The Oxford Dictionary defines management as “The process of dealing with or controlling things or people.” The Collins English Dictionary states “Management is the control and organizing of a business or other organization.”

Control. Control of resources, processes, schedules, and people.

However, contrary to those definitions, management research[1] shows that to motivate employees you need to give autonomy. The ‘mindspace’ to identify one’s purpose. The freedom of time to master individual skill and tasks.

If you want a motivated and engaged workforce – which creates a more productive, loyal and effective workforce – do you therefore ignore the practice of management? Herein lies the dilemma – do you find a way to control by practicing arms-length management, or do you take that brave step of releasing control and give genuine autonomy?

Having done an MBA from a leading business school, I can personally attest that nowhere on the course we were taught to release control. In fact, the opposite was true. Traditional business education, standard learning & development programmes and skills development focuses on getting better at controlling resources, people, time, relationships, finance, and good-will.

And yet, there is a strong argument that these traditional management approaches of control is not working. We know that engagement and motivation of workers is at an ever decreasing low:

  • 59% of employees would not recommend their organisation as a good place to work; 51% are planning on leaving their current jobs.[i]
  • In the US, Millennial turnover due to lack of engagement costs the economy $30.5 billion annually.[ii]
  • Only 13% of employees worldwide are ‘engaged’.[iii]

I am reminded of the quote from management guru Peter Drucker: “So much of what we call ‘management’ consists in making it difficult for people to work.”

This contradiction is not a new dilemma. But it still continues to be the dominant management style. Talk of the newer generations in the workplace (Millennials, Gen Y, and as of 2019 Gen Z) focuses on the relationship they want with work and how the ‘future of work’ is about to significantly change. Will it force this dilemma of control vs. motivation out into the open? Although there is some truth in the changing nature of work between the different generations – such as an increasing preference for social enterprises[iv], freelancing or contracting and flexi-work – a 2016 study showed that the various generation of employees actually want similar things. The top career goals for all were[v]:

  1. Make a positive impact on my organisation
  2. Help solve social or environmental challenges
  3. Work with a diverse group of people

Those shared goals are about purpose and place. They ask for clarify on the existential questions of: what is my place in the world, what is my place in the organisation, and how can we together make a difference?

Therefore, what we need to ask is this:

In the business of managing, of controlling, have we lost sight of our purpose? Our reason for being? Should we have the opportunity at work to engage our hearts and emotions and acknowledge our purpose? Should we allow, encourage, and recognise the importance of feeling?

Think – Feel – Do

Feelings do not often have a welcomed role at work and is rarely taught in leadership courses or included in management qualification achievement. But as Gary Chapman (author of The 5 languages of appreciation in the workplace) points out, many employees leave because they do not feel appreciated or valued. The reason most often cited for people leaving are psychological in nature, not because of money or pay (consistent with Dan Pink’s motivation research). Management academic Dan Pontefract[vi] points to the importance of discovering one’s personal, role and organisational purpose – and then facilitating the ‘space’ for employees to explore the interaction between these three, ask the important questions (Why, What, Who, and How), and to live and feel that sense of shared purpose.

How do we introduce the power of Feeling into the management practice – into controlling people, relationships, reputations?

This is what I have been exploring, tapping into my logical German brain and my more emotive-led Anglo Saxon brain. I argue that introducing ‘Feeling’ within our management process of ‘Thinking and Doing’ will go a long way to solving this motivation and engagement problem.

At work, we Think. We then do. But Feeling is the sanity check for what we Think. it gives us the motivation for what we then Do. So we need to:

Think – Feel – Do.

This goes to the root cause of unsustainable behaviour. If we allow ourselves to feel, we acknowledge our behaviour. We feel the connection to society and our planet. We expose ourselves to the consequences of our practices – positive or negative. And when we feel the successes of sustainable approaches or actions, it encourages us to do more. People don’t join a champions network because it gives them more work to do. They join so they can connect thinking about an issue they have strong feelings for, and then are given autonomy to do something about it.

Think – Feel – Do.

If this is embedded in how we strategize (Think) and then deliver (Do) sustainability, the Feeling aspect can sustain the experience. This could be the tipping point of what finally embeds sustainability into mindset and culture; how we finally embed sustainability into the hearts of our employees, stakeholders, and ourselves.

“Once they’re past a certain financial threshold, many people are as motivated by intrinsic meaning and the sense that they are contributing to something worthwhile as much as they are by financial returns or status.

The sense of being part of something greater than yourself can lead to high levels of engagement, high levels of creativity, and the willingness to partner across functional and product boundaries within a company …
which are hugely powerful.”

Rebecca Henderson, Harvard Business School

[1] See Dan Pink’s presentation for the RSA:—drive

[i] Office vibe (2016). State of employee engagement survey.

[ii] Gallup Annual Survey 2018.

[iii] Mercer Global talent trends study 2018.

[iv] Deloitte (2018). Global Human Capital Trends survey.

[v] Pfau B (2016). What do Millennials really want at work? Harvard Business Review April.

[vi] Pontefract D (2016). You’re never done finding purpose at work. Harvard Business Review May.