What’s A Manager To Do?

What’s A Manager To Do?


Following on from my previous post, Six FAQs from managers in knowledge-work organisations, I thought I’d explore some options managers do have for making work work better.

The Number One Rule

We can’t change people, and trying to do so will only ever have negative outcomes.

The Number Two Rule

We can’t change people, but we can change things such that people’s behaviours may change.

The Number Three Rule

Folks see through all attempts to change things simply to manipulate them and their behaviours.


So where does that leave us, when we see behaviours we regard as unhelpful, dysfunctional or otherwise undesirable? Stand by and let the human dynamics play out? Or find some viable options which don’t involve trying to change other people?

Here’s some options I’ve found useful over the years, and which you might like to consider:

Change Yourself: We can’t ever change other people; we can only change how we respond to them. By changing our responses, we can model the kinds of behaviours we’d like to see in others. “Be the change you want to see in the world”. Some folks will pick up on this, particularly in the typical hierarchical organisation, where folks watch the behaviours of their higher-ups intently and constantly for behavioural cues.

Change the way the work works: Change the way the work works (the system) and behaviour change comes for free. Mindful of the Number Three Rule, you might like to consider the consequences of involving people (i.e. the workforce) in deciding how the work works, what to change and what to change to.

Change the environment: Change the physical environment (office layout, office spaces, furniture, seating arrangements, etc.). Change the places work is done. Change the hours. Change the nature of the social – and employment – contract. Change the tools. Again mindful of the Number Three Rule, you might like to consider the consequences of involving people in deciding how they’d like their environment(s) – in the broadest sense, as describe here – to be.

Explore folks’ theories of change: Everyone has different assumptions about how change happens, what’s possible, what works and what doesn’t, how people respond to change, how to effect change, and so on. Most times, these assumptions go unexplored and untested. Consequently, finding a consensus on how to change, a consensus which folks can share and buy into, rarely happens.

Change the facts: No, not a plea for fake news – but you can gather data where none existed before. Share data. Make things visible. Give people information – and support them in collecting their own –  where there has been little or none before. Choose which facts to focus on.

Make refusable requests: Explain how you’re feeling, the needs you have driving those feeling, and simply ask people to behave differently – in specific ways. This can, of course, be difficult in relationships with an imbalance of power, where requests, however enlightened and refusable, can be taken as coercion.

Suspend Judgement: Refrain from moralistically judging people and thereby wishing they would behave differently. Yes, maybe things would be better for all concerned if a certain person behaved differently in certain situations, but that doesn’t make that certain person a bad person.

Change the nature of your relationships: Do you use e.g. Fear, Obligation, Guilt and Shame to coerce or otherwise attempt to control people into behaving in ways you regard as “appropriate”? Maybe if you found other ways of relating to people, things might be different?

Even though you can’t change people, these and other options do exist, and can help bring about the changes you seek. Are you willing to be open and honest about those – both with others and with yourself?

– Bob

Further Reading

Culture Change Is Free ~ John Seddon
Tiny Wisdom: The Relationships We Wish Would Improve ~ Lori Deschene
What You Can Change And What You Cannot ~ Leland R. Beaumont
You Can’t Change Others: Letting People Be ~ Lauren Suval



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