(MoneyWatch) People are always asking me why I'm so critical of management fads like employee engagement and emotional intelligence. It's not that I think employees shouldn't be engaged or that it's not important for managers to be empathetic. The problem is more fundamental than that.
More often than not, jumping on trendy fads that are based on generic research, surveys and tests is just plain lazy management. It's taking the easy way out.
I come from a school of management called the high-tech industry where corporate culture, executive leadership and employee motivation develop at a grassroots level. They're a means to developing innovative products that provide an exceptional customer experience.
What starts as a bunch of quirky entrepreneurs with a crazy idea occasionally blossoms into a unique culture where managers are inspired, workers are empowered, and everyone is motivated to achieve the same vision and goals.
What's fascinating is that I've never seen two corporate cultures that operate the same way. They're as diverse as the characteristics and behavior of their founders. From Intel's authoritarian Andy Grove to Facebook's product-driven Mark Zuckerberg. From Google's introverted Larry Page to Apple's mercurial marketer, Steve Jobs.
While all the business leaders and executives I've worked with over the years had their own ways of doing things, I don't think any of them would question that there are common ways to ensure that employees are challenged, inspired and motivated to do their best work. These are my top 10:
Exhibit flawless work ethic. Lead by example. If you work your tail off to get the job done and exceed customer expectations, employees will emulate that behavior. Likewise, if you screw around, they'll follow that example, too.
Indoctrinate them with the big picture. Everybody wants to be part of something big. They want to know why their work matters. Make it important to your people by telling them why it's important to customers.
Hold yourself accountable. Goal-setting in most companies is ineffective -- executives make big bucks no matter what, or there's little or no follow-up. When management holds itself accountable, it's a lot easier to do the same with employees.
Provide genuine, real-time feedback, good and bad. This is one of the hardest things for any manager to do, especially the negative stuff, but it's also one of the most critical and effective management tools.
Promote their accomplishments and take the heat for their failures. Period.
Give them what they need to do the job. Provide the tools, training and support they need to be effective; keep management off their backs; then get out of the way.
Challenge them with as much responsibility as they can reasonably handle. It's human nature to want to achieve things. Show you have confidence in them by setting a reasonably high bar and allowing them to succeed or fail on their own.
Communicate. Tell them what's going on as openly as you can within reason and without unduly burdening them with confidential information they shouldn't or don't need to know.
Be as flexible as possible without impeding team effectiveness. If the priority is to get the job done as a team, that doesn't mean everyone has to operate exactly the same way. People are individuals. They need some freedom to do their best.
Be human. Show some empathy, humility and a sense of humor. It'll go a long way.
Image from Flickr user Victor1558