You could spend all day every day reading advice about how to be a better manager of people. We’ve set managers an impossible task and it’s time we stopped beating them up about failing to get everything right all of the time. Managing people is about creating the conditions for people to do their best work and, whilst many managers are doing their very best to do that, it’s really the context in which managers operate that needs to change.

I’ve worked in-house and as a consultant to help teams and individuals achieve things that were beyond what they had thought possible. Together we’ve achieved some amazing things. But as a manager within an organisation, there’s usually a limit on what you can achieve through others. You don’t have control over the context in which you and your team work, and in many cases it doesn’t feel like you have much influence over it.

What I mean by context isn’t the building you work in or the sector in which you operate, I’m talking about the culture and practices and policies that make an organisation feel the way it does. I’m talking about the way that information flows throughout the company, where and how decisions are made and all of the stuff that gets in the way of meeting the customers’ needs.

So what needs to change?

It’s all about motivation. A cultural context within your organisation which motivates people (and that includes managers!) to do their best work can deliver unexpected benefits. And the two things that motivate people? Not fear and greed, but freedom and focus.


What I mean when I speak about freedom is this:

  • Freedom for employees over how, where and when they work, plus a focus on something bigger than the next quarter’s results.
  • Freedom to be themselves and bring their diverse views and ideas to the table, and a focus on what really adds value for customers and for the business.
  • Freedom of access to important information to make better decisions, alongside a focus on their own learning and seeing their work contribute to the development of the business.

Get these right, and the next quarter’s results take care of themselves.

Human beings doing what comes naturally

Human beings are naturally curious and self-directed, they’re not passive and inert. They don’t need carrots and sticks, they just need to be provided with the right conditions to do what comes naturally. When those conditions exist, good managers find it much easier (and extremely rewarding) to support and enable individuals and teams to achieve their full potential and ensure an organisation can exceed its aims.

If you think the context in your organisation might be inhibiting performance, get in touch for an informal chat about Shift’s organisational assessment and change management support.