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The Secret to Listening? Stop Talking. The Secret to Management? Stop Managing.

by Jack Santos  |  June 1, 2015  |  2 Comments

Complete this analogy:

Taxi drivers are to Uber as Managers are to…

My answer is..”the Future.” The point being that traditional managers are going the way of traditional taxi drivers : transform or die; and the future – in a social, digital world, is more like what is happening with Uber (among others).

We are seeing big differences in workplace satisfaction, engagement, and perception between employees and managers. Especially true in the IT Professional surveys we have recently taken, such as: Management/Employee Misalignment Could Hamper Digital Business Initiatives.

It occurred to me that employees aren’t engaged because managers suck the air out of the room trying to get employees engaged.

Taking some of the current advice on how managers should improve employee satisfaction or increase employee engagement is like telling taxi drivers which taxi firm is best for them over the long term.  The answer: None!  Don’t keep layering old management practices on a new, digital world.  Employees, especially those that have grown up in an internet enabled world, know how to get engaged – maybe it’s the practices, beliefs, behaviors that we still tell managers to do that is hurting employee engagement.

The fact is, employees, especially digital natives, know what they want.  They don’t necessarily need non-entrepreneurial soul stifling enterprise policies and practices to help them get there.  Yet many stay in those same organizations, for a variety of reasons, then let vampire management techniques suck the life out of them.

What we need are managers, senior executives, business owners that know how to motivate without telling. Know how to communicate without prescribing.  Those are in short supply.  And the short term focus to perform, to measure and to deliver just encourages more of the same.  Kind of like focusing on stock price versus long term value.

At our Catalyst conference in August we’ll have a series of sessions that focus on just this issue.  They’re under the banner “professional effectiveness”. And they are based on the simple fact that individual success begins with..duh..the individual.  Take for instance Richard Watson’s session on Letting Millennial Developers Turn IT Upside Down – and his findings about motivation, engagement, and business success.

So do managers, like taxi drivers, start being more entrepreneurial – less taxi firm focused and more ride service focused ? Maybe.  Managers certainly don’t just disappear (neither will taxi drivers).  But they will do something different, and use different approaches, to help employees succeed and keep employees on board.

So just like the obvious answer to better listening is to just really listen, than maybe the obvious answer to better engagement is to just let employees engage.

Does this mean the demise of management?  Well maybe the distinction (as pointed out by colleague Gary Olliffe) is that of management and leadership.  Less management, more leadership.  Less orchestration, more choreography.  Which Mike Rollings captured using this analogy:

Uber is to Taxi Drivers as Management is to … Unleashing Workforce Engagement

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Jack Santos
Research VP
7 years at Gartner
40 years IT industry

Jack Santos is a Research Vice President with Gartner, part of the Enterprise Architecture and Technology Innovation team within the Gartner for IT Leaders product. He focuses on enterprise architecture and technology trends. Mr. Santos' specific area of research covers individual development, leadership and management practices for enterprise architects, EA innovation, and collaboration approaches. Read Full Bio


Thoughts on The Secret to Listening? Stop Talking. The Secret to Management? Stop Managing.


  1. Sheila Bean says:

    Well-spoken. Perservance in listening & availability to connect via swiss cheese method (a little nibble at a time) is key to leadership for best outcomes in all organizations. People will remember above all else how you made them feel.

    Sheila Bean-Bundgus

  2. Jack Santos says:

    Thanks Sheila. Absolutely agree. I sometimes call it “Gentle pressure relentlessly applied”, although I like your nibble analogy better. The real key is getting people to feel like they are getting something out of the relationship/conversation. David Rock’s SCARF model has always helped me think about framing.



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