It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble.
It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.
– Josh Billings
Much well-known business advice is sadly obsolete but can still be found in articles, business books and, not least, in daily use in the workplace. It seems that some companies are still guided by thinking that is sadly out of date – if it was ever true to begin with.
The worst of these old maxims are not only wrong, they’re bad for people and bad for business. Businesses who use them are making their employees unhappy and are harming the bottom line.
I recently wrote a post about the Top 5 Business Maxims That Need To Go, listing 5 horrendous examples. I also asked people to contribute the maxims they would like to get rid of, and got some great suggestions, so here are 5 more pieces of bad business advice that are making people unhappy at work and harming the bottom line.
Old maxim #1: People only work if you constantly kick their butt
Meaning: People are inherently lazy and only work when properly spurred on and controlled by managers.
– Submitted by JACH
This is of course just plain wrong. The interesting thing is though, that managers who take this approach often end up with people who behave this way for two reasons:
- Treating employees in this way makes them demotivated and resentful so they start doing as little as they can get away with
- Motivated, skilled employees refuse to put up with this treatment and leave
Instead, treating people like responsible adults who actually want to do great work makes people want to live up to this. People have an amazing ability to live up (or down) to our expectations.
New maxim: Treat people great and they do great work
Old maxim #2: The only way to get ahead is to put in the hours
Meaning: Success requires more than 40 hours/week. If you won’t put in the hours, somebody else who will is going to come along and take your place.
Some results can be achieved through working more. If you can dig one hole in an hour you can dig two holes in two hours.
But some results don’t scale that way: If a programmer can write 100 lines of code in an 8-hour work day, it doesn’t follow that she can code 200 in a 16-hour day. In fact, the output of 16 hours of work may be significantly lower than what you get in 8.
You might even get more work done in 6 hours a day than you do in 8. That’s what one company discovered, to their great surprise, when financial problems forced them to reduce working hours.
Instead of mindlessly putting in the hours, ask yourself how the work you do scales? How long is your optimal work day or work week?
New maxim: Maximize your results, not your hours
Old maxim #3: Sales fixes everything
I’ll let Guy Kawasaki explain the meaning of this one: As long as you have sales, cash will flow, and as long as cash flows, (a) you will have the time to fix your team, your technology, and your marketing; (b) the press won’t be able to say much because customers are pouring money into your coffers; and (c) your investors will leave you alone.
I adore sales. Cash is absolutely delightful. But sales and cash do not solve every problem.
Let’s say your entire team is stressed and overworked. Will sales fix this? Let’s say nobody’s communicating properly, because half the people on your team hate the other half. Let’s say two of your best employees are about to quit because they’re being bullied by their manager. It would be pointless to try to solve these kinds of problems by increasing sales.
In fact, more sales can make a bad situation worse because:
- The company will focus more on the customers than on its own people
- More sales means more work and potentially more stress for an unhappy organization
So while sales are wonderful, there are a whole set of common issues in a workplace that are not solved through more sales. I would in fact suggest that making your people happy is much more likely to result in higher sales, than higher sales are to result in happy people.
New maxim: Happy people fix everything
Old maxim #4: Leave your personal life at home
Meaning: We come to work to work. Who you are in your free time does not matter.
– Submitted by Scott Nutter
This is just ridiculous. As if you’re one person at home and a different person at work. As if your personality, private interests and opinions were somehow going to contaminate the workplace and ruin everyone’s professionalism.
Henry Ford is said to have complained “Why do workers come with a brain, when all I need is a pair of hands???? Well today businesses can’t settle for hands. We can’t even settle for brains alone, we also need people’s energy, creativity, ideas, opinions and motivation. We need the whole person to come to work every day.
New maxim: Be yourself at home and at work
Old maxim #5: The business of business is business
Meaning: Companies must focus on their business and nothing else. Also often used to mean that the only goal of a business is the bottom line.
Well if this is true, then why do successful companies like Southwest Airlines, Patagonia, Semco, Kjaer Group, Great Harvest and many others spend time and money on charities, in their communities and on environmental issues?
I’ll tell you why:
- It feels good to do good and it makes employees happy and proud to work for these companies
- It’s good for the bottom line
Also, Jim Collins proved in his book Built To Last, that companies who only focus on the bottom line perform significantly worse than companies who maintain a broader scope and also focus on other issues.
New maxim: There’s more to business than just business
The scariest thing about these old maxims is that they tend to be accepted unquestioningly because they are repeated so often – a little like nursery rhymes used to educate children. That means it’s not enough to oust the old maxims we need to replace them with new ones that are likely to bring better results for people and for the bottom line.
So here they are at a glance, the tired maxims and the suggested replacements:
|Tired old maxim||Shiny new maxim|
|To get ahead you must work long hours||Maximize your results, not your hours|
|People only work if you’re constantly kicking their butt||Treat people great and they do great work|
|Leave your personal life at home||Be yourself at home and at work|
|Sales fixes everything||Happy people fix everything|
|The business of business is business||There’s more to business than just business|
Know any more bad business advice, mantra, maxim, truism that needs to go? Write a comment!
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