Managerial Manipulation

The world would be simpler place for everyone if the boss’ commands were followed immediately and to the letter. The boss says, “I want this done.” Subordinate clicks heels and does it.
Of course, it rarely works that way. Even bosses with the most loyal staff must resort to guile and manipulation to get people to jump when they say “Jump!”.
A friend told me of normally mild-mannered newspaper editor-in-chief who had simple technique to demonstrate his displeasure.
Whenever he felt frustrated that an editor or writer wasn’t following orders, he’d call the person into his office and calmly begin discussing the situation.
The temperature in the room rose rapidly as the editor-in-chief’s voice rose in volume and anger.
Finally, to punctuate his frustration, he’d pick up pair of glasses on his desk, and hurl them against the wall.
The frames would shatter and the staffer, unaccustomed to seeing the normally gentle boss so perturbed would slink out and not be obstructive again.
The stunt worked for years until the editor-in-chief was spotted buying $3 reading glasses by the dozen. Once the secret was out, the tantrum lost its power.

Unsuspecting power
That’s the problem with manipulation methods they work only as long as people don’t suspect they’re being toyed with.
I’ve seen this happen in sports. great coach, adept at keeping his players sharp and focused, suddenly loses his magic touch when players realise they’ve heard his speech, his tantrums, his psychological head games once too often.
The familiar routines no longer work. The players tune out. The coach either invents new methods or finds new team.
The best bosses realise that getting reluctant subordinates to obey them isn’t so much about wily stratagems to fool them, as knowing what they really want.
Employees are more likely to follow orders if they see what’s in it for them.
Will it enrich them, make them look good, or feel part of team?
That’s what subordinates want: money, respect, and sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves.
If you can fashion managerial technique that appeals to those needs, subordinates won’t notice manipulation they’ll welcome it.

Leaving money on the table
I once asked one of our executives to take on difficult assignment in addition to his other duties. I thought he was the best person for the job.
I included an attractive incentive bonus if he succeeded within year. Six months passed and nothing had happened. I was puzzled. I couldn’t believe an otherwise bright, ambitious executive was dropping the ball and willing to leave considerable chunk of compensation on the table.
A year passed, and the result was no better. I asked why he’d ignored my request knowing it would cost him money.
He talked about being swamped in his main job, but I didn’t buy it. Something else was holding him back.
Then I asked, “If you had nothing else to do and could spend all your time for year dedicated to handling this one assignment, how do you think you’d do?”
After thinking for while he said, “Not very well. The chances of this ending up the way you want it to Mark are thousand to one.”
That was the answer. It didn’t matter to him that I’d built situation to meet his need for money.
My order had failed the other part of the test; it didn’t make sense to him.
He didn’t believe it was rational request that ever had chance of succeeding.
In effect, I’d sent him on fool’s errand. No amount of money or threats or tantrums or cagey manipulation can ever overcome that hurdle with intelligent subordinates.
Remember this the next time you try some clever psychological ploy to get people to follow orders.
No matter how clever your methods, if they don’t believe the command itself makes sense, you may as well say nothing.

Mark McCormack is the founder of International Management

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