Judith M. Bardwick, Ph.D.
As promotions are increasingly scarce, people need to be motivated by something else. It is never a good idea to promise what cannot be delivered. We know that in addition to promotion, people want the opportunity to continuously experience and be absorbed by the satisfaction of meeting and mastering challenge. Individuals must increasingly emphasize the value and excitement of challenge and the organization’s culture must support that emphasis. Organizations must motivate with something they can deliver; individuals must be motivated by something they can gain. Challenge is an experience that never has to end. Meeting challenges must become even more valued and rewarded. “Success” in an organization traditionally means a gain in number of people you are responsible for having more people report to you. It means having more power over more people.
But today, fewer people will have the opportunity to manage people. What they can have, though, is more responsibility for and power in terms of making decisions. That will have to be perceived as a new and different “success.” With fewer people in the business of managing others. Many more will be in the business of the business. This means that increasing numbers of people will gauge their “success” in terms of how much they actually contribute to whatever their organization does. More and more people will be in the action as doers rather than managers. And doing is often more genuinely satisfying and even exciting than is managing others who are doing the real work and achieving the real accomplishments.
The current morale problem of professionals, managers and executives is the result of the long-term emphasis on rising in management and recognizing that far more than outstanding professionalism. That’s an arbitrary set of values that can be reversed. In the great universities, the admired people are the outstanding researchers and teachers the people really doing the business of the institution and administrators are merely tolerated.
Individuals are plateaued when they feel stuck and institutions are plateaued when there’s no sense of momentum. Thus, plateaued organizations and individuals have no clear sense of a future because there’s no feeling of movement toward anything. The task for the organization, its managers, and for individual employees is to face the issue of disappointment and then go beyond that, to create a future with new goals that emphasize the excitement of challenge. Facing and mastering a new task is engrossing. Full out striving toward a goal is moving toward a future. And it’s achievable, if we first get out of the plateauing trap by facing the issue and then creating new goals.