Can We Stop “Managing” People?

This is a copy of my reply to Edward Lawler’s post Performance Appraisals Are Dead, Long Live Performance Management on

Nothing will change in our quest to “improve” human performance until we change our mindset – beliefs and assumptions – and stop using the term “management” with respect to people.  We lead people and manage things.

Management is about reliability, predictability and certainty – control – of objects and tasks and resources.  People are not objects, we are human beings.  As human beings we have innate needs for belonging and contribution, purpose and meaning, self-determination and choice, and growth and mastery.  These needs are met when we are cared about as human beings, understood without judgment, respected without control, and we respond without conditioned fear.  This means we drop all measures of “approval” and control of others’ choices.  We thrive, prosper and grow when we are accepted, dare I say, “loved” as human beings.  I call it Leading as Love.  Love leads us to our full potential.  It is the ultimate in performance enhancement.  It is love that makes a leader a leader.

In the interest of control, management labels:  Top talent, manager, supervisor, individual contributor, good, bad, 1, 2, 3, 4.  As soon as we label another we limit our relationship with them as humans and we limit the possibility and potential of creating something greater.  People become an object, fixed in the label, sub-human.

We can drop performance appraisals and the concept of performance management justified by the truth that we are human beings and not objects to be controlled by others.  As a viable and sustainable alternative for true growth, we can lead performance enhancement by practicing and responding with care, understanding and respect.  Isn’t that what we want, performance enhancement and business expansion.  All the data show that Leading as Love, being in open relationship human being to human being, is the essential catalyst for breakthrough and sustained performance and results in every form we seek and can imagine including financial; it generates the ultimate in ROI.

Lawler’s way of thinking is dying a slow and painful death because we continue to perpetuate these beliefs and the status quo.  This no longer serves the greater good.  We can’t manage our way through these times of uncertainty to a successful, fulfilling and prosperous future.  To borrow from Einstein, we can’t create a new reality with the same thinking that created the one we have.

In addition, anything that exploits – serves an agenda of self-interest – eventually destroys value and management/control of people is a form of exploitation.  It exploits our need for belonging and contribution and disregards our need for self-determination and choice.  Microsoft’s practice of “stack ranking” as described in a recent Vanity Fair article is a perfect example.  Reducing the value and contribution of people to a “rank” resulted in the loss of innovation and competitive advantage because it held an underlying “divide and conquer” or as VF called it, a “cannibalistic” mentality.  Creativity and innovation requires that we let go of certainty and control.  We can’t have it both ways.

The belief in the necessity for managing people and to serve an agenda of self-interest is an arrogance that no longer works in a global economy of mutual interdependence that requires strong and transparent relationships.  This is not just in business.  The need for transparent relationships encompasses the political, educational and religious arenas as well.

Our need for control comes from fear and acting from fear is not leading.  We fear that people will do something “wrong” or something that we don’t’ “want” based on our own self-interest.  When we live under the oppression of conditioned beliefs no one makes real choices.

We can step free from our fear that something “terrible” will happen if we let go of our attachment to the socially conditioned belief that we need to manage people. The point of resolution comes when see that our greatest potential and fulfillment results from the freedom of human self-expression.  This is not only for executives in leadership roles but also for each of us who allow ourselves to be managed and controlled.  To maximize one another’s contributions, let’s not create a better mouse trap, let’s get rid of the mouse trap altogether.

Profitability is a key and direct measure of the quality of relationships of an organization and its executives (also people) with employees, customer and vendors/suppliers.  Like is or not, profitability comes from human engagement.  Perhaps euthanasia is in order here:  Of the mindset of people management along with terms such as human resources or human capital or even stakeholder relationship management.  Again, the belief we can and should manage/control relationships is arrogant. We can agree that management of people had a place in the past and now move forward by honoring our humanity rather than imprisoning it.  All it takes to lead performance enhancement is care, understanding and respect.

I am not naive.  Executives need to make decisions for sustainable growth and profitability.  Let us make these decisions with conscious awareness of the impact on people, as human beings, the environment and society.

As long as we hold onto our intent and belief that human beings can and should be managed – controlled – our practices will never change and our businesses will never realize their full growth and potential.  The critical question now becomes, how can our organizational and business practices change to be fully aligned with our humanity?

Thank you for reading this post and considering what it says to you:  Whether and how you lead (not manage) your business and whether and how you lead (not manage) your life.

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