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The Blackmailable, the bunny and the fox (episode 1)

Many managers, business owners, and executives are trying to figure out how they can keep employees and contractors motivated to work for the company they own or manage. There are many motivational techniques and methods, but unfortunately, most of them are outdated, outmoded, and no longer work as well as they did when they were invented. And they get the good advice these days that the solution is simple: become an idol and be able to remain an idol. There are good training courses for this. But how to achieve and maintain this “work for me with all your might” state? Because many people do! Some people don’t need to think about motivational methods because it just works the way they want it to. And sometimes even better than that. If you ask these managers, they are reluctant to comment on some issues, because there are “motivational elements” that are not appropriate to talk about. But almost all successful managers agree that one of the key points in creating a motivated employee and contractor environment is “un-blackmailability”!

A leader in trouble

I’m sure we all have that image of the leader arriving at a meeting with a scowl on their face to tell their team members that the results are not good. No matter what level of organisation you imagine this situation to be, the mechanism of action is broadly similar, only the stakes are higher. And it is also “a given” that team members react to this issue in completely different ways. Some are not at all interested in the issue, some are scared, some look at the leader and try to deduce from his reactions how big the problem is. While such a situation could easily mean that some members of the team would not be needed – they might be let go – the effect was obviously different. But in recent years, because of the significant oversupply in the labour market, these threats have both been markedly reduced and the impact has been far less than, say, 15 years ago. What has not changed is that the manager is tested by every team member to see how they feel and how much this story hurts. And we are human, and if we notice that this pain is more than the leader, then many of us calm down. After all, companies are not likely to lay off workers when they are short of staff, but they are much more likely to replace a manager. And, of course, this inverse situation is well known to all. If, in this situation, the manager even tries to act in a “aggressive” way, the suspicion that they are afraid for their job and need the team to survive this critical situation is confirmed. This, of course, turns the tables and goes in the opposite direction, as it is up to the empathy of the team members that the manager is relying on to help or not to change the results in the coming period. I would like to stress that it is not because the employees are good or bad. There is simply a manager in a higher position, with more power and money, and justice demands that their behaviour and actions should match this. If they come in like a bunny and begs for their life, they may be pitied. If they comes in as a fox and makes demands and threats, they will of course be turned against for that reason alone. It doesn’t look as if there is any chance of coming out of this situation victorious.

Owner in trouble

The other situation in life can be perhaps even more pathetic. Excuse me for using that term, but if anyone has experienced a situation where the owner is presenting the same meeting, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Moreover, the owner who is forced to do this is clearly not running their business well, so the employees are there because they think they are easy prey. What does that mean? It is difficult for an owner to accept the fact, when their company is being scrutinised, that, say, some of the managers they have carefully selected and described as trustworthy are, at best, totally inept managers, at most good communicators, so they sell themselves well to the business owner, but otherwise do no work, and using the “grey workers” under their control, often survive by portraying their work as their own achievement. The picture I have painted here is not very fair and not very pretty, and I would not have given such an example if, on the basis of the business development information I have collected, the share of these circumstances in the organisational transparency of local companies had not reached 50%. It is well above that. Which means that one in two firms has this situation. The tragedy of the situation is that the workers at the “ends” love the company and are loyal to the owner. This makes the presence and work of incompetent managers even more inappropriate. When an owner starts complaining about results, it carries even more weight than for a manager. On the one hand, the reaction of the employees is much the same, plus there is a clear message to everyone that “your job is in danger”, i.e. the job search is on. But the owner would only expect more attention or a little more loyalty, but in doing so, they are starting an avalanche within the company. The problem is that it mostly affects those who are really good and useful employees in the organisation, because the useless managers know that their situation is temporary, that they chose this company because they feel comfortable, because they have to move on anyway, if real professional control is to follow. That is why a significant proportion of owners choose not to say a word about the company’s situation, not even to discuss it from a motivational point of view, and it is their job to “wheelbarrow money” into the company when it is needed. And then there are the owners who, completely out of their minds, threaten that the company will go bust one way or another if the lazy team doesn’t deliver. But the consequences of that are pretty clear in the short term. In other words, if the owner is in trouble, the situation is even more difficult, because their communication and reaction can really bring the company down. And this is also true for larger companies, where the ownership is more distant from the workplace, as the employee’s focus is on financing their own life and family, not on saving a company just so the owner can make more money. And this attitude is perfectly understandable. Of course, there are always extra exceptions, employees with extra motivation and loyalty who are the last to leave the sinking ship. But such situations are less than a thousandth of the cases we have to reckon with in terms of consultancy.