The traditional approach
Many managers attend traditional management training, or have learned from their peers, that you need to supervise people closely in order that they do what they are supposed to do. The traditional approach is to give people instructions then watch closely to see that they carry them out. We are obsessed with ‘presence’. In other words, we measure progress not by what people deliver, but by how many hours they are present doing it. We judge progress by adherence to ‘processes’, which were probably written by someone in a very different operating environment. Sometimes we do this to the extent that following the processes correctly becomes more important than delivering a beneficial result. If we even know what this is! Lost in this tangle of procedural red tape, we have lost the ability to innovate, solve problems and deal with change.
With the advent of the Internet and access to working with people around the world, we have reached a tipping point in management. We are entering a new stage in the way we work together. There is a growing awareness that we are seeing a shift in the whole management paradigm. Many are trying to evolve and tweak the old management model, with the result that we are drowning in a sea of processes, procedures and controls. To the point where we focus so much on the process that the whole purpose of what we are doing is lost. Management requires a completely new approach.
Back to the industrial revolution
At the time of the Industrial Revolution when management, as we know it today, first appeared, the relationship was one of ‘boss’ and ‘worker’. Workers would clock in at the beginning of the day, be instructed on exactly what to do, and clock off when they were finished. Although many were highly skilled, they were usually not well educated. They would generally have no say in purchasing new equipment or changing working methods etc. There was very little room for initiative or variance. They worked the specific hours they were told to do, and their time was strictly controlled.
Days were long and hard. The role of their manager, who often owned the business (or factory) they worked in, was to control their work rigidly. They believed this because ‘The workers couldn’t be trusted to do the work otherwise’. Especially after the evolution of mass production where it was necessary to avoid accidents and sabotage. Work was tedious, boring and hard.
The rise of bureaucracy
As organisations grew bigger, managers could no longer directly manage the workers. Therefore, they started to implement clear detailed processes to ensure workers did as required when the manager was not present. Thus, we invented the ‘prescriptive procedure’, which achieved its height when applied to administrative processes – bureaucracy had arrived!
Roll the clock forward to today and this bureaucracy has grown and grown to overwhelm the very managers it was invented to help. Now, in the same way as manual workers, managers are bound to work in certain prescribed ways long after the need to do so has gone.
Today, many people are knowledge workers. They are articulate, well-educated and well informed. This means they have a great deal to offer but frequently feel ‘underused’. They are constrained from adding all the value they could by ‘The boss’ model of management together with complex workplace politics and procedures that come with it. We measure productivity, but still assume this means simply the number of widgets produced or the number of hours worked, as measuring the quality of output when it is knowledge based is rather difficult.
We badly need something better.
Old management is dead
A number of people have written about the demise of the old style of management. Notable amongst them is Gary Hamel, the originator of the concept of ‘Management 2.0’, who postulated that managers increasingly conform to an increasing level of management bureaucracy designed to minimise any variability and to ensure everything is always done the same way, regardless of appropriateness to the particular situation.[i]
Unfortunately, – or fortunately, depending on how you look at it – it is extremely difficult to manage this way when the participants are in different companies and in different countries, where customs, practices and cultures may be very different. You may feel tempted to add in yet more processes to try to overcome this. If so, Stop! Don’t do it! It simply makes action impossible!
Fortunately, managers around the world are beginning to resist this old way of thinking, as organisations face unprecedented increases in the rate of change. These organisations are experimenting with new ways of organising, motivating and working with teams e.g. Holacracy[iii], Heterarchy[iv] and Wirearchy[v]. They are moving away from rules, control and power, and towards environmental adaptation, facilitation and mentoring – and the wider distribution of decision power. As they do this, they are looking at new ways to measure productivity where quality and quantity are equally important.
New management models
Some managers have had the courage, and the opportunity, to turn the old management model completely on its head. Ricardo Semler[vi] famously did this within Semco, his own company in Brazil, by adopting a ‘radical’ policy of openness and trust. He enabled workers to set their own hours and decide their own production targets, and he taught them how to understand the financial functioning of the business. This required a high level of trust, something that is sadly lacking in most large organisations today. Although there were (and still are) a great number of detractors, the Semco story demonstrates that a ‘trust-based approach to management’ is not just theory, but can actually work in practice.
There are as yet no well-defined approaches or new management models to replace the old ones. There is a growing discussion of what such an approach might look like e.g. the Management 2.0 Hackathon[vii] and many CMI[viii] discussions in the UK. To explain fully what this new ‘shared leadership’ model would look like would take a whole book, so here are just a few highlights of how this new management paradigm would look in practice.
New management means you think and act like a Facilitator
Whether you are a manager in charge of a team, or part of a team of collaborating professionals, your role is to facilitate goal achievement, not to tell the team how to do this. In a team of collaborating professionals, you each take the facilitation lead at different times. This means that everyone is responsible and committed to doing their best to achieve the goal.
New management means trust, but verify
A lot of us talk quite glibly about ‘empowerment’ without really understanding what this really means. Empowerment means you give people the freedom to exercise assigned ‘power’ to make decisions and take actions when they feel ready, accountable and supported. It means you take a step back and do not interfere even when the team is taking an approach that you would not take. It does not mean abdication, but facilitation. Therefore, even though you trust people to be progressing towards agreed goals, you still ask questions about where they are. Perhaps they need your help, but are reluctant to ask. Maybe their culture makes it difficult to give you bad news about delays or problems.
New management means being relaxed about not having people on tap
Managers often forget that flexible working can mean that the team will not all work the same hours or in the same way. And that that is OK. Agree with each person how they want to work, so you know when to call them. It does mean you will have to be more flexible too, and respect their time. Unless it is an emergency, does it really matter if you do not get an instant answer?
New management means establishing a supportive working climate
A supportive working climate encompasses a community of inquiry (a climate of trust and belonging that supports interaction and questioning). Learning activities help participants progress through the phases of inquiry: problem definition; exploration of content and ideas; integrating ideas into a structure or solution; testing the validity or usefulness of the outcomes. Facilitate opportunities for people to interact formally and informally – create opportunities to establish trust and help people get to know each other.
Do not substitute presence with process
Under the old styles of management the manager added more processes to ensure that the unseen team members knew exactly what tasks they should be doing and when. The new way of managing means that you trust everyone in the team to be committed to the goals, and truthful about progress.
Challenge assumptions of control
It is difficult for people used to the old ways of working to adapt to new ways of management. Be alert to signs of assumptions of control, as opposed to temporary leadership, by any one member of the team.
New management means you do not need to see people
How do you know what people are doing if you cannot see them? You do not need to. Agree clear and measurable objectives, agree deliverables, then trust them to deliver and see if they do.
Do not assume that if people do not ask for help, everything must be OK
While you don’t check in with your team every 10 minutes, don’t forget to check in with them at least sometimes to see if they may need help, for example via a weekly catch-up call or, if you are in the same office, a regular walk by.
Expect the team to anticipate change and negotiate as appropriate, so everyone has the opportunity to review and agree the impact collectively.
Give (and ask for) regular positive and immediate feedback
Do not expect people to share responsibility and feel trusted if they do not know what you think. Also, remember that a good way to encourage the acceptance and processing of feedback is to demonstrate it yourself!
Do not be a boss – help the team to lead themselves as they need. We have found that a looser structure makes people ask more questions, and question the approach. Everyone in the team needs to be able to step up and lead the team, according to what the team is doing at any one moment in time.
Individual members need to have the skills to lead when appropriate, and the skills to follow and openly contribute when needed too. If there is an overall manager, they must see their role as a facilitator/collaborator, quite different from the traditional management role.[ix]
Expect (and encourage) disruptive behaviour
OMG I hear you cry! However, the alternative is complacency and stagnation. Disruption, in the sense of disruptive innovation, is a step change in thinking or action that can create a major improvement in process as well as outcomes. Certainly, it has additional risk but, if you prepare for it, it can offer untold opportunities and major progress.
New management references
[i] The Future of Management, Gary Hamel
[iii] ‘Holacracy is a real-world-tested social technology for agile and purposeful organization. It radically changes how an organization is structured, how decisions are made, and how power is distributed.’ www.holacracy.org
[iv] Warren McCulloch (a medical doctor) first employed the concept of Heterarchy in a modern context in 1945. He did not define it in detail, so there are a number of different definitions. The most common interpretation is that a Heterarchy, unlike a vertical Hierarchy, essentially defines a horizontal network of interconnected groups, each of whom have shared responsibility for the agreed outcomes of that group within the context of the overall goals.
[v] “Wirearchy is about the power and effectiveness of people working together through connection and collaboration … taking responsibility individually and collectively rather than relying on traditional hierarchical status” John Husband www.wirearchy.com
[vi] ‘Maverick’ Ricardo Semler – Random House 1993
[vii] “The Management 2.0 Hackathon is a large, online, problem-solving event that will harness the collective intelligence of progressive management practitioners and technologists from around the world, using a social networking platform to collaborate. The Hackathon is a hands-on, collaborative effort focused on generating fresh and practical answers to today’s management challenges, as well as equipping participants with the skills to become inspired management innovators.”
[viii] Chartered Management Institute – the leading group for management practice in the UK
[ix] This notion is covered in Hamel’s concept of ‘Management 2.0’ and in Sally Blount’s work on the prospect of a collaboration economy or what we might call an ‘e-economy’