Sunday, August 28, 2016

Homogenization: Good for Milk, Bad for Managing Workers

Readers of my blog know that I developed and launched a massive open online course (MOOC) on Preparing to Manage Human Resources. Readers of my blog also know that I think work is quite complex. It shouldn’t be reduced to being just about money, or just about satisfaction, or just about any other single thing. Put these two things together and a major theme of my MOOC is for managers to understand the different possibilities why people work so that they can better determine what drives their own workers. These drivers might not be the same for everyone, and might not be the same as the manager’s own views on work.

Many of the postings by learners in my MOOC reinforce the need for managers to observe rather than assume and to allow for person-to-person differences. In these postings, note how each author is painting workers with a broad brush to homogenize them to all be working for the same reason. And the aspect of work assumed to be universally important is the one that individually important to him or her.

“Money is key driving motivation of employee's performance. It was and stays a primary crucial factor in choosing a job.”

“I think that a large majority of the population works for money. Can we blame them, our society has made it that way.”

“Most people work out of the personal satisfaction and the joy of doing what makes them happy and love doing it day after day. I believe that when you work out of joy and regardless of the remuneration, its bring some sort of inner peace to you, your heart also feel at rest and you are really happy at all times.”

Not all of these postings assert that money is the key driver, but all of them homogenize and universalize the meaning of work and therefore key motivational factors. This is not a good strategy for managers to adopt. Managers must recognize that people are different so work might have different meanings, and might be very different from the manager’s own view(s) of work. Moreover, work is complex so each individual might have multiple feelings about work. For some, work might be about money and satisfaction and accomplishment and contributing to society, as just one example of combinations of diverse factors.

Academic research can help managers understand the possibilities (for example, watch my animation), but it’s a manager’s job to figure out what makes each employee tick. Which unfortunately makes managing people hard work (and thus associated with its own meanings of work!). I will close with a final posting excerpt that reflects one of the key take-aways from my MOOC:

“The job of a manager in the workplace is to get things done through employees. To do this manager should be able to motivate employees. Motivation practice and theory are very difficult and diverse subjects. It's easier said than done. To understand motivation one must understand human nature itself. And there lies the problem. Human nature can be very simple, but also very complex.”

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