TO BE OR NOT TO BE … A MANAGER

The best job I ever had was being a computer salesman for Digital Equipment Corporation in the 1970’s. I was the only one in my territory of the South Island of New Zealand and my boss was miles away in Auckland so I saw him only rarely. I shared the office in Christchurch with two young hardware engineers and my secretary, whose only job was to look after my business needs.

Author: Brianski; via Wikimedia Commons


The only responsibilities that I had were to win some new deals, make my quota and look after my customers, and all of these tasks were easy to do. I had total control of my work time and when I left the office in the evening my time was my own. My weekends were devoted to doing whatever I wanted to do and that rarely involved anything at all to do with my job. The 70’s were really exciting times in the computer industry and DEC was changing the world with its range of PDP-8 and PDP-11 minicomputers and setting it afire with the new VAX range. I was being well trained and developed mainly in Australia and the US, being well paid and rewarded with a good salary, generous performance bonuses and trips to exotic places for Achievers clubs.

I lived in one of the nicest places on earth. Christchurch was a city of about 300,000 close to some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the world with a great climate, wonderful cultural facilities such as the Czech quartet who were visiting in 1968 and who had stayed on when Russia invaded Czechoslovakia. I had a wonderful group of friends and was enjoying an active single life.

Author: P. Stalder; GNU Free Documentation License; via Wikimedia Commons


Life could not have been much better, when I was offered a promotion to Auckland as NZ Sales manager.

What actually makes people move into management roles, particularly when they love doing what they are actually doing, and what possessed me to give away an idyllic life and move to Auckland to accept a management role ?

I had been in a management role before joining DEC, as the IT Manager at International Harvester, and while I had also loved this job, I knew that with my move to Auckland I would be losing all the freedoms that I now had, and would have to spend my time worrying about what and how others were doing, rather than just worrying about and pleasing myself.

I would actually like to be able to say that the reason for my move to management was that I craved a promotion, that it was a calling and that I understood that a management career was my divinely inspired fate, but the real reason that I accepted the promotion was just a case of “cherchez la femme”, and no other reason. I had met an incredibly exciting young woman and she just happened to live and work in Auckland, and I felt that she was definitely worth the move.

I now know that I am not alone in that my move into management had little to do with any true, deep desire to actually be a manager, and it took me some considerable amount of time and learning over the coming years to realise that it was what I was meant to actually do with my work life.

When, towards the end of my career, I took up the role as a Global Head of HR, we thought it would be important to run some surveys amongst management people in the company to find out what issues and challenges they were facing, to ensure that the HR organisation could do some things that would actually help the business units.
One technical division that we chose to work with had over 300 people in management positions, being roles that were defined by the fact that they had performance responsibilities for people other than just themselves.

One interesting, and yet troubling, finding was that about one third of these managers didn’t actually want to be in “people responsible” roles, and not only would have preferred to have stayed in “individual contributor” roles, but most of them also said that they would gladly move out of their management role if they were given the chance to do so without repercussions.

It turns out that most of these people had been offered promotion into management roles primarily because of their vocational skills and their bosses’ belief that this would make them capable of leading and inspiring others in their field of expertise, without anyone really discussing and evaluating not only their suitability but also their actual desire to move up the ladder into leadership roles.

Author: ThisIsRobsLife; CC BY-SA 3.0 license


The reason that they had accepted the promotion was that this was the only way that they had felt they could make more money, get more influence or more status in the company or just have a greater say and some input and control on what projects that they got to work on.

It was obvious that the dual career paths that we had in place for the vocationally brilliant didn’t actually work, and as a result we had ended up with a large percentage of people in management roles who didn’t particularly want to be there, and despite their upgraded titles and improved salaries were doing little in terms of managing their people, but were spending most of their time actually doing their pre-promotion tasks.

Over the last 40 years I have realised that many people working in management roles didn’t actually plan for nor make the decision to do so, but that it just “sort of, somehow, kind of happened”.

I have found this particularly true in European companies where management is still seen as just an add-on to vocational brilliance rather than as a profession, and where there is little chance for true advancement outside of a management stream (See “Flogging a Dead Horse” posted on July 2, 2010).

Until we can get to a stage where we recognise the difference between vocational and management characteristics and skills and treat each accordingly, and hence differently, we will continue to make management appointments a hit and miss art, and keep putting people into roles where we lose the vocational brilliance and replace it with incompetent management.

As author Paul Dickson said “Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig.”

Author: Guido Gerding; GFDL license; via Wikimedia Commons


BUSINESS LEADERSHIP ISN’T CHANGING QUICKLY ENOUGH

If global competition and business processes are changing so quickly, why aren’t our leadership practices changing at the same rate to keep up with business needs?

A recent study carried out by Development Dimensions International (DDI), a US based Talent Management organisation, showed that whilst business needs and the business environment have all changed dramatically, business leadership practices have hardly changed in the last decades to keep pace.

The DDI study showed that:

“The leadership practices in most organizations received a resounding thumbs-down, with only a quarter of the HR professionals questioned for the report rating the quality of leadership in their organization as very good or excellent, and just a third of leaders giving themselves and their peers high marks.”

via Wikimedia Commons


A worrying finding of the study is that despite the emphasis that is being given to all aspects of leadership today, and despite the fact that corporate leaders are under global and public powerful scrutiny at all times, the results of the survey show that the quality of business leadership has not improved, and may have actually been declining for a long time in relative values against new and confusing market environments.

Of even greater concern is that there was little confidence that companies are building the next generation of high quality leaders. Only 18% of those surveyed felt that “… the leadership pipeline will produce the individuals needed for the future … “ (only 14% in the US), yet less than half of the companies surveyed had a process for identifying high potential talent and even fewer had a process for growing and developing these individuals once identified, despite the fact that this was seen as one of the key skills expected in business leaders. This becomes even more critically important in an environment where the baby boomers are all in the process of moving out of their corner offices and into their retirement condos in Florida and Nice.

Author: W. M. Connolley (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


Supporting the DDI findings, the American Management Association found that fewer than one in ten Fortune 1000 organisations actually had made any attempt to integrate recruitment, or management development and succession planning, with strategic business objectives, and found that only 1 in 5 companies even have any succession plans in place to cover the sudden loss of a key executive, and a quarter of them had no succession plans in place at all.

Even when companies do have Hi-Potential programmes and succession plans in place, these are often just window dressing and thus disregarded, as in many cases they are done to be seen to be doing the right thing rather than representing any real plans to identify, develop and build future leaders. Most Hi-Potential programmes are based more on a manager’s propensity to identify and salute those that are acting in his image, and most succession plans are based more on what those above expect to see rather than a true reflection of who should be the right person to take a step up. When it comes to promotions, over 70% of senior executive appointments tend to come from outside the organisation anyway, and of the less than 30% that are internally filled, about 70% will be totally different to that shown in the succession plan, meaning that generally less than 10% of promotions are based on any real planning at all.

This may be the one major reason that so few companies bother to do any real succession planning in the first place.
Quite a vicious circle !

If management in an organisation is not good enough to start with, how will they know what initiatives are needed, and how they should be implemented to drive the changes that are needed to improve the situation?
This is also not helped by today’s business schools.

Author: Tatu Monk (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


For example, many of the case studies used in helping to educate our future business leaders are even older than the MBA students, and whilst they may help students in the process of problem solving, and may even deliver some interesting lessons in business life, they do tend to suggest that not much has changed in the last 20+ years, for example, in the way that business is done, in the way that technology has become so pervasive, in how people are managed and motivated, in the changing expectations and definitions of work in successive generations or in the way that partnerships or co-opetitions are handled. Most importantly these case studies do not take into consideration how social media are changing the entire world, including business, and not just personal, communication. I understand that some of these topics may be covered separately but this does not seem to be enough.

One problem with most business schools is that many of their academic theories don’t actually work well in business practice, while conversely the things that good managers do to succeed in practice don’t actually work well in the business school theories.
So we keep seeing once great companies going into decline, and we excuse this as just being a result of some global economic downturn, new competitors or changing markets, rather than on inadequate management skills that have had little real chance of being able to adjust and adapt quickly enough.

Charles Darwin said “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is that is the most adaptable to change”.

Author: Elliott & Fry; via Wikimedia Commons


To this I would add … “At some time in the life cycle of every organisation, its ability to succeed in spite of itself runs out.”

MANAGEMENT OR LEADERSHIP

I am often asked about what is my personal differentiation between management and leadership, and while I believe that a lot of this current discussion on this topic is something to keep academics and consultants busy, I do believe that there is a difference.

Some time ago someone said to me that the difference was that “We lead people and manage things”, and whilst this is simple to say, it is only because it is for simple minds, as I believe that it is wrong.

I believe that in reality we both lead and manage people.

Peter Drucker comes closer when he says “Leadership is doing the right thing, management is doing things right”, but whilst I am a rabid devotee of Drucker, I believe that this too is not enough.

Leadership being doing the right thing involves setting a direction for the future, ensuring that the resources and the culture (behaviours) are aligned with the needed end goals, identifying what has to be changed and how do we go about driving this change.

Once this is done management, being doing things right, then has the role of making this happen against the objectives that have been set and are cascaded through the organisation.

The issue is that I do not believe that this can be as clearly defined or delineated as much discussion, particularly over the last 10 years, tends to imply. Both capabilities are critical for a successful executive and trying to suggest that the CEO needs to be a leader and his direct reports need to be managers, misses the point that they all need to be both at different times.

Too many people confuse being a wonderful, fluent, charismatic and inspiring speaker with being a great leader. I believe that this is the main reason that electorates become quickly disillusioned with elected representatives, whether this is as President of the US or as Lord Mayor of North Sydney. We tend to be attracted to elect people that have the ability to “sing to our hearts” through words and presentation, or just animal charisma and image, with little ability to test whether they actually have the skills to run a national cabinet of ministers or a group of city councillors. Arnold Schwarzenegger won public support for his run for Governor of California because people wanted to believe that his on screen tough-guy persona was the reality of the man needed to slay the state’s budget deficit dragon of the past decade … after all he had done tougher things as “Conan the Barbarian” . The “Governator” recently had to step down with an increased budget deficit of around $ 20 billion that he had had little success in denting, let alone banishing it forever to Cimmeria.

by Photographer Mate 3rd Class Stefanie Broughton; via Wikimedia Commons

The problem is that the skills needed to win elections are not necessarily those that are needed to run a business enterprise whether this is a country, a city council or a corporation. The needed skills are a blend of great leadership and great management.

Source: Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection, 1964; via Wikipedia

Being able to build a compelling, well articulated vision without an ability to execute, is actually worse than having a lesser strategy that can be well executed, though you have to be careful that you are not like the 2 blind men hurrying down the street with absolutely no idea of where they are going, but content in the belief that they are making good time.

Source: Lee McLaughlin, Author: Lee McLaughlin, Date=1973-07-03, Permission=© Lee Mclaughlin

Good leaders with little management skills are hoping that the management capability of those below them will ensure successful execution, whilst great managers with little leadership skills create an organisation with good logistics and little excitement. I worked for one CEO who believed that everything in business could be encapsulated in mathematical formulae, and he built his strategies on this premise. He would then not cascade the strategy too much as he had an inherent fear that if his competitors discovered his magic equations they could outmanoeuvre him.

Great leaders need to also be great managers and vice versa, and seeking to separate them for the sake of academic discussion does them both a disservice.

FLOGGING A DEAD HORSE

I have lived and worked in Europe for the last 9 years after more than 30 years working in the IT Sector in NZ, Australia, Singapore and the USA, and have worked with, for, and also been responsible for, hundreds of different Managers at varying levels of seniority in that time. I came to Europe with high expectations of what I would find from a Management skills perspective. I have to say that I have been extremely disappointed by not only the Management skills that I have found here, but also by the attitude that I have found towards building professional Management.

Europe has generally not built a culture of management as a profession, not built a culture where management skill is highly valued as critical a skill as vocational excellence, but has tended to build business cultures where management as a science, as an art, as a way of life is seen as just an add-on. In many cases, management excellence is only seen as a “nice to have” rather than as a mandatory set of skills in senior executives. There is a lot of discussion in Europe about “leadership” and this is often transposed and confused for “management”, but in most European countries, the objective is the discussion itself, rather than the desire to go beyond this alone … discussion means that you can sound knowledgeable without ever having to do something that can actually be measured. It means that the Academics can expound all their theories about Management, without ever having had to live them. I have had numerous arguments with Academics in most countries when I felt that their theories could not work in practice. They tended to believe that this was acceptable as my Management practices could not work in their theory anyway. The problem is that this “academic attitude” is also prevalent in much of the Business World.

When I first joined the SAP Extended Board in 1999, I was the then CEO/President of SAP Asia Pacific. We had worked very hard over the previous 5 years to ensure that at SAP APA we had implemented working Management Evaluation, assessment and development programmes in place for all levels of management, and I felt that this was something seriously absent in SAP on a Global basis. When I put a proposal in front of the Board to turn this Management Excellence@SAP Programme into a global reality, I had some interesting reactions from other Board members. One of the executives in particular told me that he felt that Managers were like horses, and that in life you were “…. either born a race horse or a draft horse, and race horses shouldn’t pull carts and draft horses shouldn’t run at Epsom”. His feeling was that any intelligent, well educated, skilled professional could become a manager, and that being intelligent, he would work out what he needed to do in his own time.

Interesting approach, but I have always believed that the difference between a race-horse that looked good, and was well bred, and a racehorse that could actually win races was how well that race horse was trained, and how well he had been prepared beforehand for what was expected of him.

The idea that you could leave a racehorse sitting in a field until race day when you threw a saddle and a jockey on his back, and then expected him to know what to do, and perform well, made as much sense as believing that you could just wake up one morning and play Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, having never actually learned to play a musical instrument. Moreover, whilst this brilliant-to-be Manager was acquiring his skills, what was happening to the people for whom he had been given responsibility?

Even after we had gone ahead (initially on a “skunk works”) with some enthusiasts from across the Company, and then successfully implemented the needed Management Development Programmes on a global basis, and had started to put some measurable value on Management as a skill, and as an asset, at SAP, I still would receive messages from this particular Executive with jokes about “flogging a dead horse”.

The belief that Europe will grow and develop as a major economic powerhouse that will be able to compete against the Americas and the Asians, appears to be more of a hope than a real strategy. I doubt that this will be possible until we all understand that skilled management and leadership is a critical starting point for success, that these don’t just happen because we wish them to, and that creating these skills involves more than just spending a few weeks at INSEAD and then handing out titles.

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=capello&iid=9252354″ src=”http://view.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9252354/the-italian-job-fab-12m/the-italian-job-fab-12m.jpg?size=500&imageId=9252354″ width=”204″ height=”301″ /]

TEACHING OLD DOGS NEW TRICKS

I have been regularly surprised about how many Managers I come across who believe that a valid Management approach is to look for people to do something wrong and then to help them correct it. I surmise that this satisfies two basic urges that these managers must have. The first one is that it gives them a chance to prove that they are more skilled than their subordinate, and therefore justify their elevated position, and secondly it gives them a chance to show that they have retained the Vocational skills that made them the brilliant “engineer” that they were in the first place. For many this helps to overcome the worry that being just a “manager” is not enough.

I have always believed that this is totally the wrong approach, and I am reminded of a friend of mine in New Zealand who went through a rather messy divorce. After the departure of his wife and son, he realized that he was rather lonely and decided that he should get a puppy to keep him company during the evenings and weekends.

Unfortunately the puppy got into the habit of peeing on the floor of his bedroom.  Being a skilled “Engineer”, and seeing a problem that needed solving, he attacked this problem with incredible zeal. Every time that he found a puddle of pee, he would grab the puppy by the scruff of the neck, drag it into the bedroom, rub its nose in the pee, slap it on the rump with a piece of rolled up newspaper, and throw the puppy out of the window. ( he had a one story house so no need to call the SPCA). He could justify this approach by rationalizing that he had shown the puppy the problem (pee on the floor), had administered the resulting punishment (slap), and had shown the solution (do it outside).

After about 10 days of this the puppy started going into the bedroom, peeing on the floor and jumping out the window.

The problem with this approach to problem solving is that the puppy obviously understood the process. It was just trying to cut out the bits that it didn’t like …. It didn’t like having its nose rubbed in the pee nor being slapped with the newspaper.

People are no different.

When we make mistakes, none of us particularly like having our noses rubbed in it, neither do we like being punished for it.

As a result, when Managers take this approach to problem solving, the result is that people take the same approach as the puppy… they start to cut out the bits that they don’t like, such as being caught, reprimanded and punished, which means that mistakes often get hidden rather than being made visible and resolved jointly.

The way to train a newly acquired puppy to pee where you want it to, means that you have to dedicate at least the first weekend to training the puppy on what is expected. You do this by taking the puppy out to the required dog loo every 30 minutes or so, and waiting for the puppy to pee. When it does (and they do a lot), you praise it lavishly, and at the same time give it a command as it does the job. It will very quickly associate the praise and fuss with doing the job in the right way, in the right place, and very quickly the command (like “busy, busy, busy” which we use with our five dogs) becomes the suggestion to the dog that it is time it went outside and relieved itself. The early positive re-enforcement of the behavior that is required, quickly gets established as the pattern of behavior that should be followed.

In this respect, people are not very different.

You can achieve a lot more as a Manager by looking for your people to do something right, and then reinforcing that behavior with praise and reward, than by waiting for the mistakes. I understand that there are times when the mistakes need to be addressed, but if the culture of positive re-enforcement is the predominant one in the group, the need to occasionally address the problems becomes easier to deal with and has less negative impact on the group’s ability to work openly and well together.