Management is commonly defined as the process of accomplishing common goals by working through or with people. According to Chester Barnard, American businessman and management thinker (“Functions of the Executive,” 1938), a key function of managers is to elicit co-operation of the subordinates, by using a combination of tangible incentives (pay, promotions) and persuasion. Inspired by a recent talk by Jean Moroney (ThinkingDirections.com): “The Key to Successful Cooperation: Objectivity,” I will focus on the latter: How can managers elicit co-operation of subordinates through persuasion by being objective. (Yes, being objective is possible—and necessary).
Many managers acknowledge that getting others to agree about goals and to work towards them, you have to obtain their ‘buy-in’ (commitment to the goals and willingness to work for them in the long term). Managers also know that to get employees to ‘buy into’ their plans, they need to be consulted and their input should be solicited. Management literature also advises managers to support their employees, both morally and with resources, and to show empathy to them.
There is one fundamental managerial quality that gives rise to and integrates all the effective methods of eliciting voluntary, committed co-operation: being objective.
According to Leonard Peikoff, “to be ‘objective’ in one’s conceptual activities is volitionally to adhere to reality by following certain rules of method, a method based on facts and appropriate to man’s form of cognition.” The method of conforming to reality, Peikoff explains, is logic.
So how does a manager apply objectivity to eliciting co-operation? Say he wants to improve the way the employees in his department work, to deliver better customer service. This new way of working entails dividing and coordinating work differently, involving more collaboration in teams. How is the manager to elicit co-operation of the employees to improve customer service (and profitability of the company as well as better pay and job security for the employees)? Most people, after all, don’t like change, and team collaboration will be a big change for most of the employees.
Being objective about eliciting co-operation involves applying four principles. (The first three were discussed by Jean Moroney; I agree with them and added the fourth.):
- Goal alignment. The manager wants to improve customer service because it will improve profitability, give him a bonus and increase his job satisfaction. But what’s in the shift to collaborative teamwork for the employees? They are the ones who have to change their ways of working. The manager needs to communicate convincingly that the change is in the employees’ self-interest (happier customers, job satisfaction and security, better pay, etc.). Whatever the project where co-operation is needed, it must be a win-win for all parties.
- Objective communication. Although this seems like a no-brainer, it is a common stumbling block in eliciting co-operation. To communicate objectively, the manager must recognize that the employees’ context likely is not the same as his. He may erroneously assume that the employees know and understand the new collaborative team work arrangement as he does and care about it as much as he. However, he must find out what the employees know and whether they value the new work arrangement or not. This way, any misunderstandings can be cleared on each side; the employees likely have knowledge that the manager lacks. Communication works both ways. It serves mutual fact-finding that helps make the project better as everyone’s knowledge is brought to bear.
- Respecting independence. Objectivity also requires that the manager recognizes the employees as independent thinkers that cannot be made to do something without autonomous choice. They can only work productively if they are motivated: they need to see the project as valuable and in their own interest and be recognized as contributors to choose to engage in it.
- Validation. This means acknowledging employees’ goals, knowledge and contributions by listening to them and incorporating their suggestions when they objectively help improve the work or help in achieving the common goal, which is the standard of evaluating any aspect of the project. If an employee’s suggestions would not help achieve the goal, the manager must reject them but explain why.
What does being objective have to do with business ethics, you may ask. It is at the core of the rational egoist approach and the essence of rationality, its main virtue. Only by adhering to reality through observation and logic—by being objective—can selfish values such as long-term profitability and co-operation of employees and others, be achieved.