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Passion, People and Principles

What Management Owes the Individual Professional

post # 497 — February 4, 2008 — a Managing post

R Sigrid van Roode, from th Netherlands writes in with the following question:

“Our company will start improving our consultancy using the input of your book True Professionalism. I have carefully read the book (as have all my colleagues) and I have found a situation in my work that to me seems paradoxical.

“In achieving happiness and fulfillment in work, you encourage the professional to start and change himself first, take initiative, show enthusiasm. It is not advisable to wait for the company itself to change: that will never happen. It is also not advisable to ‘blame’ the management: that turns the professional into a victim of his surroundings (which a real professional would never allow to happen).

“The paradox is: professional and company/management are, in my view, interdependent. They fulfill each others needs and in a way facilitate each others existence. What is the role of the management in a professional organization, specifically when it comes to encouraging and stimulating the professionals?

“Actively seeking a positive attitude towards work and client is obviously the main responsibility of the professional himself. How can the management of a company pick up on that positivity, that initiative? If the initiative of the professional is not met and answered by the management, the incentive to try and improve oneself, to walk that extra mile for the greater good of the company, will simply be non-existent. The professional will most likely leave and try to find that reciprocal relation elsewhere. In short: how does one manage a professional?

“Any light you could shed on that interesting subject would be greatly welcomed! Could you for example perhaps point me in the direction of literature I could read on that subject?”


The role of management in my view is to:

(a) Provide a clear purpose for the organization, so that the individual can decide whether that purpose is one they can believe in and contribute to.

(b) Help the individual find his or her passion, providing alternatives, encouragement, support during rough times

(c) Provide clear and honest feedback

(d) Enforce common standards so that the individual is part of a community of like-minded people of whom the individual can be proud.

Does anyone else have different answers?


Charles H. Green said:

A fundamental question he’s raising–the relationship of “management” and the individual.

I put “management” in quotes because it seems to me that in PSFS especially, it is something of a false distinction. The things that individuals and managers must do are much more similar than different. Leaders ‘R’ Us.

In such organizations, maybe the most fundamental job of those in senior roles is to role-model the values.

It’s when we fall back on old models of unionized shop-floor rank and file vs. “the company” that we get in trouble. There are traces of that in van Roode’s question when he says “If the initiative of the professional is not met and answered by the management, the incentive to try and improve oneself, to walk that extra mile for the greater good of the company, will simply be non-existent.”

Buried in that sentence is the idea that professionals are dependent on “management” for their initiative. But–if one emphasizes his preceding sentence, about the individual taking responsibility for a positive atttitude toward work and client, the opposite is true.

If my good good attitude and motivation toward work and client is dependent on others, then one has to question the depth of that attitude and motivation.

Of course, we don’t like hanging out for too long with folks who don’t basically share our values–but PSFs fall much further toward the end of “make your own bed” than more structured, vertically-managed organizations. By the nature of the business, one has to be much more self-contained.

What’s the role of managers in a situation like that? Everything David says, for sure–and also providing a walking, living example of how one can maintain one’s independence, self-worth and objectivity, andhow one can learn from others without being dependent on them for approval.

posted on February 4, 2008


Please enter your comment It seems to me that ‘The fish smells from the head” therefore the job of senior management is to foster an environment that encourages and motivates new ideas and change. No one has all the answers and if staff aren’t encouraged to come forward with good ideas, then they will stop if no one listens. More importantly when it’s no longer an exciting place to work, then the good staff leaves.

posted on February 4, 2008

Peter Bodifée said:

Dave, those are EXACTLY (and nothing more in my opinion) the responsabilities of management in a professional services organisation. Point (c) is also something that could be done by peers, but it is management who should facilitate this, so that feedback is not felt as a threat, but as a basis for growth.

Eckart Wintzen, the founder of BSO, a software consulting and services firm, managed the firm VERY succesfully using these 4 points. I used to work for BSO (’86-’94) and had the best time of my work life so far: exciting projects and tons of fun. His book called “Eckart’s Notes” came out last fall and is a top 10 seller in the Netherlands. Highly recommended reading for those who can read Dutch (one can hope that this book will be translated one day).

posted on February 4, 2008

Lewis said:

I’m folowing a system of management established by James D. Brausch. It’s a hands off system but each task is clearly defined with specific instructions for feedback. Admittedly when it comes to management ‘in house’ rather than on line, a lot of patience and other qualities will be needed. It was recently found from a study that managers who have humour get a lot more from their workers than those who are over serious or bossy

posted on February 4, 2008

Karl Edwards said:

I couldn’t agree more. BUT…

As the investment funds so crassly remind us, whatever the route, management is ultimately accountable to produce results.

Outcomes are what must finally vindicate our professional-honoring theories of human motivation.

Freedom, resources, and direction are crucial to professional performance. But accountability for achieving results must remain core to the mix.

Thanks for the great post.

posted on February 4, 2008

Kathleen Bradley said:

I agree with David’s description of the role of management, and with the consequences of a failure of management to fulfill these roles as described by Sigrid. High achieving professionals can and do leave organizations because they do not find an alignment of purpose or the encouragement that they need to follow their passions. The challenge, as I see it, is in motivating well-intentioned, but very busy, professionals who are suddenly placed in management roles to take the time to clarify purpose and learn the leadership skills that they need in order to nurture their colleagues, provide feedback, and establish standards. It is not that they do not want to do this. It is that they do not know how.

It strikes me that, in today’s organizational and professional service environments, it is not that we do not know what needs to be done. We do – from the research and writing done by David, Collins, Kotter, and many others. So, why are we not implementing? Is it that we do not know how? Is it that we are mired in complacency? Or is it that we lack leadership?

posted on February 4, 2008

Stuart Cross said:

David, as part of (b) I would emphasise the role of providing opportunity. From my experience at PwC the difference made by the best managers was their ability to provide the stretch and opportunity for their people to make a real contribution. They encouraged me to use my initiative to take broad responsibility for results (as Karl suggests) rather than just undertaking tasks.

posted on February 4, 2008

mike said:

This may be a tangent, but I am going to throw this into the discussion.

I read some research several years ago (I wish I would have kept the source) that indicated employee job satisfaction is closely tied to being challenged. The author made an interesting point that job satisfaction and “happiness” were not synonymous.

Secondly, I worked for a manufacturing company owned by a wise, successful man (at home and at work). He routinely made the comment that companies do not love people (the company didn’t love him even though he owned it and it was his life’s passion). He talked about getting satisfaction from a hard days work towards a right endeavor, but you should get your love and happiness at home. Some of the most content people I know make good money in the “trades”. They work hard on clearly defined tasks and get paid for an honest days work. Then they go home to their hobbies and family.

I believe Peter Drucker also does a good job on this topic (I highly recommend The Essential Drucker). I would encourage you to develop a way to keep your professionals challenged. David’s list will lead you down the path of keeping your folks challenged.

posted on February 4, 2008

Michelle Malay Carter said:


I’m so glad you asked! Here goes. This is a subject that I am quite passionate about.

What does management owe the individual? Integrated, coherent leadership and management systems. Work enabling systems. Work enabling organization design. (I’m not talking about IT systems here.)

Authors sell boatloads of books telling individual leaders how to “be good leaders” by giving them a list of behaviors they can perform, but systems drive behavior. Who is looking at systems?

Work can be a source of great joy or a source of unending misery. Systems drive behavior. Executives are accountable for organizational systems. Therefore, executives either drive joy or misery via the systems they create or leave to default.

Currently, most organizations are operating at the hands of organic, default leadership systems that have emerged in the vacuum created by ignorance of a better way.

What is going on today in the corporate world is akin to asking employees to be accountable for preventing disease when the organization refuses to install indoor plumbing or filter its contaminated well water.

Employees are working in polluted environments created by misinformed, piecemeal, dysfunctional people systems, and we keep blaming them for showing symptoms of illness.

Empower yourself! We tell them. Change your attitude! Work smarter! Go to training! Be a team player! Certainly, these strategies can’t hurt, but I daresay, they won’t help much either when an employee’s work environment ensures that each day will bring yet another dose of poison.

We Can Design Systems that Enable Productive Work and Effective Leadership Designing organizational systems to exploit the benefits of work levels is a critical pathway to not only employee engagement but also strategy execution, embedding values, and driving accountability. You get the total package because it’s a total system for organizational design, talent management, and managerial leadership. It’s a macro level solution for a macro level issue.

I’m OK. You’re OK. Let’s fix the system.

Phew. I feel better now. This comment is a conglomeration of various rants I’ve blogged over the last few months.


Michelle Malay Carter

posted on February 5, 2008

Mark Neely said:


I would only add one extra element to your summation below.

Management (I would prefer ‘leadership’) needs to not only provide a clear purpose (vision), but also outline the details of how that purpose/vision is to be achieved. This added information is necessary to allow individuals to decide for themselves if it is a journey they want to go on; that is, they may agree with the desired end-point, but may not agree with the means by which it is to be achieved.


Mark Neely,Master Strategist, Infolution Pty Ltd

posted on February 5, 2008

Jay Bertram said:

Dear Mr. Maister,

This will come as no surprise to you.

I believe the first responsibility above all others, is to ensure Management/leadership is actually living the values and principles the organization aspires to be….everyday, every meeting, every decision….we must act and behave so that others can learn from…we must be the change we wish others to be…as you would say…’leaders go first’..then and only then do we have right to provide open and honest feedback to others.

posted on February 5, 2008

Marjorie Vincent said:

At Harrison and Star, an Omnicom agency specializing in healthcare advertising to a professional audience, we have found that in our competitive industry and environment — where recruitment and retention have become critical issues — we must offer more to our professional staff. We have instituted HSU (Harrison and Star University), which provides an effective vehicle for a broad platform of in-service training.

Recognizing that as we promote from within, it is our responsibility to teach the skills that people will need as they assume new roles and different responsibilities, we provide comprehensive training to Account Services and Creative managers at all levels to ensure Best Practices in Management. We also have a strong mentoring program in place, offering one-on-one as well as group and peer-to-peer mentoring in the form of mentoring circles.

Marjorie Vincent, Sr VP, Creative Director

posted on February 7, 2008

Wally Bock said:

I agree with Stuart, above on the importance of providing opportunity, especially the opportunity to grow. For many professionals I know that is a prime driver.

posted on February 8, 2008

Scot Herrick said:

One of the most important functions of management is to identify the talents and strengths of the people working on the team and then maximizing those talents and strengths.

Most people are too close to what they do to understand their strengths — and a manager is a great person to figure those things out.

posted on February 14, 2008

Christian ter Maat said:

Sigrid; you explained to us that the company and your colleagues will start improving your consultancy using the input of the book True Professionalism. This includes the management, I presume? In your company or organisation the professionals are the key resources. So management should fully support any improvements. You might want to indulge management to rework the MISSION; defined here ‘what business are we in, and who are our customers, and how can we improve our consultancy to assist our clients (Peter Drucker). The main question before working on the mission and improving your consultancy; is to speak to your clients and ask them about the level of service, professionalism and areas of improvement. Further reading with regard to a mission as; a clear sense of purpose (as explained by David) and a sense of common identity (the sum of all professional identities in your case) is; ‘A Sense of Mission’. Andrew Campbell merged the sense of purpose and identity in a sense of mission, ISBN 0201608006, published in 1992. Quote; individuals with a strong sense of a mission are more effective at their jobs and that they make their organisations more successful in fulfilling the needs of all stakeholders”. So maybe the answer to your question is ‘bottom up’ as you propose and simultaneously ‘top down’ in redrafting your organisation’s mission.

Should you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me; Christian ter Maat (Dutch).

posted on February 17, 2008