The Carlson Management Philosophy

“Managers are not responsible for the thoughts, feelings, attitude, morale, performance, or behavior of any employee. These are all things managers cannot control… Your responsibility is to facilitate employee behavior and performance. You are expected to create an environment that fosters the employee behavior and performance that your organization requires. You then hold employees accountable for their own behavior and performance.” – Carlson Company

Over twenty years ago, in one of my first consulting engagements, I traveled the country training supervisors in Leadership for the Carlson Company. If you are not familiar with Carlson, they were at the time one of the country’s largest private companies and owned familiar brands such as Radisson Hotel, TGI Friday’s, and Carlson Travel.

The basis for this training was the Carlson management philosophy which is stated above. I enjoyed this work as I had the opportunity to see much of the country and meet many great young leaders. Even better, I was exposed to a leadership mindset that was quite foreign to me at the time and I have carried it with me ever since.

Let’s start with the first half:

“Managers are not responsible for the thoughts, feelings, attitude, morale, performance, or behavior of any employee. These are all things managers cannot control…”

Prior to this work, I owned several small businesses and was responsible for managing dozens of employees. At that time, I believed something quite different about management than this statement. I was certain that I was responsible for my employee’s thoughts, feelings, behavior, etc.

Who else was? I was their leader.

If they were not performing, I believed that I was responsible for improving their performance. More training. Better resources. Pay hikes.

If they had a bad attitude, I was sure I was the guilty party. It had to be my fault. Maybe I was pushing the wrong buttons. Maybe the work environment was keeping them from being happy. Their bad attitude was also infectious on me and the rest of the team.

While these were not robots I was managing, I significantly underestimated their own ability to manage themselves.

There were lots of sleepless nights.

Learning and accepting the Carlson management philosophy was an eye-opener for me. The reality was that I couldn’t be responsible for these things as I had no direct control over them. Only one person was in control of their performance, their behavior, and their attitude, and it was them.

“Your responsibility is to facilitate employee behavior and performance. You are expected to create an environment that fosters the employee behavior and performance that your organization requires. You then hold employees accountable for their own behavior and performance.”

Once I bought into the first half of the statement, the second half made perfect sense. My job, as a leader, was to create a work environment that allowed employees to excel at their jobs. To feel motivated and happy. Opportunities for growth. Autonomy to perform at the highest level. A compelling purpose and a clear vision.

I was also responsible for eliminating as many of the job factors that caused employee de-motivation as possible. These include unfair compensation, shortage of key resources, and an uncomfortable work environment.

Finally, it is then my job as their leader to hold each employee accountable for what they do and for what they don’t do. With accountability, comes consequences. I must apply the right consequence, good or bad, to each employee’s performance and behavior.

It’s not rocket science. When done correctly, we have a happy and productive workforce and a healthy and profitable company.