in activating the hidden power of a business process by engaging its people’s awareness. Awayre, LLC is a pioneer in bringing human awareness to the field of management and human resource development as its structural and fundamental component.