This special edition of the Politics Hour combined local and national politics live from Slim's Diner in Petworth, Northwest D.C.
Whether you’re a boss or employee, the management style and structure at your workplace affects your job and how you do it. Some companies are introducing democratic decision-making to empower employees. But that won’t work in every office. We talk about trends in management and leadership with Howard Ross.
- Howard Ross Author, "Reinventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose, and Performance" (Rowman & Littlefield); also Principal, Cook Ross
MR. KOJO NNAMDIManager or worker, boss or employee, the structure of the organization you work for affects you drastically day in, day out. Some leaders want to retain total control over decisions, while most workers want to feel as if their opinions are being taken into account. Some workplaces have shifted to more Democratic decision-making processes, wherein decisions large and small are made by committee. And while that may work fine for some businesses and people, it's not for everyone.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHere to help us sort through the variety of management styles, of feedback mechanisms at play in the modern workplace is Howard Ross, diversity consultant and principal at Cook Ross, author of "Reinventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose and Performance." Howard, always a pleasure.
MR. HOWARD ROSSHi, Kojo.
NNAMDIHoward, there's no right or wrong way to manage a workforce and ideas for maximizing productivity tend to come and go. What are the general trends that we've been seeing coming and going in the past?
ROSSWell, I think that, you know, if we look at the history of management, we started way back when. You know, Frederick Winslow Taylor created this model that really came out of a factory model. And it was very much of a military-style model. Took commanding control and that's why we still have that language, line-level workers. You know, this very much comes from that military model.
NNAMDIAnd that was the model that, of course, as the factories were instituted, Henry Ford and Model T and all of the, you know, industrial revolution, that was pretty much the model, which the workers are lucky to be here and, you know, essentially chain them to their job and control them. Sort of the uneducated hordes and keep them going.
ROSSAnd that started to change a lot in the '50s and particularly in the '60s. A guy named Doug McGregor who at the Sloan School at MIT brought in these distinctions, what he called theory X and theory Y management. And theory X being that old style of management. Theory Y being sort of the new way of managing that had come out of a lot of the work that was done after the war and into the '50s, people coming into work who were enthusiastic about what they were doing and excited what they were doing.
ROSSAnd McGregor postulated that if you've got all this enthusiasm and excitement then what we can do is, you know, feed that in people by giving them more authority, more control, getting them more engaged in the process. And the whole theory behind that being that, the more engaged people get in the process, the better work that they would do. And there's a lot of research that, in fact, shows that that's true.
ROSSAnd then we went into the '70s and '80s and into matrix management. And Peters and Waterman came out with their in search of excellence and that was all about, you know, quality and vision and values being very important. So we've been sort of cycling back and forth with all of this style. But one of the challenges that we have is that it always seems that we're looking for the style rather than the appropriate style for particular environments.
ROSSAnd as we know, the kind of work people are doing, the kind of people who are doing that work, the kind of structure of the company all are variables that may require different kinds of management styles for different people and circumstances.
NNAMDIWell, I guess what we are about to talk about will fall under theory Y, one trend that might be described as the democratic workplace. It means decisions are made by groups of employees. And there's a lot more transparency than people might be used to. Including in some place it's my understanding posting salaries on a board. What kind of environments do you think that approach is best suited for?
ROSSWell, there are a lot of environments you see now -- I mean, you look at a lot of the -- sort of the companies that have really taken bold front center during the 21st century are companies that come out of the tech environments where you've got a lot of folks who are just -- you know, they're all really excited about what they're doing. They're working well together. And some of those have employee ownership -- large amount of employee ownership and not just in a tech environment. Companies like Whole Foods is a great example of that.
ROSSThere's a whole movement now towards conscious capitalism, companies that believe that the stakeholders -- all of the stakeholders should be involved in the process as much as possible. And those kinds of environments work really well. The only challenge is that in a lot of cases what you do is you take people who's personalities are not well suited to that in management and you stick him in those kinds of environments. And it can create a rub between the natural style of people's personalities and the particular management style that they're in.
ROSSAnd then there are also the realities, as we've seen of course because of the economic downturn in the last -- you know, in the last five, ten years that when companies get -- push comes to shove and companies have to make hard decisions, those kinds of companies often have a very difficult time making those decisions. The metaphor I like to use sometimes is that it's like when you're on a sailboat in a storm, it's not a time to gather people together and say, so what do you all think we should do?
ROSSYou know, there are times when you need to have strong and bold leadership who takes over in those kinds of circumstances. And so it can be a little bit tricky to try and make any model work all the time.
NNAMDIWould you worry about turning over office decisions to a committee? Give us a call, 800-433-8850, or do you think it's a great idea. And speaking of that there's the notion of the annual review process. If you happen to be in the midst of or just finished your annual review process, give us a call. What do you like or dislike about the way your company or your organization does it? The number's 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIHoward, size seems like a relevant factor in this equation. At what point does consensus building go from a useful exercise -- well, you've already described that it's futile because you don't want to build a consensus to decide what to do about the ship that apparently is sinking. But talk a little bit more about that.
ROSSWell, I think that there are times when a company remains small -- but, you know, we're in a stage like now, we're not up to 17 people in our company and we're already starting to see that we can't continue to operate like a five-year-old soccer game where everybody goes to the ball all the time. And that creates challenges. It means that, you know, sometimes the left hand, if you're not careful, might not know what the right hand's doing. Or you have people who can easily get siloed in those time.
ROSSAnd so I think when you begin to build numbers, you begin to see that there's a need for more structure to create for communication. As opposed to if you say -- if you start with a very small company, you know, five to ten people or up to ten people, it's pretty easy to keep everybody in the loop, particularly if you're in one environment. Then if you move to the next level, say between 10 and 25 people, then it's a little bit more challenging because you've got to really communicate.
ROSSWhen you go then from 25 to 50 and then beyond that, there you really need to have structures through which you're consciously saying, how do we make sure that everybody gets the information that they want and that they need. and then also similarly, what do people not really need to have? So there's a real question between need-to-know kinds of organizations, which basically hold information close to their chest unless people absolutely need to have it, versus organizations that are much more transparent and feel like, you know, we'll share information with people, unless there's a particular reason for them not to have it.
ROSSAnd there are certain decisions which obviously it's not a good idea for everybody in the organization to know about in advance. You know, for example, let's say an organization is facing the possibility of cutbacks. You know, you don't necessarily want to let everybody know that you're contemplating cutbacks and you'll let them know who's going to be cut and when because that creates stress and fear throughout the entire organization. And it can also have some of your best people be putting their resumes out on the street. And so there are times when it is appropriate not to do that.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. As an employee, would you like to see more transparency and accountability in your workplace? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. I'm fascinated that you are going through this process yourself in your business because there was a time when the business was smaller when you could operate on the basis of complete transparency and consensus. I'd like to talk a little bit -- and you can explain in terms of your own experience...
NNAMDI...about the point at which you realize that that's not going to really work anymore. That you can't have -- as the business grows, you can't have complete transparency about everything. Because, as you pointed out, you don't want people shooting their resumes around because they know that you're going to be cutting back on staff.
ROSSRight. Well, I mean, my personal belief is in as much transparency as possible. So my believe is that...
NNAMDIYour orientation is consensus and transparency.
ROSSThat's right, that's right. That's my orientation. Now I have to say that that's my orientation but that doesn't mean that I think every decision is a consensus decision. I mean, you know, we have -- you know, three people own our company. We have partners. We own our company. What happens in the company has a different impact on people who are owners versus people who are employees. That doesn't mean it's better than always. Sometimes it's less than, sometimes it's better than.
ROSSBut nonetheless, the decisions that are made in the company when you have certain people who own the company are different than when you have employee ownership or when you have public ownership. We don't have a board of directors that we report to because we are the board of directors. Organizations that report to board of directors have to deal with that. There are legal distinctions. You know, for example, in companies that are talking about mergers, they're actually legally prevented from sharing certain information because of insider training possibilities at their public companies and things like that as well.
ROSSWhen you're talking about employees and things that deal with certain employees, it's important that that stuff remain within the confines of certain conversations because you don't want conversations about an employee to impact the way that employee is seen throughout the whole organization. So let's say you have an employee who's on performance review because their performance is not up to speed and you may have to put them on a process to determine whether or not they can make it in the company.
ROSSYou don't want everybody in the company looking over the shoulder of that person and wondering whether they're going to make it or not because that of course places that employee in a difficult position. There may be certain financial decisions that people may not -- I mean, I personally don't really care that much about whether or not people know how much I make or not. I mean, that's -- you know, they can like it or not. It's up to people to respond to that. I like to think that I give enough to the company and everybody sees that I work hard enough so that that shouldn't be an issue. But if they do, they do.
ROSSBut there are some places where people obviously have a lot more sensitivity and sense of privacy about those kinds of things than other places. So there's really a plethora of decisions like that that people have to make.
NNAMDIHow much of the move to a more democratic environment on the one hand or a more restrictive environment on the other hand is dictated by the current leadership? In other words, if Howard Ross has to see himself phasing himself at some point out of Cook Ross and Associates, how does that affect what happens in terms of the democratic environment if that person leaves? How much of this democratic environment is dependent on the current leadership of the establishment?
ROSSWell, that's a really great question. I mean, I think -- and it's a question, frankly, that we're looking at. You know, we're -- clearly organizations, particularly small ones and particularly founder-led organizations are often -- the culture of the organization is often determined by the personality of the key leader or the key leaders. I mean, if you look at Hewlett Packard for example, they still operate based on the Hewlett Packard, the HP way that David Packard created -- you know, got 70 years ago or however long it was. And that was true for Tom Watson and IBM for many, many years.
ROSSSome of the great companies that we have and that we see are created by the personality of the person in charge. Now when that person either expands a company so much that they can't see everybody -- you know, and I've worked with a number of these kinds of companies over the years. There's a wonderful company King Supermarkets in New Jersey that Allen Bildner was the owner who had sort of that role. And his son Rob Bildner later created another company of its own, RLB Distributors. It was like that as well.
ROSSThese are wonderful leaders who created a particular -- who had a particular personality, an engagement of really caring about their people that was part of the organization. When you get to the stage where that -- you begin to see a future -- and in our case for example, we are committed to building a sustainable process moving forward so that when -- in my case because Leslie my wife is also one of my partners -- when we get to the stage where we're not going to want to work full time or when we -- if we retire, who knows -- it's hard to imagine me sitting around the pond, Kojo, you know.
ROSSBut we want the Cook Ross way as it -- you know, which I say, to continue. So we're actually in a very conscious process right now of articulating what that Cook Ross way is other than how would Howard or Leslie do it.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. If you own or run a company, how do you balance between the need to make clear cut decisions and the need to make your workers feel they have a say? Give us a call if you own or run such a company, 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Howard, when you're working with CEOs and other leaders to help them refine, if you will, their management styles, where do you start?
ROSSWell, first by finding out who they are and looking at, you know, who -- what's their natural style as a leader? What's their natural personality type? What do they feel comfortable with? Because one of the challenges is, everybody has their own personal style and their personal way of doing things. And you can't really change somebody radically from that style. You can modify that. You can get people to move slightly to buff the edges so to speak.
ROSSBut people who, for example, are very strong control-oriented kinds of personality types in their life, usually comes from the fact that they have a lot of fear and insecurity about what might happen if they're not in control. It's become a coping mechanism. So if you put a person like that in a situation where there are no controls, they're going to be so insecure that what you're likely to find is sort of a windshield wiper kind of a thing where you kind of go back -- I could tell you a very funny story about this.
ROSSWe were working with an organization and it was a culture change project we were working in. And they put together -- the CEO had asked for a team of people to put -- to come up with a new set of vision and values for the organization as a number of other things. And he was really -- he was a command control guy who was really trying to let go. So he had really bought into this notion.
ROSSSo they put together -- and it was -- the organization had very zero tolerance for -- no tolerance for mistakes at all because of course they had to control everything. So they put together -- one of the things that they had put together, one of the mission -- part of the mission statement was, we learn from our mistakes, you know. So they put this together. They sent it off to the CEO. He looks through the list and he says, these are all -- I just want to make one little change. And he puts in, we learn from our very infrequent mistakes.
ROSSSo I think that happens. And I think what can happen is, if we're not careful and don't -- are not thoughtful about this, when a singular leader like that or a personality-driven company replaces that leader then you can end up with a company that shifts radically. And the company loses track of who they are. And that can be very dangerous.
NNAMDIWe learn from our mistakes how to look for another job. Here's Owen in Ellicott City, Md. Owen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, Owen.
OWEN(unintelligible) and I'm talking about the U.S. government as an employer or any government as an employer. I worked for 33 years federal government. And in that period of time I think they fired two people. That meant -- and that was for drinking or something. But that -- we picked up an awful lot of deadwood people. How does that fit in with your...
NNAMDIDo you consider that you were working in what you heard us discussing as a democratic workplace, or do you feel that...
OWENAs -- yes, this was very democratic. Everybody had a say and they were very inefficient.
ROSSWell, I think -- look, I mean, I think what Owen's saying is an example that the pendulum can swing too far in either direction. I think that there are organizations that are literally handicapped by the fact that if they have any disagreement, if anybody is unhappy with the decision they can't move forward, thing grind to a slow halt. And you have -- it seems like, you know, whoever the last voice in the room goes either way. And that often is a sign of an insecure leader as well. You know, somebody who can't make a decision is not willing to let anybody be unhappy.
ROSSI had somebody -- when I first took over a leadership position -- this is 40 years ago, I was running a school and somebody pulled me aside because I was sort of in that situation, I didn't want anybody to be unhappy. And she said, Casey Stengel the old new York Yankees' manager once said that on any team you've got some people who like you, some people who hate you and some people in the middle. And the key is to keep the people in the middle from the people who hate you.
ROSSNow I wouldn't say that that's necessarily true but I will say that my experience has been that people want to and need to be involved in the decisions that affect them. But that doesn't mean that they need to have their way all the time. I think that my experience has been that employees who feel like they really are listened to, and that they're point of view is really valued are willing to accept that they don't get to make every decision.
ROSSBut often what happens is because leaders are afraid of disappointing employees or making decisions that sometimes even the majority of employees don't agree with, they sort of are shepherd information and keep it hidden. And so it ends up being a little sleazy. And then employees can get really agitated.
NNAMDIThank you for your call, Owen. We're going to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. If you'd like to call, the number's 800-433-8850. Are there aspects of your workplace that you wish your boss would be more transparent about? Aspects of your workplace that you wish your boss would be more opaque about? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Howard Ross. He's a diversity consultant and principal at Cook Ross. He's author of the book "Reinventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose and Performance." Today we're talking about management styles in general and the democratic workplace in particular.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Mary who says, "How do you suggest working with a control freak who won't let someone do the job they were hired for? Specifically I was hired to run a team but the boss won't let go. They micromanage and use promotion as a retainment strategy, creating all sorts of problems and sending the wrong message to other team members." That's the, I guess, X approach -- the dictatorial approach.
ROSSYeah, that's usually theory X, although sometimes, as I said, it's -- theory X kind of management can be governed by two very different mindsets. One mindset is, I know they're too stupid, incompetent or whatever to know what they're doing. The other is, I'm terrified. And if I'm not controlling everything, you know, how's it going to get done well? And I think for a lot of organizations, the latter comes from -- you know, frankly I've had to confront that as a founder-led organization.
ROSSSometimes when you're the founder and you're the entrepreneur who started the organization, you had to do everything yourself at one point or another. You get used to doing things on your own. And letting go can be very difficult. And it is challenging. There's no question about that. And sometimes you need to do that and you have to get help to do that. Sometimes you need to do it in a very measured way and sometimes you're just really lucky and you get really competent people who so obviously know how to do things better than you can that you can let go more easily.
ROSSBut from an employee standpoint, you know, one of the things you need to look at for yourself is, you know, is it really conceivable that this person's going to change? Now if this person is in a leadership position, they do have the right to manage in whatever they want to manage. You can either give them feedback, tell them how it's impacting your work. You can either -- or you can decide this isn't the best place for you to work. I mean, there are not a lot of other options.
ROSSI will say that for people who are control freaks because they're controlling out of fear, giving them a lot of information can be very helpful. It's almost like a tethering process. So if I'm sending somebody information all the time and telling them what I'm up to, at some point they stop chasing me. We used to find this years ago -- you know, 45 years ago when I was working with children, we used to find sometimes we'd have a child that came in who was -- you know, kind of grabbed onto the teacher and wouldn't let go, wouldn't let go because they were very insecure and scared.
ROSSAnd so a wonderful guy who worked with us, his name was Arnold Myersburg (sp?), a psychiatrist who created the Maryland Mobile Medical -- Montgomery Mobile Medical program, fabulous, fabulous man, taught us this process we used to call tethering. And the teacher would take the kid. In the first two days they were there the teacher wouldn't let go of the child. And even if the child wanted to, the teacher took them wherever they went.
ROSSSo finally the child wanted to let go and the teacher said, okay you can go five minutes here and then ten minutes and then fifteen and then twenty and then thirty, until the child was so secure in knowing that they were getting the attention they needed that they didn't have to go seek it anymore. And so we can do that sometimes with bosses who need to have information, which is to keep feeding them information until they're so secure that you're not trying to do anything out on your own and you're not trying to hide, that at some point they begin to develop trust. But it's challenging.
NNAMDIThey begin to let go. It would be tough to find a workplace that has not been touched by technology over the last decade. How are we seeing those changes reflected in management styles?
ROSSWell, you know, you don't have as much face time, and particularly when you talk about distance. And we now have people in Los Angeles and Chicago and near Buffalo, N.Y. who are a regular part of our staff, not to mention some of our consultants who work with us. And, you know, we use, you know, Google chat or Face Time or Skype or whatever, you know, visual means we have. We use teleconferencing and WebX and all these different kinds of technologies. And I think we're doing a pretty good job of staying connected.
ROSSYou know, I'd be lying if I -- to say that I think it's the same as being able to walk into somebody's office and, you know, see them and touch them and, you know, even give them a hug. In our office that's not uncommon. You know, to sit down across the table with them or to walk by the office and notice that they're sitting at their desk with sort of a, you know, troubled expression on their face and be able to say, hey is everything okay? You know, these are the kinds of things you lose when you're distanced with people.
ROSSAnd of course depending upon the kind of job you do, you may not even have the kind of visual context that we have. So it requires much more consciousness about being sure you check in with people. And as leaders it's important for us to do that, to check in and say, hey we haven't talked in a few days or in a week. How's everything going? You know, stay regularly connected with email. Take the opportunities you can. Make sure that you get people together as much as you can and that sort of thing.
NNAMDIWell, being able to give the employee or maybe your partner a hug every now and then when they were in the non-digital environment and not being able to do that now, may be one part of the problem. But here is a Tweet from Jesse about the management style that works best for him would seem to suggest, in a way, the opposite. Jesse Tweets, "Having a nonaggressive style but still firm was always good. Keeping things minimally friendly -- keeping things minimally friendly between employees helps too."
ROSSWell, you know, there are environments that work that way. You know, it's sort of the military model, which is, you know, everything is much more formal. And there are some businesses that operate that way. And, you know, once again I think that the key here, Kojo, is that people need to know what the rules of engagement are and need to know what they're signing up for. If you know you're coming into an organization which is more formal, in which it's just the facts, ma'am. You know, this is just, we're here to do business together. We don't expect there to be social relationships, nor do we have the time for it.
ROSSAnd people have free choice in terms of, you know, coming into that culture with that kind of -- those kinds of means and that kind of way of operating. Then you make your choice and you sign up for that. I think that the challenge is for a lot of people it's very unclear. That's not the particular environment that I choose to work in personally, but I'm not suggesting that for some people who are say more introverted, who are not particularly looking for engagement at work, who just want to get it, show up and do the work.
ROSSIn a lot of environments where there's a serious physical threat of safety issues. For example, utility companies often have a lot more controls in their environments for that reason, certain health care environments have certain controls for that reason. Those kinds of things, you know, work that way. But the important thing is everybody knows what they're signing up for.
NNAMDIMichelle in Washington, D.C. You're on the air, Michelle. Go ahead, please.
MICHELLEHi. You've been considering an employee-employer relationship. But I'd like to introduce a new component, and that is the customer. And there are some situations where the customer is very closely interactive and related to both employment and employees. I'm thinking of a residential situation where in the case of -- I'm thinking of employees, they are the waiters and the waitresses that wait on these people, the customers day in and day out, many times for years.
MICHELLEAnd relationships develop between the customer, the employee and the employer. And yet the customer is sort of let out of the loop when you're having an open employment situation. And I'm thinking of one particular instance where a long term employee in the situation was let go without any warning. Just fired, you know, after working there 25 years. And the first -- the customers, i.e. the residents who had developed very close relationships with this person wondered why. And there was no attempt to inform or assure the customer what had happened.
MICHELLENow I know this is a human relations situation where you don't want to tell...
NNAMDIBut it does raise a fascinating question about management style, which I'd like to have Howard Ross address.
ROSSYeah, I mean, I think that that's absolutely right. And people make a mistake sometimes in not realizing those relationships are important. I think in the best organizations that I see, there's an appreciation of all the stakeholders, the customers, the venders that you work with, the outside regulatory agencies or whatever you have to work with as well.
ROSSOne of -- I mentioned King Supermarkets before up in New Jersey, the company that Al Bildner used to run. And they used to -- their motto used to be Kings is about people serving people. And his whole belief, which is something that, you know, I really believe to be true, is that you can never expect people to treat your customers any better than you treat them. You know, they may once in a while but consistently it will never happen. If you treat your employees really well and they feel valued, then they will, by nature, tend to treat the customers well.
ROSSAnd similarly, you know, you can't expect customers to not care about the people they're interacting with in the kind of environment that Michelle's talking about. If people develop very close relationships, then it's going to matter to them. There may be a good reason to let an employee go even if they're good at serving customers. And you may be restricted by law about what you can tell customers because you can't badmouth your employee to customers, even if you've had to fire them.
ROSSBut that doesn't mean that you don't need to manage that relationship. And that means calling that customer and talking with them and letting them know that unfortunately we've had to make a change. We can't tell you why. It's really -- we want to respect our former employee's privacy but we know this could be upsetting to you. We want to talk to you about how we can continue the quality of service that you've maintained.
NNAMDIMichelle, thank you very much for your call. We're running out of time very quickly but a lot of offices are finishing up their annual review processes even as we speak. How important is it, in your view, for companies and organizations of any size or style to have a structured evaluation system?
ROSSWell, you know, it's sad that, you know, there's some controversy around this. Ed Demmings, of course the great quality guru, used to say he thought any individual feedback was terrible because it took people away from team development. And I think -- I'm not sure I agree with him about that. I think that people like to have a sense of how they're doing. But at the same time, if you sit down with your employee to do a structured feedback process, you know, your employee assessment process, and they're surprised by what they hear, then as far as I'm concerned it's a failure of mine as a leader.
ROSSIf I haven't been giving them regular feedback all the time then it's a failure. The best processes are one by which we stop by -- you know, we usually do midyear and end-of-year assessments and we stop by. And you're giving people constant feedback. And in the midyear and/or the end-of-the-year assessment is simply a time to sit back and say, you know, let's recap what we've been talking about during the year and how are we doing on those kinds of things.
ROSSI'm not saying that I haven't sometimes slipped where that's concerned. It's a natural thing to happen, but that certainly is the aspirational goal that feedback should be a regular part of the process. And then, the other just (unintelligible) .
NNAMDISome workplaces include peer evaluations or bottom up feedback of bosses from their subordinates in the process. Is that something you think we'll start seeing more of?
ROSSWell, 360 evaluations, you know, which ask for feedback for all different directions can be very helpful. One just has to recognize that peer evaluations are fraught with lots of, you know, different elements to them. There could be jealousy. There could be all kinds of internal things that are going on. And so it's important to take everything with a grain of salt and consider it has part of the larger package.
NNAMDIHoward Ross. He's a diversity consultant and principal at the firm Cook Ross. He is the author of the book "Reinventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose and Performance." Howard, always a pleasure. Thank you for joining us.
ROSSThanks, Kojo. Enjoy the rest of your summer.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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