Free to work

March 31, 2013

When you interviewed for the job, the manager made sure you were a “team player”. You have to work in a team, you need to make sure you put the team first, not your own needs.

When you interviewed for the job, the manager made sure you had initiative, you do not need to be continuously micro-managed, followed, told what to do every step of the way. You need to be able to make your own decisions and choices, organize yourself.

When you interviewed for the job, the manager made sure that you were trustworthy, honest, that you would report your progress truthfully and correctly. You need to be able to take control of things, do your work and not try to just make them believe that you have done more.

Now you have the job.

You are being told precisely what to do and how, you are given manuals and procedures and forms and templates and processes you need to follow as written down.

You are being continuously monitored and measured, filling in time sheets which are reviewed and audited and controlled and approved.

You are getting no feedback regarding what has been done with all these data or what management thinks of your work. At the beginning you had to wait 6 months to get a review, now it’s once a year. The review is largely vacuous, your manager has desperately tried to find something positive and something negative to say — the chosen comments appear to relate to the past two weeks exclusively and the items raised are largely insignificant details.

What happened?


When you interviewed the candidates, you made sure you could hire someone who would fit into the team, who would be an asset to the organizational culture.

When you interviewed the candidates, you made sure you could hire someone who was enthusiastic and energetic, who would have ideas and get things moving.

When you interviewed the candidates, you made sure that you could hire someone who could think, take initiative, who would not sit around waiting for management to give detailed instructions every step of the way.

Yet, the person you hired was a pain in the neck, always criticizing the way we have always done things, continuously telling everyone that “where I used to work, we…”

The person you hired resented providing the data which we need in order to report progress to the board.

The person you hired no longer accepts responsibility, but hides behind “the team” or “the process” every time something goes wrong, yet tries to take credit for the decisions you made.

The person you hired works from 9 to 5 and always has an excuse not to be available for overtime.

What happened?


We play a farce in the work place in which managers hire people whom they believe (?) they can trust, but they never demonstrate that trust. The lack of trust managers show towards the people they hire naturally generates a lack of trust of employees toward their management.

The role of management is to provide the means and the support their staff needs in order to perform the work for which they were hired. Managers who do not trust their staff members obviously do not trust their own capacity to hire competent people.

Managers need to focus on the people, not on the tools, budgets and reports. Their role is to provide the professionals in their team the resources, training, support, and anything else they might need to do their work. They need to trust the professionals to select the most appropriate approach within the context of the given framework and limitations. Micro-managing them will only serve to de-motivate and reduce performance, both in terms of productivity and quality.

Management is hiring good people, giving them the means and allowing them to do that for which they were hired.

The rest is interfering.



  1. Hello Peter,

    yes I completely agree to your observations.
    And I’m sure, almost all employees, experts, change management professionals will also agree out of own observation and experience.

    BUT, …
    … I wonder about two things:
    1) Why are lots of managers (those who made it in the organisation) so obviousliy stupid?
    2) What can we as consultants do about it to improve the situation? What can we do to first de-stabilise and then change this ecosystem with the species of stupid managers and frustrated employees?

    Best Regards,


    • Hello Torsten

      One problem with management is something that was documented a while back as “the Peter Principle”, formulated by Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in 1969, stating that all people are promoted as long as they are competent, then stay at the level they have reached when they prove themselves incompetent. Another issue is that many of us feel better if we are seen to be smarter than the people around us, this leads many managers to hire people whom they feel they can manage rather than hiring people who know more than they do. Finally, there is a fear that people will not do things the way you want them done, which leads many to micro-manage and control every step of the way. This is largely related to the general concept that people tend to delegate responsibility rather than authority.

      As consultants, we have a duty to communicate clearly what are the real problems and the consequences of those problems. At the same time, we need to spend a lot of time educating people rather than just telling them what to do or what they are doing wrong. We have largely lost focus on the concept of education and spend too much time training and/or auditing.


      • Hello Peter,

        thank you for your reply. In its first paragraph you are listing psychological reasons why we might be in the situation that we are. And again, I can mostly agree.

        What I’m currently struggling with is the role of managers and consultants in the ecosphere of business: It simply sounds too easy to say: “Managers are incompetent, fearful people. Consultants are knowledgeable wise guys that need to educate managers how relations between managers and employees work and how it impacts company success.”
        I know, I am (mis?) using you as a sounding board for my thoughts here.
        What I struggle with in this polemic summary of the situation is that it does not reveal managements motivation to listen to consultants. Consultants need managers to pay for projects. But why do managers need consultants “educating” them?

        A while ago I read “Process Consultation” from Edgar H. Schein from MIT. In this historic book – it was written in the late 80s – he distinguishes between doctors, experts and process consultants.

        Obviously, both lots of employees and consultants regard the current situation as dysfunctional. What I do not see is where this illness causes pain to the managers. So what motivates them to call the doctor or the coach?

        Best Regards,

  2. I do not believe that managers are incompetent or stupid. I do believe that they make mistakes, I also believe that a lot of them are fearful because they understand their own limitations and, like many of us, are afraid that their limitations will be discovered. This is a very common situation. I also believe that we all need more education, and the more responsibility we get, the more education we need to receive.

    Consultants have a responsibility to shine an independent, external light on what is happening. We (consultants) do not have additional powers, but we have external, independent experience (I will never trust a consultant who is not yet 35 years old with many years real-life background). While we might not have the answer, we can at least point out the areas of concern. I believe it is part of my duty to tell management what their staff cannot tell them.

    Management needs to understand that their role is not to do a job which a secretary can do (fill out forms, check reports, transfer information from one level of the hierarchy to another, measure productivity…), but it is to enable, empower and encourage people who can do the things they cannot do themselves. A successful manager will hire people who are smarter than she is.

    Getting managers to understand this is a challenge. Most of my customers either do not feel the pain and are not really motivated to change things, only believe that this is probably a good thing to do. Others are on the edge of the cliff and don’t have the time or the resources to do things correctly. I recently offered to a customer to work for free for them, all they needed to give me was 1% of the money they save if they implement my suggestions; after a few moments thought, they refused.

    It is not easy, but if it was easy, it wouldn’t be fun, right?

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