AXIS Performance Advisors

Demystifying sustainability

Reinventing Management

 

Copyright 1996 AXIS Performance Advisors, Inc.

Reinventing Management

This is the first in what we hope will be a regularly occurring (at least annual) feature of our newsletter ­ “theme” issues. We are kicking off the new year by examining the theme of management and how the role of manager is changing. In this issue we examine it from three perspectives:what the new role is, what it takes to succeed at it, and where you can get more information or help. As always, your comments are welcome.

Managing Ain’t What It Used to Be

Courtesy Photostock

Courtesy Photostock

It’s not easy being a manager these days. With downsizing, right sizing,and delayering, most managers feel like an endangered species. Manager-bashing has become a national sport with articles like “Who Needs a Boss?”(Fortune Magazine) and consultants like Tom Peters and the late Edwards Deming blaming most organizational problems on management. Amidst all this abuse, organizations are asking managers to “empower” their employees,”hand off” many of their responsibilities, and become good “coaches”to their employees. Being a manager ain’t what it used to be!

Why Management Is Changing

It helps to understand why these changes are taking place. Foremost on the list is global competition. It used to be that you could tell your customers,”Right, fast, or cheap: pick any two.” Now customers are demanding­ and getting­ all of the above. Traditional management and its chain of command simply takes too long.

Work is also becoming more complex. With new regulations, laws, and technologies­ not to mention more diverse customers ­no one person can know enough to make informed decisions. Remember General Motors trying to sell their Nova in South America (where “no va” means “don’t go”)? Decisions require a team approach.

Knowledge work is replacing physical work as the primary competitive advantage. Physical work can be managed traditionally. You can observe my work and closely measure my output. But when the primary task is inside and between craniums, a traditional manager can’t always tell if someone is working! You can’t demand I have a good idea today. You have to engage my commitment. Typically traditional management only results in compliance.Organizations need the passion and energy of all their employees if they hope to compete in the 21st Century.

What’s a Manager to Do?

The only value-added you bring is to do what your employees cannot do.If you are performing a task or making a decision that someone of lesser salary could do competently, you are wasting your organization’s money.Tough words, but true.

So begin by taking an inventory of what you are doing. Then ask yourself,which of these tasks could employees do if given a little coaching, training,or assistance. Don’t underestimate your employees! Employees in some organizations set their own pay scale, make major capital purchase decisions, and help set organizational strategy. At home, your employees manage complex schedules,lead volunteer efforts, hire contractors, manage budgets, and secure mortgages.You should be taking advantage of their existing skills. Delegate most of your responsibilities to your employees over time.

Then ask yourself, “If I gave up all these tasks, what would I love to do that would add value to my organization?” Chances are, you’ll come up with a long list of potential projects, problems you’d love to solve,new information/fields/technologies to explore. Then build a proposal around the ideas you like the most and propose the concept to your manager.

Ask your teams what they’d like to see you do more of and less of. I always found my employees were the best source of information about how to become a better manager. Ask them, “What could I do to help you be more productive?” Add their requests to your list of new responsibilities.

What’s the pay-back for you? One of our clients put it this way. “It’s great! People bring me solutions instead of problems.” Then she sighed.”I don’t have to be God anymore.” Being a traditional  manager means being responsible for everything, being expected to be right all the time, being expected to know everything that’s going on. That’s a lot for any one person to carry. Most managers are relieved to share their load.

There is more than enough work in most organizations to keep managers employed. It’s just different work. Learn to be a good team builder, coach,and technical expert, and you will have no problem remaining employed.

What Helps Managers Change

Practically everyone now agrees that the role of manager is changing dramatically. Managers used to be expected to lead, direct, staff and control­ or so said our management training. Now, however, managers must learn to coach,empower, and yes, still lead. As best-selling author Larry Miller puts it,”The successful manager of the future… will learn to derive pleasure not from the making of decisions but rather from ensuring the best possible decision is made.”

This is a dramatically different role, and the transition is a tough one for many managers. Those who can’t make the change soon find themselves sidelined, demoted, or even laid off. With the trend toward flatter organizations,only those who can make this transition will keep a management job in the future.

So how can we help managers make this difficult change? Last year, our company conducted a research study to answer this question. We asked managers in organizations across the country to indicate the effectiveness of various development strategies (e.g., attending workshops, talking with other managers,etc.). We compared the frequency of use and the effectiveness of each strategy.Here is some of what we learned.

What most managers tried to improve their skills

Interestingly, we found that the strategies that were used most often were the least effective! The most popular strategies were drawn from the middle or bottom of the list in terms of effectiveness. Most managers preferred:

  • Sharing ideas informally between managers
  • Attending public seminars
  • Participating in professional associations
  • Reading books and articles
  • Being involved in work redesign efforts
  • Attending in-house workshops
  • Participating in formal manager meetings where challenges were discussed

Notice that most of these strategies have no teeth. The strategies lack consequences for not using what was taught. There are no feedback loops to let the managers know how well they are doing. These strategies are safe and often helpful supplements to a management development plan. But they are inadequate if you are serious about changing your behavior and effectiveness as a manager.

What did the best managers find effective?

If you are serious about making a change, take note of what the most empowering managers did. (“Consultant” below refers to an internal or external advisor­ a coach for the coach.) These were the most effective strategies used by more empowering organizations (listed in order of effectiveness):

  • Provide the manager access to a consultant on demand
  • Conduct team assessments surveying the effectiveness of the work group
  • Have a consultant talk with the manager’s employees to monitor progress (and report back to the manager as appropriate)
  • Have a consultant observe the manager and provide feedback
  • Take managers on site visits to meet with peers in more advanced organizations
  • Conduct climate surveys to assess employee satisfaction.

Note how these strategies provide feedback. They have teeth.

Interestingly, in-house workshops fell in the middle of the pack in effectiveness.Attending public seminars, reading books, listening to audio tapes, and going to conferences were rock bottom on the list. Remember that this does not mean you should not do these low-impact strategies. Just don’t fool yourself into thinking they will provide the development you need.

Finding a Coach for the Coach

All the managers I know who made a dramatic change have said that getting a coach­, a trusted advisor, who would confront them and challenge their thinking­ was absolutely critical to their development. So it’s no accident that three out of the top six strategies listed above refer to the use of
consultants.

Who can play this role? Often the best place to look is inside your own
organization. If you can find someone who watches you interact with people
every day and who is knowledgeable about the future role of manager, cultivate
his or her trust and ask for feedback. In addition to these two characteristics,
look for these qualities.

Someone who:

  • Is not afraid to tell you the truth
  • Has good observation skills
  • Has good communication skills­will be tactful but direct
  • Will maintain confidences
  • You respect.

Often internal people lack a strong theoretical foundation to guide you.
They may be able to tell you what you are doing wrong but can’t show you
how to do it right. In these cases, it is often helpful to supplement the
feedback you get from internal people with that of an external consultant.
They can also be particularly helpful if you are reluctant to reveal your weaknesses to someone inside your organization. In addition to the qualities listed above, look for a consultant who has practical experience (i.e.,someone who has actually managed people and shouldered the pressures of making payroll) as well as a strong theoretical foundation. Shop around until you find a someone with whom you feel comfortable.

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