“Employees should be coding or selling. Otherwise, fire them!” So goes a new managerial dictum blustered by managers keen to pass the vitriol as some sort of clever distributive work policy to be followed by their employees. I first heard the sell it, build it or get fired quip as part of a “motivational” speech delivered by a browbeating CEO to our division, all of us looking for leadership to overcome a quarter of disappointing earnings. But while his aim was to motivate, the cheeky threat had many of us looking for new jobs the next week despite the fact he was full of hot hair. He was eventually fired when his perennial bullying and your-with-me-or-against-me style management was realized to be contrary to fundamental egalitarian leadership policies on which the company prided itself. But not before much of the company’s talent already fled elsewhere.
It’s the or get fired part that misses the mark. It hints at a style of autocratic leadership and transactional policy that supports the “you scratch my back and I won’t fire you” method for management that ultimately breaks down when leadership changes or an employee calls the boss’s bluff. Even worse is the inherent difficulty with motivating employees to innovate while under threat. So it should go without saying that a better approach to educating employees on the sell it or build it essential is to modify the paradigm for effect:
- Sell it, build it or revise your approach
This better phrasing is fully embraced by leadership strategists lauding the benefits of Transformational Leadership. While autocratic leaders command control of every important decision in a company with little or no input from subordinates (i.e., Ron Johnson), Transformational Leadership allows employees to feel a collective identity to an organization by assuming ownership of the larger strategy. Dr. James Galvin is one of many prominent advocates for increasing managerial effectiveness through transformational strategies. His ideas promote The Full Range Leadership Model illustrated below:
Building on The Advantages of a Team-Based Lateral Organizational Structure where the responsibility of business operations spreads across all employees equally, individual employees are empowered to hold themselves accountable while becoming better contributors to the bottom line of building and selling. But only if they are trained to build and sell. Even these leaders in the field of leadership strategy need to do more to promote building and selling as a fundamental, day-in-day-out policy for employees.
Selling it means training employees on the company’s brand. Have they memorized the website’s mission? It’s a small point, but ask yourself what it is that you say about your company when the neighbor asks what kind of operation it is? Of course selling also means being active in generating leads, too. But sales funnel management is often big enough to include all employee contributions.
Building it means more than physically constructing the product or coding the algorithm. At minimum, asking employees what they think about the product can be a devise to building your better mousetrap. When was the last time you asked your employees what they think about the value propositions for basic products at the company? You might be surprised to hear the answer, and though the ideas might also be off base, the inclusion will motivate that employee to continue thinking about what goes into the construction and deployment of those products and solutions being offered.
The sell it, build it or revise your approach exemplar should be the guiding policy of all small business operations while large corporations or traditional service-oriented businesses will find its application more difficult in every division, particularly operations. Transactional organizations are used by middle management in large corporations and on many of the assembly lines that create the products we use. But cause and effect must be extremely transparent and carefully engineered so to avoid intimidation and motivational fallout. When deployed strategically, an employee knows what awaits if he or she doesn’t meet quotas, but it is not the guiding light of their jobs.
Before we end this exploration on new leadership models we would be remiss if we didn’t discuss the drawbacks of transformative leadership models. Business leaders need to avoid any Laissez-Faire approach to management, for instance. While employees benefit from transformative leadership policies through higher self-esteem, empowerment and a sense of equal contribution to the overall business, there are efficiency problems that requires special attention to overcome:
- Employees don’t pull their own weight
- Delegating unpleasant tasks is more difficult
- Promotion incentive is reduced
- Socialized model often creates bureaucratic mindset
Business leaders should aim for a more transformational style of management while avoiding transactional leadership whenever possible. After all, dictatorial models of government are generally frowned upon while democratic models are seen as more productive and instructive for building great businesses.