Beavers, Rats, and Your Workforce
Beavers are remarkable creatures. Set one loose near a creek or small stream, and without any instruction or invitation, she’ll immediately set to work cutting down trees and building a damn. Come back in a very short time, you’ll find your woodland brook has morphed into a pond, with a cozy-looking lodge in the middle, well out of harm’s way. Beavers are some of the most industrious, self-motivated creatures under the sun.
Rats are another story entirely. They’re as sneaky and surly as they are lazy. The only way to get them to do what you want is to pen them in, control their options very closely, and offer them enticements for performing their duties. Watch it, though: reward them too generously, and they’re sure to slack off until the reward is all gone and they’re hungry again.
Leaders, in my first post in this series I asked you to take a ten-second quiz to uncover your worldview. Basically, do you think people are generally self-motivated beavers, or troublesome rats?
The thing is, you don’t even have to tell me. All I have to do is look at your organization, and I can tell you how you feel about human nature. Is your company a stifling bureaucracy, with reams of rules and policies and procedures to tightly control your people? If so, you see people as shifty rats.
Or is your organization more open, more democratically-led, with few policies but plenty of support to enable your people to thrive at what they already want to do, which is build your business and delight your customers (and thus your stockholders)? If that describes your company, then it’s clear you see people as beavers.
In 1960, Professor Douglas McGregor of MIT published “The Human Side of Management,” introducing what he called Theory X and Theory Y. Basically, leaders who ascribe to Theory X see people as rats, and treat them accordingly. Leaders who follow Theory Y believe that people are beavers, which you can tell from how these leaders manage.
I personally find it hard to remember if X is good and Y is bad, or vice-verse, plus I notice people’s eyes glaze over every time I launch into an X/Y discussion, so I came up with the rats and beavers as more user-friendly. Please, let me know in the comments if this works for you.
Here’s your link to part one in this three-part series about your Leadership Worldview. Next time, we’ll wrap up this three-post series with “The Biggest Caveat Ever!” Stay tuned!
Graphic by Husam Elfaki