Today’s message is about people, or perhaps I should say, a reminder that the employees that work for you are living, breathing, human beings with thoughts, feelings, lives, and problems. They are not machines. Often, you will see management defined as planning, organizing, commanding, controlling, coordinating, and communicating. While technically correct, it is a sterile definition that misses out on the fact that motivating is one of our most important duties as a manager.

Lest we forget, truly effective managers get their work done through others. If you have to depend on others to perform, then you should have their best interests at heart. Management tends to forget this — particularly when they start looking at budgets and try to squeeze a little more profit out of the bottom line. I am personally okay with trying to finagle a few pennies here and there for the good of the organization, but I tend to get cross when “harmless” policies are put into place where employees are affected, particularly in the wallet.

You may have seen these policies before, such as; lowering pay or laying off workers because their salaries are “not in line” with other workers. Perhaps this is because they produce better work than the others in the first place, or they have given you the loyalty of continuous service and reliable production? What a de-motivator that is for the remaining employees. Really makes them want to excel doesn’t it? Circuit City recently announced these types of measures, and I’m willing to go out on a limb and say it is going to bite them back in the long run. A lot of Wall Street analysts seem to agree with me on this one.

These types of policies don’t have to be that blatant to cause ill will. They can be as simple as not allowing telecommuting because of management’s belief that if they can’t see you, you must not be working. Funny how they can’t see you (because they aren’t there) at 3 A.M. in the server room, but that’s okay because you are physically in the building — yet making the same changes remotely in your pajamas is considered a major no-no.

Other examples include taking away the small perks such as free soda from a machine in the break room or disallowing monthly birthday celebrations because people linger too long. Even taking away small amounts of authority hurts morale — no matter how trivial it may seem. Yes, I know that pencils and pens add up, but when it becomes as difficult to get a pen from the supply room as it is to gain authorization to a secure area in Fort Knox — something is very wrong.

The point to all of this is that our decisions as managers always have an effect on our staff — even the ones that we consider harmless or insignificant. Moreover, these decisions often have a cumulative effect, like death by a thousand cuts. They prove deleterious to our work force — until, at some point, people have enough and move on.

Stop and think about it. Other than a layoff or an offer out of the blue, when did you consider leaving your last job and why? More than likely, it was because something changed and you reached your limit; whether it was another dumb decision that makes your work life more difficult or the dysfunction in the work place has reached a tipping point. It is probable that you were reacting to another “harmless” management decision that motivated you to look elsewhere.

Motivating people to perform their best is a very difficult thing to do. Over the years, there have been thousands of pages written and theories galore as to what motivates people and more importantly — what keeps them motivated. The answer is not simple, yet I can tell you it is not solely money. If it is just money, there should be no under performing professional sports teams, eh?

I believe that the quality of the work environment and your behavior towards your staff contribute heavily to their motivation and performance. The “harmless” decisions that we make contribute to the totality of the work environment. So, the next time you are about to make one of these decisions and you think it’s not a big deal — STOP for a moment. Put yourself in your staff’s position and think about how the decision will be perceived. Sometimes it will be the right decision, but you may need to give them better information for it to be received correctly. Other times, your decision might be plain wrong, and you need to reconsider it.

I’m not advocating that you should be frozen in indecisiveness, just reminding you that everything you do is judged x times the number of people it has an effect on. So keep that in mind as you manage your workplace and lead your people on a day-to-day basis.