Learning How to Manage in the 21st Century
The Managing Director of a large non-profit recently shared this experience with me. When his best employee submitted her resignation he was devastated.
"Why?" he asked, "Who has recruited you? I'll certainly match whatever offer you've received."
"It's not about the money," she said.
"Do you feel you've been badly treated?"
"No," she replied. "Everyone has always been very professional and considerate. It's not that."
"Well, what then? What can I do to convince you to stay?"
She sat down and very articulately informed me that I managed the agency in an "old fashioned way", as she politely put it, and that I needed to look around at all the young people I had working for me, and ask myself what I could do to make them feel more settled in their working environment. "Too many people seem itchy," she said. "They're always looking for another job."
I admit I was shocked by this, but I had the presence of mind to calm myself and ask her what she was getting at. In fact, I asked her if she "had any suggestions about what I might do to help employees feel more satisfied and at home."
She had some. Here's what she said:
"The first thing is you've got to realize that none of these employees will be here four years from now. That's just how young people are these days. You've got to stop being surprised and shocked when someone comes in here and resigns.
And don't think people are ever satisfied with their job. No one is. You should encourage them to always be trying to improve and move up or out. Help them get more education or something. You know...be a part of their career, not the last stop."
She paused to gather her thoughts and smile at me a little. "I probably wouldn't be saying all this if I hadn't already quit. But what the heck, you asked." She took a deep breath and continued.
"You need to praise people more. Tell them how good you think they're doing. It's like an emotional vacuum out there," she said gesturing through the window to the big open staff room. "People aren't sure how to feel about anything."
"And stop with all the rules and regulations. Young people like to express themselves a little. It makes them feel more important, I guess. Who knows...but we don't need a dress code and a break area, and everyone having some title, and a certain parking place, and those little cubicles. It makes everybody feel small and like we're back in school. Remember how itchy you were back in class in high school?"
That was pretty pointed, I thought. I was itchy in high school.
"And maybe get with it a little, too," she continued. "I mean, stop talking about social media like it was some kind of social disease, and start using it. Everyone out in that office uses it, but not in their work. That's just stupid, in my opinion. And stop talking about the good old days of non-profit. Everyone knows that there was no 'good old days'. They just feel like you're putting them down. It's not very motivating."
She stopped talking and looked down at her hands. I guessed it was my turn, but I couldn't think of anything to say. She had just blurted out a PhD dissertation in human resources, and I knew it. In the past I would have been insulted, but everything she said rang instantly true.
She did quit, and I went back to school to try to get with it. Twentieth century management will not work in the twenty-first century.