People are not robots

“Leave your brain at the factory gate.”
-Attributed to Taylorism

Robots are programmed with specific instructions that they carry out exactly. They have no emotions. They have no ability to think independently. Robots are often aware only of one domain of knowledge: they paint, for example, but that’s it.

People are not robots. They should not be managed as if they were robots. Previous generations may have put up with it, but the Millenials will not.

Nowadays, few people would admit to managing people like robots. So, here are a few signs:

  • Not valuing their input, especially when it comes to their ideas for how to work more effectively
  • Not letting them figure things out; always coming to them with the solution
  • Not showing them the context for their work; believing they don’t need to know how their work fits into the larger organization
  • Not giving respect to employees. Employees know their work better than anyone, because they do it all day long!
  • Not letting them connect to other employees, especially the ones upstream and downstream from them
  • Expecting that one training session takes someone from 0% understanding to 100% understanding, or that all people learn the same way
  • Expecting linear progress with organizational changes–organizational change is organic and often has a “tipping point
  • Perceiving emotions as weakness
  • Requiring sign-off on all work product

When you manage people like robots, you’re asking them to shut off their brains–and you’re losing the most valuable asset of the 21st century information economy. This isn’t just about IT–a large part of Toyota’s strategic advantage is its ability to use the ideas of its entire workforce.

Conversely, when you let people solve problems, explain to them the context for their work, give people clear zones of control, and build a culture of safety and trust, you engage everyone’s brains. Not coincidentally, you also give them the elements of motivation that Daniel Pink writes about in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

In short, if you treat people like people, you get a more motivated workforce and you leverage all the brains in your organization.