I’m a mid-level manager who works in a time-sensitive, and relatively intense work environment. While I’m a fan of employee empowerment and do my best to create a humane and supportive workplace, at the end of the day the work still needs to get done. People have to understand this – and if that means I have to crack the whip every now and again to make sure it does, so be it. In my opinion, that’s just part of my job. – Name withheld
You didn’t say what line of work you’re in, so I can only guess.
But unless what you do involves saving lives—managing first-responders, for instance, or other healthcare workers where the timely delivery of services is critical—then I’m not sure the work you’re referring to necessarily “needs to get done.” If you manage a fleet of delivery trucks, for instance, or a call center somewhere, well…you get the idea.
What would be more accurate to say is that YOU need the work to get done. That’s an entirely different proposition altogether.
Managing isn’t about doing the work yourself, of course – or at least that’s how Harvard Professor Linda Hill characterizes it in Becoming a Manager (2003). Managers, she writes, “get work done through others.” From your perspective then, it is indeed imperative that the work be completed, and in a timely fashion. But that’s because if it doesn’t, that reflects poorly on you, as a manager. It is in your professional interests to see that it is.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Capitalism is, after all, largely about self-interest. As any economist might tell you, it is marketplace actors all behaving in accordance with their own best interests that is responsible for any and all efficiencies the so-called free market has to offer. What you might fail to realize, however, is that what’s in your best interests—and even in the interests of the business itself—may not be in your employees’ interests. In fact, their motivations may be just the opposite of yours.
Let’s assume for a moment that you don’t work in a life-saving or healthcare-related field. For your employees, “getting the work done” could very well put them out of job – if they work under contract, for example. Or, if they’re on salary, working harder and doing more isn’t necessarily going to be reflected in their paycheck, is it? And if they’re paid by the hour, dragging their feet a little may actually be to their benefit if it gives them more hours, or puts them into overtime.
But I can hear your counter-argument already: If the work doesn’t get done, won’t that jeopardize the business itself – and therefore everyone’s job? Doesn’t this make getting things done in my employees’ best interests too?
Sure – but now you’re asking workers to put their long-term interests ahead of their short term ones. A business’ success or failure is a complex thing, and depends on so many contributing factors, most of them beyond the control of any single employee. So to expect any individual worker to connect their on-the job-performance to the organization’s success is asking a lot. A bigger paycheck will always trump the quasi-abstract notion of long-term job security. And for a worker who may already feel like an easily replaceable cog in the corporate machine—as opposed to a valuable organizational asset—it’s an even bigger ask.
Besides, isn’t this precisely how CEOs and other executives often behave? Don’t they likewise focus on short-term goals as opposed to what’s in the long-term interests of their company? I’m thinking specifically of meeting quarterly earnings reports or whatever simply to keep shareholders happy. Isn’t that in fact what their bonuses are tied to? No – the long- vs. short-term argument strikes me as duplicitous, hypocritical, and self-serving.
Capitalism. It’s a slippery thing.
What you can be sure of is that your employees are just like you: They’re primarily motivated by self-interest. So the only way to get them to do what you want them to do is to align their interests with yours.
In an ideal world, your organization’s management would realize the best way to do that is to modify your company’s compensation scheme. Everyone should be rewarded when the “work gets done” and the company profits as a result. That means everyone would receive their proportionally fair share of the financial pie.
I don’t imagine you have the organizational clout to bring about this needed change yourself. But until that happens, I’m afraid managers like you will always feel the need to “crack the whip” every now and again. (By the way, that’s a terrible turn of phrase in this context; I urge you to resist using it.)
But to my mind, getting your organization to the point where workers’ interests are aligned with those of the business—and yours—is work that needs to be done.
 Hill, Linda – Becoming a Manager, 2003, (Harvard Business School Press: Boston, MA), p. 14.