Many years of working with large and small organisations around the world, helping executives grow and develop, has led me to conclude that a significant proportion of management’s time is valueless or at best adding very little value. I was delighted to find that this is also borne out by research in the work of Richard Koch & Ian Godden: Managing without Management. A seemingly never ending treadmill of meetings, updates, reviews, planning cycles and forecasts mean that managers and leaders get caught up in a vicious, self-fulfilling circle of busyness which many find it hard, if not impossible, to break out – “lots to do but no time to think” is often quoted as an excuse to change. This is such a tragedy because the essential value of our leaders and managers lies in their role to think, and I believe this should be the single purpose of any executive development intervention – to stimulate originality of thought.
This cycle of behaviour is being fuelled by a desire for “more”. Personally I have no problem with “more”. “More” is not the issue. What I believe is the issue is how we go about achieving “more” to alleviate the terrible cost it takes on individuals, teams, companies, families and loved ones. At a personal level, “more” usually means working harder and longer, consequentially we find ourselves with a whole host of organisational and executive challenges such as:
- High levels of employee disengagement and staff turnover
- High levels of stress and work/life imbalance
- Alienation through lack of collaboration due to organisational silos
- Organisational rigidity with greater levels of compliance
- An increasing lack of time to do things due to the illusion of being busy
- An increasing sense of helplessness due to irreconcilable KPI’s
- A lack of meaning in work and “what’s it all about?”
- An increasingly compliant culture lacking entrepreneurial spirit
- Change fatigue driven by hopping from one initiative to another
Over the years, I often see these symptoms being described in various ways in many Executive Development briefs. They are common and recurring themes that executives wrestle with day in and day out. I appreciate there are no easy solutions but there are pointers to a different way of thinking and behaving.
We work and live in a world of more……..
- More leadership for directing and motivating employees in the belief that people need leading and managing in order for them to conduct their daily lives.
Evidence suggests we have an increasingly well-educated, more autonomous generation where notions of leadership are devolved according to the task in hand. Generation Y have been brought up in a more connected, more transparent, technology driven environment. Leadership is defined more on merit than the title you hold.
The antidote – Less leadership with a lighter hand on the tiller. Generally people know what to do given the opportunity to express themselves.
- More management for controlling performance in the belief that people need to be constantly managed and are not capable of doing it between or for themselves.
Evidence suggests, given the opportunity, self-managed systems and teams are much more effective at deciding appropriate actions. People actually thrive on responsibility; the road traffic revolution at Drachten in Holland is one such example.
The antidote – Less management and pull back from imposing more controls, the focus needs to be on freeing human capability through self organisation.
- Organising for greater scale and globalisation is inevitable in the belief that constant growth and expansion is the only model for business (i.e. bigger is better).
Evidence suggests people wish to regain a strong sense of local identity and build communities in which they can be a part of, relate to and be intimate with. The growth of community and desire for stronger local identities can be seen most recently in political debates within Scotland and Northern Spain.
The antidote – Organisations are becoming too big to manage. Humans are most effective working on a human scale. Localisation is the new mantra, building communities with a greater sense of belonging and identity.
- More targets and performance management programmes to become bigger, better, stronger and more profitable in the belief this is the most effective way to achieving success.
Evidence suggests that targets are a form of contractually-based, self-limiting belief and that extrinsic rewards fail in team-based, complex activities. In his book “Punished by Rewards”, Alfie Cohen suggests that people tend to set higher expectations for themselves than anyone else resulting in a corrupting influence on performance.
The antidote – Less targets because not only are they divisive, they set arbitrary limits on human ambition. They become the single (myopic) focus of activity with little thought for meaning, exploration or learning.
- More rules and regulations in response to rogue behaviour in the belief that you can legislate your way out of problems.
Evidence suggests, particularly through the work of Dr. Deming, human nature seeks the route of least resistance. All systems are subject to normal and special causes of variation in performance, requiring different and bespoke approaches rather than crude blanket solutions.
The antidote – Less rules and regulations with a greater reliance on building trust, self-regulation, transparency and market forces.
- More events and projects designed to transform the business in the belief that transformation is a moment-in-time activity for responding to crisis or significant known change that are separate from day to day activities.
Evidence suggests organisations that are proactive, and make transformation and agility part of their DNA, stand a better chance of sustained success. Companies like WH Gore, Toyota and P&G are exemplars.
The antidote – Less one-off events and projects with greater emphasis on building organisations whose DNA naturally and constantly accommodate and respond to change.
- More time invested in creating corporate mission and values statements in the belief that they will focus effort, engage employees and give meaning to work.
Evidence suggests that significant proportions of employees around the world are disengaged and lack meaning in their work.
The antidote – Leadership needs to humanise the workplace by reconnecting people with the activities they perform to the impact it has and the difference it makes.