If you put fences around people you get sheep


“If you put fences around people you get sheep”

I have recently stumbled upon this quote and I did like it so much,. It is a quote of William L. McKnight (1887 – 1978), a former CEO of 3M company, who saved 3M from bankruptcy and made it a multinational and most importantly innovative company!

No wonder that 3M has always been associated with innovation, McKnight had a big role to play with that, McKnight is one of the few CEO’s I have seen who really believed in the power of people and realized that the success can only be achieved through people, he believed in delegation and giving people the freedom of thinking and potentially choice. McKnight laid the foundation, and it is a strong one, for 3M corporate culture.

If you look at most of today’s companies you will find many fences around that can turn people into sheep, companies pay more attention to symbolic aspects and policies that most of the times are based on nothing, rather than providing genuine care to people and encouraging them to be innovative, if people have fences around them, the opportunity of innovation is minimal, McKnight believed in two core principles, delegation of responsibility and ownership of initiatives, despite working in the twenty first century we still miss these two core values in most of companies, if you look at our business life you will find many fences, some examples are:

  • Forcing people to focus on their tasks only rather than encouraging them to find solutions to problems or to continuously try to improve company’s processes
  • Monitoring sign in and sign out times rather than productivity and deliveries
  • Micromanagement is a fence that kills creativity
  • Fake encouragement: if a company asks people to be innovative and provide good solutions for core business problems without giving feedback or trying to implement those solutions, this will definitely demoralize people and make them think twice before giving recommendations and solutions
  • Workplace Video Surveillance: some companies are watching their employees by fixing cameras around, I cannot think of how people can work while feeling watched all the times!
  • Dress code, some people really do not feel comfortable in jacket and tie

If I keep thinking I’d come up with tens of fences both physical and virtual and I personally believe that the virtual ones are more painful.

I also have something to add to McKnight’s quote; fences may not get you sheep only it also can create wolves, while the sheep will always be scared of job loss or giving an idea that may sound stupid or get rejected, wolves will challenge the corporation they work for and will always try to cut the fences around them, the common trait between the sheep and wolves is that both will not stay for too long in the company and they will always try to escape the fences using one way or another, this definitely will result in a high turnover and can jeopardize the business continuity of the company.

Do you have something to say? Isn’t it ironic that McKnight was applying these principles over a century ago while most of 21st companies are far away from it? What fences you can think of that can turn people into sheep and/or wolves? I’d love to hear from you!

About anasebrahem

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