Employees before Products

A colleague of mine was telling me that when she made an approach to a company offering to look at the quality of relationships and management within the organisation she was met with the response: ‘there is only one product here and all our focus and energies are on the manufacturing and marketing of that product’.  Given what has happened to the economy, such a response is deeply worrying.  It was the depersonalising of employees and customers and a target-fixated mentality devoid of ethical values and trust that were responsible for much of the economic chaos we are experiencing.  We have seen how the nature of work and consumerism diminished and oppressed the self.  Our society has worshipped at the altar of functionalism and, sadly, contributed to the suffocation of individuality.  Concepts such as ‘process’, ‘system’, ‘method’, ‘model’ , ‘target’ and ‘project’ have infiltrated our language and reveal how we have lost sight of what is most important, indeed, fundamental to human wellbeing – relationship, people, individuality and human dignity.

It seems such a commonsense thing to say that a happy, contented employee is the most important asset that a work organisation can have; however, what we have seen over the last decade is a major absence of commonsense.  Where there is the dark force of anonymity in work organisations, absenteeism, disengagement from work, bullying, passivity and poor productivity are common phenomena.  Equally, where management is of a nature that is emotionless, superior, arrogant, authoritarian or passive, manipulative and threatening, then the fall-out is low morale, stress, illness and constant complaining about virtually everything.  Indeed, the extent to which managers deepen their maturity has a highly significant impact on the wellbeing of peers, subordinates and their family members and on the efficiency and effectiveness of the organisation involved.  Of course, it is not only the responsibility of leaders and managers to deepen their personal maturity but of each and every adult.   Depending on the degree to which an individual has established an inner stronghold  - whether it be leader, manager or rank and file employee – the world of education and work can be experienced as anything from slightly scary to absolutely terrifying.

On listening to a political discussion on education recently I was alarmed to hear a minister saying that education for jobs must be a priority when, patently, that approach has not worked.  Education needs to be primarily focused on individual maturity so that each person can maximise the unlimited potential that is part of our nature.  Personal effectiveness is the basis for professional effectiveness and this fact needs to be integral to education at all levels – pre-school, primary, secondary and tertiary.

It is my belief that the most important requirement of a leader and a manager is to ensure that the interactions within the organisation are of a nature that enhances relationship, empowers individuals and promotes wellbeing.  A central task of a leader and manger is to know self, to be able to get beneath his or her own and, indeed, others’ defensive reactions to the maturity that lies hidden.  While seeking to understand the defensive responses of self and others, the manager cannot afford to dilute their impact on self and on others.  It is only by being able to call a spade a spade in a direct and open, empathic and non-judgemental way that real progress in creating a mature and safe ethos can be created.  When the latter is not present the attempts to understand become threatening rather than enlightening in nature.  I can assure leaders and managers that where the organisational ethos is positive wonderful things can happen.  It is a joy to come to work because the atmosphere comes out to meet you and it is inclusive and individualising in nature; it is also caring, kind, creative and productive.  Let me also inform leaders and managers that where the ethos is of a defensive nature, people literally become ill at the thought of going to work.

Leaders and managers deserve the kind of training that provides opportunities for them to understand the deep processes that take place in our inner worlds so that they can better understand and respond maturely to any defensive behaviour exhibited by those over whom they have charge.  The training needs to be of a face-to-face nature and done by a professional who understands the depth and complexity of human behaviour and who lives and breathes what he or she believes.  The bottom line is that mature leadership and management is only possible when a high level of personal maturity is present.  Maturity is not easily achieved and it needs to be seen as an ongoing goal of professional development.

Dr. Tony Humphreys is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist.  His books Work and Worth, The Mature Manager and Relationship, Relationship, Relationship are relevant to today’s article.