4 Signs That Office Obedience is Dead

Written by lewsauder

August 18, 2014

office obedience

Office obedience

If you follow how people behave in movies and television, you would think that management is a series of orders barked out by managers with the obedient, if not disgruntled, employee following those orders.

My way or the highway

I’m certain that type of management still exists. But it’s a management style from the past. Going back to World War II, all of our able bodied young men went off to war. They learned the values of discipline, regimen, and respect. Valuable traits to help them prepare for a successful career.

After the war, those soldiers came back and created a workforce with like-minded ideals learned from the military. Included in that was the command and control management style. My way or the highway. If I tell you to jump, you say how high.

Another trait of that workforce was that people generally stayed in one job for an entire career. The job you took after returning from the service was the job you retired from thirty-five or forty years later. This made for an obedient workforce. Your boss told you what to do and you did it. You didn’t have a choice. If you did it well enough, you might have gotten promoted and would have a staff that you could boss around.

That approach just doesn’t work anymore.In today’s workforce, it’s ineffective to tell people what to do. There are several drivers behind this.


Barking orders and limiting the flow of information demoralizes your workers. Drip feeding team members with information on a need to know basis may work in a militaristic environment when good soldiers follow orders without asking questions.

But today’s workers don’t want to be made to feel like cogs in a wheel. The new generation of millennials are a collaborative people. They want to think together, plan together, and work together. Taking collaboration away from them will make them unhappy and unproductive.

Collaboration over Office Obedience

People work more efficiently when they know why they are doing something and understand the purpose behind it. Understanding the context behind a task gives employees ownership and buy-in with the solution.

Everyone has to eventually accept that they are part of a team and can’t do everything. But if they are involved in the decision making and understand what the team accomplished as a whole, they feel better about their part. As a result, they are more motivated to do quality work.

See my related post: Competent or Intelligent?

A more transient workforce

In the post-war era, changing jobs mid-career was considered job hopping. It implied a lack of loyalty. Why would an employer hire someone if they planned to leave as soon as things get a little tough?

Then, when things got tough for companies starting in the 1970s, companies began laying people off. Employees learned that there really wasn’t any loyalty on either side.

Additionally, when companies were trying to hire people after the war with a booming economy, they offered retirement pensions, promising to pay their employees for the rest of their lives if they worked their entire career with the company.

In the 1980s, as a cost cutting effort, companies began adopting the employee funded 401(k) for employee retirement savings. The ability of the employee to transfer his 401(k) to another employer removed the “indentured servant” stigma crated by pensions. As employer loyalty waned and employees were expected to fund their retirements, employees found that they were freer to move on to greener pastures if they were unhappy where they were at.

Art of leadership

Because of these and many other factors, there has been a push for leadership over management. Leaders have developed a strategy of getting people to do things because they want to, instead of because they have to.

In marketing, companies have learned that making people think they need an ice cold Coke is better than the hard sell of telling them to have one. Because of that, nobody sells us Coke. We go to the store and buy it because we’ve been marketed to believe we need it.

Leaders have developed the same approach. Instead of the “hard sell” equivalent of telling employees to do something, a leader markets the strategy to her people. Everyone plays their role in a collaborative approach. The employees are involved in the decision making and solutioning. This makes for better outcomes, better involvement and buy-in from the employees, and better leadership.


Command and control management is still alive and well in our workforce. People who have never served in the military develop controlling personalities. Some have worked for, and learned from, other command and control managers, and believe that that’s the way to manage people.

Managers who continue to follow that approach will continue to suffer from high turnover, lower performance, and low morale. Will they eventually learn from it? Who knows? They may continue expecting office obedience from a workforce which rarely obeys the barked-out order.

What has been your experience with office obedience?

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

Lew’s Books at Amazon:

Project Management 101
Consulting 101
The Reluctant Mentor

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