People Are Not Units

Your computer is a unit. You have an air conditioning unit. Unit is a measurement with a definite value. Engineers have predictably mapped out how your computer and air conditioning unit works and performs under a variety of conditions.

Businesses have a history of attempting to do the same thing to humans. Sparing you an organizational history lesson, management got a swift kick into high gear by Frederick Taylor who believed people could predictably perform their work on the assembly line.

The problem inherent in this approach is we don’t perform the same in any condition. We are unpredictable. We don’t like to be told what to do. We don’t respond well to actions that seemingly strip us of positive regard. And yet too many managers still assume their role is imbued with the ability, the right, to command-and-control what, how, when work should be done.

Our organizations, on the whole, are designed to reinforce a top-down approach to getting work done. Such designs develop ivory towers where out-of-touch senior managers rarely interact with “common employees” except for the awkward elevator ride or run-in in the bathroom.

People are not units. We cannot turn off opinions, emotions, ideas. We can, however, hold back an opinion, or grow apathetic, and hoard our ideas.

Managers can influence the environment that creates the conditions to unleash talent.

It doesn’t end there, though. Employees can no longer predictably rebel against management edicts or proclamations. No. That response does nothing but agitate and keep people, teams, and organizations stuck.

The answer lies in not looking at each other through the labels we place on each other. People are not units. But seeing each other as human beings and starting the conversation about how to better work together. To create different ways to make work great and get work done. In the end, you’ll find that commonalities are abundant.

Certainly the conversation is much easier when managers recognize the breakdowns and initiate the conversation. We don’t have time to wait for epiphanies. The conversation just needs to begin.

Photo courtesy of Bothered By Bees