Management in the Not for Profit Organization

Dedicated to Exploring the Philosophies and Techniques of Management in the Non-Profit Sector

Motives Matter


What Was Your Purpose In Doing That?



Take two managers with similar skill sets and assign them to identical tasks.  With all other things equal, the way their motives frame the tasks will be the single biggest cause of differences in their results.


For example, a newly hired employee is required by accreditation bodies or law to abide by several policies.  Furthermore, the employer must maintain written proof that each employee has acknowledged that he or she has read and understands the policy.  So what is the manager’s objective?  Is it to do what is necessary to ensure the new employee understands & agrees to follow the policy?  Or is it to get the employee’s signature on an acknowledgement form? 


If the manager is concerned about that employee’s future compliance with requirements, effort will be directed to educating the worker about the policy and its purpose.  If, on the other hand, the manager views this as an exercise in useless paperwork, the new employee might be told to sign the paper to get it out of the way.  Unfortunately, in too many cases (fact is, one time is too many) the manager wants to get that new employee into the front lines as soon as possible, and those pesky little policies are just annoying barriers.


This can also be seen in terms of training.  Does the manager educate, train, engage, and coach the direct report?  Or is “training” just a pile of information dumped upon the employee?  Does the training result in the employee not only having know-how, but having an understanding of the underlying “Why” as well? (Essenhigh R.,  p. 46)  Does it really instill and enhance skill, or is the manager providing the information in a useless or overwhelming format just so he or she can say that the information was given?  Often, the employee is told to sign something that says he or she understood or at least participated in the required training even though the “training” was abbreviated or otherwise inappropriate.  Then, at least, the manager maintains plausible deniability if things do not work out with that employee (“I told him that stuff, really I did.”).  Of course, a court might see through that.  Plus, there are the expenses associated with the worker’s poor performance due to a lack of true training.  There is the inevitable cost of hiring a replacement – not to mention the poor reputation the organization gains with potential future employees.  Add in the customer dissatisfaction that arises because they repeatedly have to deal with new, poorly trained replacements and you have a formula for disaster.


And what if a nursing assistant goes whizzing through range of motion exercises in five minutes, when they really should take fifteen minutes if done correctly?  What does the nurse manager or charge nurse do?  Would there be hesitance to confront the hard-to-find, otherwise hard-working nursing assistant?  The exercises were completed, so why make an issue of it?  The item can be checked off the nursing assistant’s to-do list if no one is too picky.  No one wants unnecessary drama, right?


In this example, the nursing assistant was literally just “going through the motions”, with no attention to the potential loss of function the resident/patient could experience over time.  The nurse manager becomes complicit by failing to respond to the evidence of poor practice.  Such short-sightedness could cost nursing assistants their jobs and nurses their licenses.  Worst of all, it could create long-term loss of the resident’s/patient’s range of motion.


All of the above-described scenarios would be characterized in sports parlance as “just mailing it in”.  There is little effort, poor focus, and plenty of apathy toward the task at hand.  Is it that they were not motivated?  No, they were motivated.  The problem is that their motives were wrong – just flat out unethical and self-serving.  Worthy long-term goals were sacrificed for selfish short-term objectives.  Are the words “unethical” and “self-serving” too strong?  Consider the following:


What does the manager signal when directing the new employee to sign an acknowledgement form for policies that are not yet understood? 

·         Policies are unimportant.

·         Reviewing a document before signing it is unimportant.

·         Taking time to learn basic rules is not necessary.


The manager who delivers a poor excuse for training conveys the ideas:

·         That training is unimportant.

·         That the new employee must pretend to have been trained.

·         That the employee is not important enough for an investment of time, energy, and training.


And what does the nursing assistant who shortchanges the patient or resident on range of motion exercises learn from the charge nurse or nurse manager?

·         Doing things fast is better than doing things right.

·         No one will confront me if I cut corners, as long as they don’t have an immediate, obvious negative impact.

·         The convenience of the staff is more important than the care of the patient.


Each of the above communicates the idea that the truth is unimportant.  That is unethical.

And all of this is because the managers thought their personal interests or ambitions were more important than the customer, the team, and the organization.  That is selfish.


But if dedication to the patient or a sense of responsibility for the development of employees is not enough to cause one to do things properly, consider this:

 Good Faith:

"The obligations of good faith and commercial reasonableness underlie every sales and lease contract falling within the purview of the UCC.  Those obligations can form the basis for a suit for breach of contract later on."  and, "The UCC's good faith provision, which can never be disclaimed, reads as follows: 'Every contract or duty within this Act imposes an obligation of good faith in its performance or enforcement' [UCC 1-203].  Good faith means honesty in fact” (Clarkson et al., p. 425)


 Yes, the law does have at least one provision that would appear to cover this topic.  This writer is no lawyer, but if one were to ever consider shortchanging an employee or a customer, the quote from West’s Business Law above should certainly give pause.


In many cases, situations such as those in the above examples are results of managers doing what they feel like doing, instead of doing what they were hired to do.  Some skip primary responsibilities in order to find time to put themselves in the limelight.  They bypass roles they feel are too mundane or are beneath them in favor of activities that are more exciting or are more likely to quickly gain positive attention and advancement.


In other cases, they are just plain lazy.  In still others, they became acclimated to an organizational culture where such behavior was the norm.  In other words, there is no single cause but the quick, expedient, easy path has many travelers


Not everyone sinks to that level.  So what makes others different?  What is it that prevents some managers from taking the course of “Wink, wink.  Nudge, nudge.”, and “I won’t say anything if you don’t”? 


For one thing, it is a matter of expectations.  They did not expect it to be easy, and most thought this way from the beginning.  They did not expect to only do what they like to do.  They understood that they get a paycheck for a reason, and they must earn it by doing the right things.


Also, they did not become managers because they like to be the bosses.  Rather, they got there as a part of their devotion to service.  That is, service to their customers, service to their superiors, and service to those whom they lead. 


Perhaps most importantly, there are still those who do the right thing because it is the right thing.



It is possible that the new employee in the first example will commit a major breach of policy resulting in violations of regulations, and the manager who induced the fraudulent signature on the acknowledgement form will be punished for that act.


It is quite likely that the manager who failed to train the employee in the second example will run into problems due to the poor service or increased turnover that will result.


It is conceivable that the charge nurse or nurse manager in the third example will be hauled into court for medical neglect or malpractice because of the failure to execute assigned duties in overseeing the performance of the nursing assistant.


But it is also entirely possible that these individuals will experience no direct negative consequences for their actions or failures to act.  In fact, they might be promoted or congratulated because they got things done more quickly than others.


People who do things properly don’t necessarily do them that way in order to get the brass ring.  They do things right because it is fair and honorable to do so.  They keep their ends of the bargains, and act in good faith.  Sometimes they are seen as plodders, too caught up in the “details” of the procedures they have agreed to follow.  But in this writer’s eyes, they are the heroes who can be counted on when the chips are down.


What is the purpose in doing things right and doing the right things?  Well, personal honor and integrity are valid ends in and of themselves.  And they are of immeasurable value to our customers, our organizations, and our communities.  This is true everywhere, but it is especially so in not-for-profit settings.



Essenhigh, Robert H., "A Few Thoughts On The Difference Between Education And Training" [This is an excerpt taken from a letter to the editor of National Forum: The Phi Kappa Phi Journal, Spring 2000, p. 46.]

Clarkson et al., 2006, West's Business Law, 10th Edition, Thomson-West, Mason, OH