April 5, 2016

There are lots of topics under M including Marketing, Media, Meetings, Mindfulness, Mission, Money and Motivation. Of course, there’s the obvious heading “Management” but one that doesn’t turn up in management text books very often but one that I think is extremely important is:


Maybe it’s because I was brought up to be a polite young girl by the nuns. Maybe it’s because I have an allergy to being yelled at. Whatever the reason, I think ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’ all have currency in the work place.  As Grayling says in his version of the Epistles (2011, p.579) “[n]o less necessary than either ancient or modern knowledge therefore, is knowledge of the world, manners, politeness and society.” If you are nice to people, they will usually be nice back. Stewart (2009, p. 131) notes that this “a timeless precept, grounded in ethics, barely rising about tautology, and emerging naturally from the experience of being a human surrounded by other humans” but that doesn’t mean that people are always nice to each other in the workplace.


The starting point is respect amongst people in the workforce. You don’t have to be friends but you should acknowledge and value each other’s contribution to the organisation. Adams says that you win people’s respect if you say what you mean, do what you say, are good at what you do and inspire confidence (Adams 2007, p. 159). An Australia Board Chair says that she will not work with people who don’t respect people “no matter how brilliant they are, if they treat people poorly, if they are rude or if they have bad manners” (quoted in Sarros et al 2006, p. 37).

Technically if you’re the boss, you can direct someone to do a task but why not say ‘please’ in the process? What starts as an order turns into a request. The answer may simply be ‘sure’ but it gives the receiver a sense that at the very least, communication could be two way with the possibility to ask questions about the requirement.  The result could be a better defined task or a clearer sense of the timing of the outcome which lead to a better result for both parties.

One of the most profound tools in the manager’s kit is a well meant ‘thank you’. James Button (2012) in a book about working as speechwriter for Kevin Rudd, the Australian Prime Minister in the 2000s, tells stories about the man who said thank you and the man who didn’t. Rudd’s Departmental Secretary regularly said ‘thank you’ if he liked someone’s work, whereas the Prime Minister’s habit seemed to be one of being  “rude and contemptuous” towards his staff (p. 65).  This presumably, was one of the reasons why Rudd was removed as Prime Minister by his own political party.

In a study conducted by Gina and Grant, “the effort of call center employees increased by 51% during the week after an external manager paid them a single visit to express appreciation for their work” (Anon 2011). Our organisations don’t usually have the negative organisational cultures of call centres but some us do have the potential for similar environments in our ticketing and subscription departments. The old fashioned model of management by wandering about is part of the process of people seeing that they work is noticed, understood and valued. Gestures of appreciation don’t have to be expensive, just heart felt. I was in the habit of finding a gift for everyone on the company at Christmas. That meant over 100 items so it was obviously never an expensive gift. One year it was a small diary, next year it was a book from my collection. But each gift was given with a personal note because without all of them, I didn’t have a job worth doing.

The other word in the manner’s collection is ‘sorry’. Because you will make mistakes. But you’ll also have to take responsibility for other people’s mistakes. When you delegate tasks, the results are still your responsibility. And when things go wrong for your organisation due to external pressures that you can’t control, you are still going to have to say ‘sorry’.  “Accept your role as apologist-in-chief,” say Rosner & Halcrow (2010, p. 70). “You’re the boss, which to your employees makes you the voice of the company. That means you’ll be called upon to apologize for things you have had nothing to do with.”  

Somewhat ironically, the Prime Minister who didn’t know how to say ‘thank you’ to his staff, did understand the importance of saying ‘sorry’ and one Kevin Rudd’s  most rated moments in the role was when he said ‘sorry’ to Australia’s Indigenous people in 2008.

On of Drucker’s  (1990, p. 115) “don’ts” in his list of what to avoid when managing non-profit organisations  is “[d]on’t tolerate discourtesy…..manners are the social lubricating oil that smooths over friction…..One learns to be courteous – it is needed to enable different people who doesn’t necessarily like each other to work together. Good causes do not excuse bad manners.”

The times when I felt the most belittled in the workplace is when I’ve been yelled at. Apart from the fact that each time, I wasn’t at fault and each time, someone else was trying to cover up their own inadequacies, the point is that it didn’t improve my work or my attitude. So as a manager, the best thing you do is to be polite in the good and the bad times, control yourself and in Grayling’s (2011, p. 579) words:

“To be well-mannered without ceremony, easy without negligence,

Steady and intrepid with modesty, genteel without affectation,

Cheerful without noisiness, frank without indiscretion, and able to keep confidences;

To know the proper time and place for whatever you say or do, and to do it with an air of condition.””


Adams, J  2007, Managing People in Organizations: contemporary theory and practice, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke

Anonymous 2011, ‘The Problem with Financial Incentives — and What to Do About It’, Knowledge@Wharton,, http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/the-problem-with-financial-incentives-and-what-to-do-about-it/ [accessed on 9 December 2014]

Button, J 2012 Speechless: A Year in My Father’s Business, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne

Drucker, PF 1990, Managing the Nonprofit Organizations, HarperCollins, New York

Grayling, AC 2011, The Good Book, Bloomsbury, London

Rosner, B & Halcrow, A 2010.The Boss’s Survival Guide, 2nd edn, McGraw Hill, New York

Rudd, K 2008, ‘Kevin Rudd’s sorry speech’, Sydney Morning Herald, 13 February http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/kevin-rudds-sorry-speech/2008/02/13/1202760379056.html [accessed 2 February 2015]

Sarros, J, Cooper, BK, Hartican, AM &Barker, CJ 2006, The Character of Leadership, John Wiley & Sons, Milton QLD

Stewart, M 2009, The management myth,  W.W. Norton & Co, New York