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Humans are More than Just an Economic Resource

by Phil Bartle, PhD

Dedicated to Gert Lüdeking

Training Handout

The emphasis on honest praise and the suppressing of criticism as anti-productive is at the core of good leadership and participatory management

Managing people volunteering their time and energy in community self help projects has many elements of experience that can be effectively used in managing paid staff in an organization. Do not expect their salary to be the only motivating force in getting the best out of staff.

We can be reminded that although human labour, ideas and energy can be seen as resources or inputs for any productive activities, human beings are also the reason why we want the facilities and services in the first place, and why we want to empower low income communities to determine their own development destinies.

When we mobilize people to organize and engage in community activities, they will give more of themselves if they are not burdened with the luxury of low self esteem. People who feel good about themselves produce good results. When mobilizing and organizing people, then, a good trainer or mobilizer will get better results in putting some effort into finding and using ways to encourage the people to feel better about themselves.

It may be an immediate and thoughtless reaction, when you want a good thing produced and in a good manner, to criticize people when they do it incorrectly. People, however, are more willing to improve when the good things they do are praised and recognized than when attention is drawn to the mistakes they make, and they feel hurt by criticism of their mistakes. Help people reach their full potential; catch them doing something right. In other words, look for the good things people have done and draw attention to them, and they will work harder at continuing them, and improving them. When no attention is paid to their mistakes, they will quietly strive to improve them.

People are less predictable and less able to be manipulated than tools and other inanimate things. Working with people requires more wisdom, energy and experience than working with things.

In terms of improvement of conditions and of long term and sustainable results, however, investing your time, your attention, your interest, in people, is far more valuable that the same amount of investment in things. The best minute we spend is the one we invest in people. Note the word "invest." It means that we are not just "giving, spending or wasting" our time and energy; we are "investing," and that means we can expect some valuable returns on our investment.

We can easily get discouraged by seeing what people can not do. We are tempted to divide people into two categories; winners and losers. If we do that, we lose the potential of those we dismiss as losers. Everyone is a potential winner; some people are disguised as losers; don't let their appearances deceive you. If we spend some time and energy in helping those we see first only as losers, to win at something, we will reap considerable benefits in what we want to achieve.

It is valuable to stand back from ourselves and neutrally observe our selves and our behaviour. We will see that we are human beings ourselves. We are not just our behaviour; we are the person managing our behaviour. If we want to be managers of people, we must then see that we must each manage the closest person we know; our self. Self management precedes management of other people.

All people have desires, needs and wants. When they do something to reach them, they can be called goals. Goals begin behaviours; consequences maintain behaviours. The desire may be enough to begin action towards reaching a goal, but the results of those actions are important in continued action aimed at reaching that goal. Management and planning must start by the identifying and setting of goals (general) or objectives (specific and verifiable). We must not forget, however, that reaching those goals does not end with merely deciding what they should be. We must take actions that will encourage the achievement of those objectives.

When people get discouraged, then they are likely to reduce their efforts. They need more than praise and exhortations to continue. They need to see some results that show them they are on the path to success. Only positive consequences encourage good future performance. Negative consequences result in a decline in the quality of efforts.

Most people work well when they are supervised; they appreciate the interest shown in them as they work, and wish to demonstrate that they can work well. So when a coordinator or manager shows up, they work well. But do they work as well when the manager is absent? As a manager the important thing is not what happens when you are there but what happens when you are not there. A good manager ensures that the people who are working, volunteers or paid staff (the same principle applies to both), work as well when not being supervised as when they are supervised.

No one likes to feel criticized, and when they make mistakes, they do not want to feel belittled. The good manager learns how to ensure that when a worker makes a mistake that they learn from the mistake, and improve their work so as to avoid making the same mistake again. When a manager ends a reprimand with a praising, people think about their behaviour not the manager's behaviour.

Every one wants to know how well they are doing. Feedback is a very valuable activity for any manager to provide. Getting that feedback, the workers are motivated to try harder, and to sustain their efforts.

Getting effective results is not a static condition, but a process. Achieving good performance is a journey not a destination. Putting management effort into a community project "once and for all," is like trying to eat "once and for all."

Strive for excellence, not perfection. Anything worth doing does not have to be done perfectly –– at first. It can be improved.


Staff/Volunteer Participation in Decision Making:

Participation in Management

© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle
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Last update: 2012.06.25

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