For most people, daily work looks like this:

Somebody with a fancy title makes some demands and issues orders, and everyone else rushes to execute them. Privately, the workers grumble that the orders make no sense or that the manager is out of touch. But they do the work as best they can so they can have a job tomorrow.

It’s stressful and not wholly satisfying to anybody—managers or workers. But that’s life.

Or is it? There’s a better way. To get there, we need to understand what’s gone wrong.

First of all, I want to start with a defense of managers. They are performing their jobs and do what higher ups expect of them. Upper management wants increased productivity and bigger profits. Line managers simply pass along those demands—with some “personal style” added. And, indeed, managers not only meet the expectations of their superiors, they also manage—more or less—according to what they are taught that managers are supposed to do. If you have an MBA (as I do), you are taught a bunch of approaches that basically support “command and control” management with some happy talk about job enrichment thrown in.

In other words, make sure your employees do the job and, if possible, make them enjoy it. Management education and conventional wisdom are completely out of sync with human behavior and the reality of work.

There’s a better way. To get there, we need to understand what’s gone wrong.

Managers—no matter how intelligent and well meaning—ARE out of touch. They simply aren’t in the position to know what is happening with their employees day-to-day. They don’t do what their employees do and they don’t see what their employees see. And their employees are smart enough to keep things to themselves because—face it—they are dubious at best about sharing what they know with management.

Okay, then. What IS happening and, as a manager, what should I be doing about it? Or, as an employees with unrealistic orders from my clueless manager, what am I to do?

More on this next time. We’ll need to understand what actually happens at work, how work is done. We’ll talk about process and the role of managers and workers within the processes that actually structure what gets done.

This is the key to productivity and to a better work life for managers and workers alike. We’ve seen the before picture. Now, we want to know what “Good Work” looks like.