RPM Paper

Reverse Process Management And Job Satisfaction



Don’t go where the path may lead, go where there is no path and leave a trail (Ralph Waldo Emerson).



One problem regularly faced by managers is how to get the best from their team.  People who do exceptional work do it because they love what they do (Kohn 1993).  They bring talents, skills, experience, training and knowledge to the work, all of which is allowed to blossom within a supportive framework.  Their love for their work is further enhanced by the environment in which they work.  The ideal organisation should be full of such employees, all working together as a system.


The reality is far from this.  The average employee has been selected for a role in which those interviewing have limited experience of the actual job.  The position description used to attract the employee has usually also been written by someone who does not appreciate all the needs of the position and of the larger organisation.  It should have been written by the departing employee, but rarely is.  The first mismatch is therefore likely to be the new employee and the position.  The talents, skills, experience, training and knowledge brought to the position will likely not match the needs of the position.  The work capability of the new employee will be limited, and it is unlikely that exceptional work will ever be done by this person in this role.


So, is it the job of the manager to motivate this person to achieve exceptional work?  According to Scholtes (1998) motivating anyone is a myth.  Motivation is not a substance that you can inject into someone.  He claims that it is impossible to motivate anyone, and that it is the ultimate management conceit to believe that this can happen.  Motivation must come from within.  One manager recently asked each team member to list three ways that would motivate each of them to achieve better results.  Needless to say, the results were of limited value.  On the other hand if she had asked them to list three ways that would reduce their frustrations, then it may have led to a much more interesting and productive discussion within the team.  A demotivated employee given a pay rise will, in a short period of time, return to being the same disillusioned employee.  


Much work has been carried out to investigate the relationship between employees and demotivation.  Herzberg (1959) developed a motivation-hygiene theory that hypothesises that work must be enriched to successfully utilise employees.  This is very important research into 3,597 workplace events that led to extreme satisfaction and dissatisfaction.  He found that certain factors give “satisfaction” and other factors lead to “dissatisfaction”.  There have been numerous studies since to check the validity of these results, and most have agreed in general with the conclusions.  Chyong (2002), for example, used Herzberg’s theory to study online instructional programs and concluded that there were two distinct set of factors, psychological growth and environmental maintenance.  Byrne (2006) studied the implications of Herzberg’s theory in the Irish health sector and concluded that it usefully highlighted factors for motivation and demotivation.  In each case there were some additional dissatisfaction factors reflecting modern problems.  For the online students it was excessive download time, and for the nurses it was being overworked.


The “satisfaction” factors determined by Herzberg and verified in subsequent studies were achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, advancement and personal growth.  These let the person grow in self esteem if the factors work positively.  The hygiene or maintenance or dissatisfaction factors were company policies and administration, supervision and the relationship with the supervisor, work conditions, relative salary, relationship with peers and subordinates, status, security and personal life.  These factors were all capable of producing dissatisfaction with the job.  They were found to account for 69% of the factors contributing to job dissatisfaction.  The remaining 31% were negative results of the “satisfaction” factors. 


It can be postulated that each person brings a particular “work capability” to their job.  This capability can only be increased in size if the person grows through the satisfaction factors determined by Herzberg.  There is no doubt that the capability can be reduced in size by Herzberg’s dissatisfaction factors.  Each frustrating company policy, problem with the supervisor or work colleagues and threat to security demotivates the person to the extent that their capability is effectively reduced in size.  They wake up in the morning not wanting to go to work, they make an effort but it is nowhere near that achieved if the demotivation factors were not present.


So, everyone brings a certain size of capability to each new position.  There is also the self-esteem at beating all other applicants for the position, the delight at leaving their previous employment, dignity, co-operation and joy.  This capability will only have the potential to increase in size if there is growth from achievement, advancement or responsibility.  It can easily be reduced in size by dissatisfaction.


Everyone is aware of the dissatisfaction factors in their own work experiences.  In my own personal experience, there have been two excellent supervisors out of twelve major positions.  So there is not a great statistical probability that supervision problems will be easily avoided.  The major difference of the two from the other ten was that each of them effectively communicated what was needed for me to achieve a rewarding end result.


If the capability has the potential to be eroded in size, how is it possible to reverse this trend?  There is no room for growth if the non-challenging work is taking up all of the available time.  The question that has to be asked therefore is whether there is a technique that can be used to reduce many of the dissatisfaction factors to the extent that the employee may achieve time savings that allow other more challenging work to be undertaken.  It is this challenging work that may produce achievement and recognition, leading to advancement and more responsibility and growth.


Company policies, company administration, work conditions and relationship with the supervisor are generally outside the employee’s control.  Policies and administration are decided at the top with limited consideration for the employees affected by them.  The nature of the supervisor-employee relationship is usually patronising and paternalistic (Scholtes 1998).  Most managers are effectively parents of their employees, and demote the employee to the role of child.  This is self-fulfilling as the team member becomes too scared to act on their own.  Competence and caring becomes questionable, and trust disappears.  The very good managers recognise that their colleagues need to grow, and they work hard to produce an environment that can achieve this.


So what is wrong with company policies and company administration?  After all, all companies must have them!  And why is it that my supervisor cannot treat me like a valuable colleague?  These are complicated issues.  Policies and administration affect morale because they have been produced with little input from the employees.  They simply satisfy a perceived need of management, and have little chance of being fair and reasonable.  Supervisors do the same thing.  Their needs become paramount, and they rarely think of meeting the needs of their staff.  These three factors alone cover over 50% of Herzberg’s recorded dissatisfaction.


Every member of the team needs to work together as a system consisting of many processes.  Deming (2000) argues that a system must be managed.  On its own a system becomes selfish and competitive, and this is what we see when processes are run from the top down. 


Top down processes are the root cause of dissatisfaction.  There is a better way to create innovative processes and it is called Reverse Process Management (RPM).  As its name implies, it is the reverse of the normal way to develop processes.  In RPM, the top person decides what their needs are, and the bottom person (the person actually carrying out the work) proposes a process that meets these needs, based on their own expertise.  After all, you wouldn’t tell an electrician how to do the work, you would simply ask that power is provided in a certain place to operate certain equipment.  The electrician defines the process used to achieve these needs, and everyone is happy.  If, on the other hand, you told the electrician exactly what to do, this is unlikely to be reasonable and would result in a frustrated and demotivated electrician.  The end result might well be that no work would be done.  It is similarly very conceited of senior managers to assume that they know the best way to carry out a process of which they have limited expertise.


RPM involves specific needs or guidelines, a detailed written process in a standard and simple format, document templates and checklists are added to give it substance.  The documented process is reviewed and approved by the managers.  Each manager has the right to revise or add to the written process if some needs are not met or if there appears to be improvements that can be made.  The end result is a process that is completely agreed by both the person requiring the results of the process and the person carrying out the process.  The resulting process can also be peer reviewed for possible improvement.  This win-win situation may bring rewards of achievement and recognition, as well as cut down on the demotivation factors.


But the benefits gained from RPM do not end with the written process.  Experience in its use will generate possible improvements, and by being an agreed process to handle proposals to improve the written process, quality work is achieved.  Finally the system will require auditing regularly to ensure that the normal variability in operation does not become a serious problem.  The internal audits simply report on differences between the written process and the recorded process, and all differences are jointly assessed to determine whether they are an improvement or a lapse.  No blame is attached to any variation in use.


RPM offers many other advantages.  Checklists speed operations and approved documents can have electronic signatures of managers to speed up transmission of information.  There will be far less likelihood of errors occurring, and the resulting management blame, another demotivator.


Similarly RPM can assist in supervisory or subordinate problems.  A supervisory need may be to keep in touch with the status of particular projects.  Instead of the supervisor dominating proceedings by insisting on certain report formats and timeframes, the person or persons carrying out the projects are asked to propose a process that meets all of the perceived needs of the supervisor.  The end result must be better than that resulting from the parent-child relationship usually existing.


Time will be the main gain from using RPM techniques.  The more efficient and hassle-free processes will allow the worker to achieve greater time management.  This will free up valuable time which should be filled with growth-generating activities.  The better relationship with the supervisor or manager should create the environment in which work can be taken on that is more fulfilling than the routine work of the position.


So, we get back to the job interview.  Under RPM, the employee who has recently left will have produced the position description and this will have been approved by the supervisor or manager.  As well as descriptions of the work to be done, it will include personal attributes necessary for the work, and an account of the likely difficulties to be faced.  It will not be selling the job to the wrong person, but attracting the right person with the right personality to excel.  Under RPM, it will not be the Human Resource Department and senior management that determines the interview process, the agreed process will be generated upwards from people who have recently been interviewed.  Senior management’s main need is to get the right person into the position, in a fair and transparent way.  The interview process must achieve this.  Answering very boring selection criteria has become the norm, with the most effective exaggerations usually winning the right to be interviewed.  The best actor or actress then gets the job.  Under RPM this will change dramatically.  Each area of the organisation will have different processes that fully meet its needs.  Interviews may well be carried out by future colleagues over lunch.  Selection criteria may pose questions relating to overcoming difficulties experienced by the previous employee during their tenure.  There are many possibilities, all thanks to RPM.    



Taking a new step . . . . is what people fear most (Dostoyevski)







Byrne, M 2006, ‘The implications of Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory for management in the Irish health sector’, Health Care Management, vol.25, no.1, pp.4-11.


Chyong Y 2002, ‘Analyze motivation-hygiene factors to improve satisfaction levels of your online training program’, College of Engineering, Boise State University.


Deming, W 2000, The new economics for industry, government, education, MIT Press.


Herzberg F, Mausner, B & Snyderman, B 1959, The motivation to work, 2nd edition, New York, John Wiley & Sons.


Kohn A 1993, ‘Why incentive plans cannot work’, Harvard Business Review, September-October, pp. 54-63.



Scholtes, P 1998, The leader’s handbook, McGraw-Hill