Management

The only power is future power

There’s a podcaster named Justin Robert Young who hosts a show I listen to called Politics Politics Politics or PX3 for short.  One of his favorite sayings is “all power is future power” and while he is talking about the realm of politics it applies to other things as well.  It can apply to relationships with friends and significant others, it can apply to parenting with your children, it can apply to almost every situation in life, but what I want to focus on is how it applies to business and employees.

What is future power?

When a manager tells an employee to do something they do it because they know that manager has the power to give orders.  They don’t follow orders blindly out of God like devotion, but because the manager has the power to punish or fire them.  Now imagine that suddenly all that power is taken away from that manager but they are still expected to give orders, maybe some employees would follow the order but if there are no consequences for not following orders then some will just not listen. 

This is a basic example of future power, you only have power if it can be enforced.  Now there are lesser ways to lose future power where you still have authority but your employees don’t believe everything you say, and that is the most prevalent form of loss of future power.

Some Examples

Example#1

Manager: I need you to go from producing 70 widgets per hour to producing 100 widgets per hour, it’s vitally important.

Effect: The employees start working hard and are meeting the 100 widgets per hour goal.

Two weeks later

Manager: I’m requiring everyone to take this training course that will take an hour and a half every week for the next five weeks, but once you’ve all finished we’ll be the first to have everyone certified in a non-job critical skill.

Conclusion: The employees will think that the “very important” 100 widgets per hour was a lie because it could be delayed for non-mission critical training.  The result is employees will not take future important orders as seriously.


Example#2

Manager: Ok everyone over the last few months we’ve added a lot of new customers and while that’s great, it does mean I have to take our order processing from 35 per hour to 45 per hour.  I know I’m asking a lot but we’ve all got to work harder and stay focused until we can hire and train more people to help take the burden off you.  Thanks for your continuing hard work.

Effect: The employees work harder and meet or even surpass the new 45 per hour goal.

The following week

Manager: I’m instituting daily team building games to bring teams together and boost morale.  Everyone is required to participate.

Conclusion: Once again the manager has undermined their previous statement by wasting employee time on unnecessary things after telling them how important every minute was.  The result is employees will not take future important orders as seriously.

How to avoid losing future power.

Obviously the examples above were very general, but just think about a time a manager has undermined something they’ve said and how that made you think about them after that.  Did you start to second guess them?  Did you roll your eyes the next time they said something was vitally important?  They lost future power with you, you no longer took them as seriously as they wanted you to.

So how do you avoid this?  Before you say something to your employees, think about what you’ve said before then and how what you are going to say will undermine your previous statements.  Let’s look at example #1.

The manager increases the quota by 30 per hour stating that it’s vitally important.  Two weeks later the manager is getting ready to announce non-mission critical training.  What the manager should have done was stop and ask them self “how could this undermine me?”  A manager should always be asking how will this decision will hurt my future power?

If the manager in example #1 had stopped and asked themselves this question they could have realized that two weeks prior they said how important the 30 widgets per hour increase was and that since the training wasn’t mandated by corporate they would be seen as lying about the importance of the 30 widget per hour increase.

The proper response would have then been to put the training on hold and then wait for the rush that necessitated the 30 per hour increase to pass, or hire more employees to compensate.  Only then should they have instituted the training.  If this approach had been taken then it would not have undermined the managers future power.  And while some employees wouldn’t be happy about the training, they wouldn’t think less of the manager for instituting it, and they might take it a little more seriously since they wouldn’t be thinking about how much time they are losing during the training instead of paying attention and actually learning something.

Conclusion

Management isn’t easy, and you’re never going to make everyone happy.  A good manager should do what they can to make employees happy but do everything they can to keep their future power with their employees.

An employee who trusts what their manager says to be true will be more likely not to only trust the manager but work harder for them because they know when they say something they mean it.  As long as your employees trust what you say you generally will have more happy, hardworking, and loyal employees.

So once again

The only power is future power.

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