Bonsai, Bodegas, and Boredom – 3 The Boredom Consequence

While we are all created as learning beings, not all of us manage to embrace that and put it into practice.  As a consequence, it appears to be somewhat easy to place people into simple but useful groups by observing the clues their behaviors provide.  We could probably split the workforce into three parts using the simple distinctions they use to describe their employment:

  • My Career – They have developed their skills and have landed in a position where they are not only being used but stretched, where they can see their added value is recognized and rewarded by others, and there’s room to grow and constantly learn. (These are typically the People Who Make Things Happen)
  • My Work – They are doing something they are skilled at or were trained for, understanding that some value is being added but wondering if anyone else notices because there’s never sufficient recognition or feedback, except maybe the occasional negative kind.  They wouldn’t mind learning more and growing in the company if someone would notice and take interest. (The category here seems to be: People Who Watch Things Happen)
  • My Job – They are bored and unmotivated, going through the motions, doing basically the same thing over and over wondering why they are doing this, but grateful that the company is willing to keep them busy and paying them for it.  Just don’t ask them to change by learning to do something new and different.  (The category here seems to be: People Who Wonder What Happened)

I wrote earlier about my initiation into the performance review process and some of the good and bad I learned from it.  I have since grown in the belief that continuous performance reviews, when well done, are the mechanism that can drive the development of people who are critical to a company’s ongoing success.  But not everyone agrees.

A search for “failure of management by objectives” will turn up a number of discussions about the failure of Management By Objectives (MBOs) and their use in performance reviews.  No doubt there’s personal experience involved in leading people to draw this conclusion, but to do so without some further scrutiny is like throwing out capitalism and the free market system because some people working for some companies appear to behave questionably if not criminally.

In order to illustrate the idea, let me put skills and depth on a simple sketch and then place a subordinate (X) somewhere on this sketch using some estimates of their skill and their depth in that skill.

Entry 39 Skills-Depth 1

Skills and Depth

In a performance review, most often the default goal of the objectives being set is to specify what the employee must/should do and how they should improve in order to benefit the company in the appropriate time frame.  That usually is a move towards the upper right in the sketch.  But what should also be conveyed (and often is not) is what, where, and how the employee should try to grow personally in order to benefit him/herself (and by inference, the company).  These stretch objectives can be seen as the mechanism for the supervisor/company to push the development of the employee in a positive direction for the good of the company.

Entry 39 Skills-Depth 2

Push mode

But for me an important personal objective as manager was to identify and help develop employees who learned how the MBO process was being used as a constructive tool, and then were motivated to assimilate the process to change the dynamic from a supervisor/company push mechanism to a self-managed employee pull mechanism.  They embraced change and growth in a desired positive direction.  It was always easier steering a moving employee than a parked one.

Pull mode

Pull mode

In this sense, MBOs, properly applied, are similar to the shears and wiring used to shape a bonsai – the tools used to encourage or motivate growth in the desired and needed direction.  Bonsai will never learn to shape themselves, but the employee who can learn to shape him/herself is golden.

What’s ahead for the bonsai that just won’t grow in the desired direction?  Pruning, sometimes drastic, for the health of the organism.  And for the employee who cannot or is not motivated to grow?  Same options.  When Tom Mendoza (Embrace Change In Your Life and Career) was asked by a Marine General, “How do you motivate an unmotivated employee?” he replied, “I fire them.”  A drastic and least preferred option.  But everyone should realize, it’s still an option.  As Mark Twain said, “Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.”

Have you ever thought about whether you have a job, work or a career?

How are you at embracing the potential for change that’s built into you?

Do you expect to just drift or be pushed along, or do you know how to pull yourself, even beyond what is expected?

If you supervise people, is it your work or main job to push them?   Or do you find ways to motivate them into learning how to pull themselves ahead?


About Jim Edmonds

I am a husband, father, mentor, who once was a chemist turned physicist turned marketer turned executive turned missionary turned professor. And survived it all.
This entry was posted in 08: Observing, Listening, Learning and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Bonsai, Bodegas, and Boredom – 3 The Boredom Consequence

  1. Christy says:

    Wonderful post! What are some effective ways to teach people how to pull themselves?


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