#12 Big Businesses Suck: More Management Equals Less Motivation

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Big businesses suck.  Or at least they have massive potential to suck.

In my last post I talked about the risk of putting process before people.  Creating hyper-efficient cogs that can become hollow. Less creative and less loyal. This tendency to focus on process grows as your business grows. You have lots more moving parts, and it gets scary. Starts to feel out of control. 

Efficiency to the rescue. Tighten job descriptions. Make more formal and informal rules.  Add chapters to that skinny little employee manual. It makes perfect sense - until it doesn't. Until you're constraining the brilliance you just paid good money to bring on board.  And yes, small businesses can be just as constraining, but it’s less likely.  

Listen to this abridged quote from our good friend Frederick Herzberg to understand why. (If you want to read his exact words check out page 124 of his book The Motivation to Work.)

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“The motivation to work comes from the recognition of individual achievement and from the sense of personal growth in responsibility.  Two things that are hard to maintain in a bureaucratic situation because bureaucracies tie peoples hands. Managers are rewarded for playing by the rules so they stop using their own personal judgment on how to help people grow. Now multiply this stifling effect by the number of levels in your company - because each layer has it’s own formal and or informal rule book - and you get a decrease in motivation.” 

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Think about that quote. Think about your business. Are you on that path to greater bureaucracy and less motivation?

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Rules, rules, rules.  Formal and informal. Then throw in meetings. Ten people doing the work of two because you can't leave anybody out. Then make sure all real decisions need to be signed by the CEO. Not because the CEO cares to sign everything, but because everyone is covering their ass.  What's the payoff for making a tough decision at the mid-manager level?  Zippo.  Maybe a pat on the back if you’re right, but a black mark on your forehead written in SHARPIE if you’re wrong.  So push it up a few levels. Then have a seat and look busy while you dick around on the internet. Eventually someone up the ladder might have the balls to make a decision, or maybe not…

So big businesses with lots of management layers are statistically more likely to be motivation killers.  They can't just set thousands of employees free. There'd be anarchy.  It makes perfect sense. And if I were smarter, this is where I'd tell you how to fix this human tragedy.  But I can't because I don't see any way around it.  

It's the number one reason I could never again work in a large business. 

It's also why I think small businesses should be able to kick big businesses asses. Small businesses have a greater potential to motivate and delight and keep great employees.  Which is the only true long term competitive advantage that exists.

PS: As a reminder, this site is called Map of Me.  That means big businesses suck FOR ME.  At the same time I know plenty of people that have managed to defy the odds.  They are happy and successful and doing meaningful work at large businesses. To each his or her own. 

***NOTE: This site works best when you read the posts in order. So please head to the ARCHIVE if you’re new here.