Organisational Alignment – the universal foundation of enterprise success

November 5, 2015

GeeseIf I offered you one free ticket to a presentation given by an acknowledged world authority on each of the following topics, which presentation would you opt to attend? Remember, you can only go to one of them. The choices are:

I think it’s a fair bet that you didn’t choose Organisational Alignment – not really sexy, is it? No doubt you’ve said to yourself at some stage or other – “I wish my employees were more engaged” or “we need to manage change much better than we do” or “our teams program seems to be running out of steam” but I doubt if you have ever said – “We need much greater organisational alignment”

Yet without organisational alignment every other success factor suffers and the organisation’s ability to bring the enterprise strategy to fruition will fail.

Most observers regard Organisational Alignment as something that relates only to the employees of an organisation. They use a three part definition as follows.

■          Everyone understands where the organisation is now (current reality)

■          Everyone understands the destination (goal) and the journey (strategies to get there)

■          Everyone understands their role in getting there

Enterprise Alignment precedes Organisational Alignment

However before the staff of an organisation can be aligned, the organisation itself needs to be aligned as well. Management has to determine the current reality; management has to agree an overall goal; management has to develop the strategies to achieve it and, lastly management must allocate responsibilities to everyone in the organisation so each may play their role in its implementation. And at the core of this whole exercise is a matching process – let’s call it Enterprise Alignment. It’s the matching of the current and future trends and characteristics of the organisation’s external environment in which it operates with its current and future resources and expertise.

In short Enterprise Alignment is a prerequisite to Organisational Alignment.

Let me illustrate this with two examples. The first involves skeins of migrating geese so beloved by management consultants as exemplars of teamwork. It’s a powerful, emotive analogy but the basis of their performance and subsequent teamwork is Organisational Alignment. The geese can only demonstrate the essence of teamwork because the members of the skein agree where they are now, share a common objective, know the direction in which they need to fly and understand the roles each need to play when the skein is in flight. Even more fundamentally, the need to migrate from A to B at particular times of the year is hard wired into geese. Yet such is their sensitivity to short term climatic change, they will alter both the timing of their migrations and their route according to climatic conditions. This is their version of Enterprise Alignment.

The second example also concerns flight – namely the Boeing 787-9’s recently ordered by Qantas as a key strategy in the rejuvenation of their International division. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce set three criteria as prerequisites for ordering Boeing’s Dreamliner – Qantas International had to be returned to a position of sustainable profitability; the Company had to be capable of paying down its $1 billion of debt and the Qantas long-haul pilots union had to accept changes to the terms and conditions of their employment. The reason for the selection of the -9 variant of the B787 is simple. Its long range – Qantas are investigating non-stop flights from Australia to London – provides Qantas with a resource that matches the trends in international air travel.

Now the fact that Qantas made a Profit Before Tax of $975 million in the 2014/15 Financial Year is clear evidence that Joyce has achieved Enterprise Alignment. The task that has already successfully begun is to develop greater Organisational Alignment to provide the internal environment in which change can be achieved without the sort of industrial conflict that led to the grounding of Qantas in October 2011.

An agreement between Qantas and the long-haul pilots union has now been struck which is a perfect illustration of Organisational Alignment at its most productive.

Everyone understands where the organisation is now

This is what Qantas pilot and president of the Australian International Pilots Association (AIPA) – Nathan Safe had to say about the negotiations over the new agreement. “These changes (to the then current agreement) have been based around building a viable business case for the type of ultra long-range flying capable of being performed by the 787. We have been pleased with the quality and tone of the negotiations …….. and we note the unprecedented level of transparency and sharing of commercially relevant information”. Note the word “unprecedented”. Sharing commercially relevant information was not a hallmark of the previous CEO, Geoff Dixon.

Everyone understands the destination and the journey

Much of the agreement between Qantas and the AIPA remains under wraps because to make it public would have given too much away to Qantas’ competitors. However, with Alan Joyce’s background in scheduling and network planning, one can rest assured that the destination and the journey have been clearly defined and shared with the pilots.

Everyone understands their role in getting there

Building the commercial case for buying and operating the B787 was not solely dependent on securing the cooperation and support of AIPA members. Everyone from baggage handlers and cabin crew to aircraft maintenance engineers have bought into the plan by signing new agreements on the terms and conditions of their employment. Having suffered all the pain of recent years, everyone in Qantas International understands the significance of the B787-9 purchase in placing Qantas on the offensive once again and no one wants to jeopardise its success and the beneficial impact that that would have on job security and career opportunities.

In my book “Execution to Die For – the Manager’s Guide to Making It Happen” I refrained from claiming that any aspect of implementation was ‘the most critical’.

I’ve changed my mind.

Without alignment of the enterprise with its external environment and of the employees within the enterprise, no organisation of any shape, size or form can fulfil its potential. So before you rush off to sign up to some program on employee engagement, effective communication, change management or leadership, you need to ask yourself a simple question. Is our organisation aligned? And if it ain’t, no amount of training in the aforementioned skills will make an iota of difference. It’s doomed to failure.

 

Graham Haines is the principal of Plans to Reality, a consultancy that specialises in the issues of implementation. His most recent book – “Achieving Execution to Die For – a Simple Guide to Making It Happen” – condenses the complete operational cycle from planning and execution to monitoring, measuring and modifying into a mere 18,500 words, taking an hour to read. It also identifies 36 barriers to great execution and how to overcome them. The book is available in hard and soft copy from his web site – http://www.planstoreality.com.au – and you can download the first section of the book – “The Purpose of this Guide and how to use it” for free.      

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Implementation – what universities don’t teach – and won’t? – and can’t? – and should!

November 5, 2015

untitledI’m a bit of a bower bird when it comes to quotations and one that I have always treasured is by 19th Century reformer, essayist, critic, artist – John Ruskin. “What we think, or what we know, or what we believe, is, in the end of little consequence. The only consequence is what we do”.

The ability to get things done – to make it happen – is the quality that most distinguishes great managers from those that merely bear the title as descriptive of the role they are charged to perform. Great managers are rare – so rare in fact that the best of them end up being feted by their peers, honoured by their governments and writing their memoirs.

Given that the ability to execute is the ultimate worth of a manager, one would think that execution would find a place in any university degree program, particularly those programs that have an emphasis on management or HR. Instead what we find is a modular program structure where each topic or subject is a self-contained unit. This modularity facilitates program reviews as units that are thought to have passed their use-by dates can be unplugged and new units inserted. The great majority of these units relate to the technicalities of the subject studied. I have no problem with this. After all, if I employ an IT specialist or a chemist or if I use the services of an Occupational Therapist, then my first requirement is that those people have a technical grasp of the discipline that they have chosen to study.

BUT … if our salesman or brand manager or accountant is any good at his or her job, inevitably they will either be promoted or, if promotion is denied them, seek employment with another employer to further their career. Quite suddenly, the emphasis of their job and the skill set they need to perform it, changes. The hard technical skills become less important than the soft people skills. The key to their success in managerial positions lies in their ability – to quote Dwight Eisenhower – “to get someone else to do what you want because he wants to do it”. It’s still necessary to do the right thing – but hopefully the technical skills will take care of that – the challenge is to do it right – and make it happen.

Conventional wisdom has it that such managerial and leadership skills are learned on the job from your supervisor or manager. I would argue that the current work environment is not conducive to this happening. My anecdotal experience is that the standards of people management are in decline. So shouldn’t it be taught at university? By “it” I don’t mean a unit on teamwork or one on leadership or another on change management – I mean a unit on execution from whoa to go that incorporates all aspects of making it happen. Yet there seems great reluctance on the part of academics to even consider such a unit.

A couple of years ago, I gave a 20 minute presentation on this subject to the members of a Commerce Advisory Board at the University’s Faculty of Business and Law. At its end, despite the fact that no one argued against my hypothesis or questioned any aspect of the hand-outs that were given, there was not even a reference to my presentation in the subsequent minutes of the meeting! Was this an oversight or was it a deliberate attempt to bury the topic?

I suspect it was the latter because I subsequently wrote an article entitled “The Human Side of Planning” in which I claimed that the seeds of success or failure to implement were sown the moment the planners sat down to plan. The article was submitted to the Editor – himself an academic – of an international journal on management. I quote from the email of rejection.

It’s very interesting, but not suitable for an academic journal. Academic journal papers are based on a different approach and have a different objective. Academic papers focus on making small and highly focused extensions to existing knowledge on one very clearly defined issue – either through testing or proposing relationships which are generated from multidimensional perspectives. Academic papers move along fairly linear lines to develop theory in incremental stages and are very clinical.”

The reviewer went on to say that Your article, however, is more holistic and extensive and is more appropriate for a practitioner audience (who would be interested in this type of perspective)”. When I asked another academic whether he would consider using my book “Execution to Die For – the Manager’s Guide to Making It Happen” as a reference for his students, his response was that he couldn’t do this because of the lack of references to other publications. In reality the book has over 50 references but the majority are to people who have been there and done that – or haven’t done that – not to academic research programs. I can only conclude that academics won’t contemplate the inclusion of a unit on execution.

But even if they did, I have doubts as to their ability to develop such a unit. As the reviewer of my article said, the subject matter “is more holistic and extensive” and thus by inference would not be of interest to academics. And I only wrote about a small part of the overall topic! Nevertheless, if the subject matter is not of academic interest, it seems a fair conclusion to make that academics would have great difficulty in developing a unit on this topic. I’m not suggesting that no academics have the ability to appreciate the inter-connectivity of our existence or the ability to weave topics and issues into a cohesive tapestry but the trouble is, they’re all on television making documentary series!

I appreciate that some universities now promote “personal edge” and “capstone” courses but again I would argue that these are still stand alone and rely on the student’s own capacity to see any connections between them. Great execution is a process and, like any process, a) the steps to it are in a specific sequence and b) they can be learned. Still, one might hope that units on team dynamics, interpersonal skills and the adoption of a global mindset might enhance a graduate’s ability at execution. This is not the case. There are too many factors in the current organisational environment that militate against great execution. Change is too frequent; competition between employees is intense; job security is a thing of the past; tenure in the one position has become shorter and shorter – and all these factors develop a “me” rather than “we” mentality. And yet the great achievers, when asked about the reasons for their ability to make things happen, all give credit to the employees they manage. “It was a team effort” is the almost inevitable comment.

It seems to me to be a sad state of affairs that an understanding of what’s involved in developing plans and bringing them successfully to fruition through others is not part of the academic curricula. The reality is that as the work environment becomes ever more hostile to great execution, the need for managers who understand how to make it happen becomes ever more pressing.

Graham Haines is the principal of Plans to Reality, a consultancy that specialises in the issues of implementation. His most recent book – “Achieving Execution to Die For – a Simple Guide to Making It Happen” – condenses the complete operational cycle from planning and execution to monitoring, measuring and modifying into a mere 18,500 words, taking an hour to read. It also identifies 36 barriers to great execution and how to overcome them. The book is available in hard and soft copy from his web site – http://www.planstoreality.com.au – and you can download the first section of the book – “The Purpose of this Guide and how to use it” for free.                       


Do you have a corporate goal?

July 18, 2014

leading people I’m not talking about some corporate vision; in the first instance, I’m talking about a SMART goal, one that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, a Result and Time-related. But a corporate goal should be much more than that.

I recall a Director of a company that I worked for telling the assembled members of a regional office that the company’s goal was to make an overall 10% return on assets employed within three years. Were the staff energised by this revelation? Did they even comprehend what the Director was on about? And if, by some minor miracle, the answer to both these questions was “yes”, would they have understood their role in the goal’s achievement?

To be effective – and far more effective than the vast majority of corporate visions – the corporate goal, in addition to being SMART, needs to display the following characteristics.

a)         It should be understandable to everyone with the minimum of explanation

b)         Everyone should have a role to play in its achievement

c)         It should act as the wellspring of all subsidiary objectives and strategies

d)         It should align the whole organisation behind its achievement

e)         It should promote teamwork and employee empowerment

f)          It should be at the top of the hierarchy of dependency

As Rob Fyfe, ex CEO of Air New Zealand put it – ” A highly motivated community of people working cohesively towards a common goal with a shared sense of purpose …. will almost always outperform an opposition focused primarily on the bottom line, on financial ratios and technical superiority”.

Does the above statement by Rob Fyfe mean that Air New Zealand doesn’t focus on profitability and other financial ratios? Of course not! But it’s not its primary focus and management believes that if Air New Zealand becomes the airline of choice on the routes that it flies, it will lead to higher load factors, less discounting, lower variable costs and ultimately higher profits.

It’s not easy to identify a corporate goal that is both SMART and meets those six additional criteria. But my Customer Feedback Surveys can provide one. These surveys not only provide an overall customer satisfaction index, they also provide that data by individual client and in comparison with my client’s direct competitors. What’s more, they measure the performance of every function within my client’s organisation. High satisfaction levels are not the responsibility of the few, they should involve every employee in your organisation up to and including the CEO. If you do not have a direct or indirect role to play in customer satisfaction, you have to ask yourself what you are doing there. Moreover, high satisfaction levels can only be achieved by “a highly motivated community of people working cohesively towards a common goal with a shared sense of purpose.”

My conclusion is that if you look after your customers, the profit will look after itself.


What leaders do (and non-leaders don’t)

May 1, 2014

In 1984, the late Robert Townsend, CEO of Avis published his second book “Further up the organisation”. The sub-title read – “how groups of people working together for a common purpose ought to conduct themselves for fun and profit”. Among the many words of wisdom – and common sense – was a table in which he contrasted leaders and non-leaders on 50 separate points of behaviour. He ended his list by adding that the reader “now knows more about leaders and leadership than all the combined graduate business schools in America.”

I agree with him.

There is no room here to reproduce the complete list but I’ve selected just 10 which can be practiced by anyone who manages others at whatever level in whatever organisation.

tableI’m going to pick just one from above – “does dog-work when necessary”.dog_working

Heard about a NUM (Nursing Unit Manager) recently. She’s old school – she refers to her nurses as “my girls” and helps out with the bed making if they are short staffed.

Then there’s Ray Creen, head of the NSW Ambulance Service. A paramedic himself, he still rosters himself on one shift a month. “Creen is well aware his staff respect him. He knows exactly what he’s doing when he puts on their uniform and goes out on their jobs. He’s not only practising the profession he loves, he’s nurturing the roots of his authority” wrote journalist Mark Dapin. The NSW ambos are so impressed they have built a Facebook page around him – Ray Creen – Ambo Legend. Morale in the service has risen to unheard of heights since he took the reins in March of last year.

I’ll finish with Rob Fyfe, legendary CEO of Air New Zealand from 2005 to 2012. Fyfe’s unshakable belief was that people were more important than planes. “By understanding our customers better, …. we could win by attracting more customers to fly (Air New Zealand) and ensure we had fuller aircraft rather than trying to win through having a lower cost base, or some other miraculous way (of increasing) our revenue”. A highly motivated community of people working cohesively towards a common goal with a shared sense of purpose …. will almost always outperform an opposition focused primarily on the bottom line, on financial ratios and technical superiority”. During Fyfe’s tenure, he practiced as a flight attendant and as a baggage handler. As a graduate engineer, he was not averse to doing a night shift at the airline’s maintenance hanger at Nelson, nor did he shirk responsibility for answering personally any complaint emailed directly to him.

Has his style of leadership worked? You betcha – Air Transport World voted Air New Zealand “Airline of the Year” in 2012; its profit last year was $182 million and climbing; 56,000 people applied for jobs last year at what is New Zealand’s most admired company.

What’s the real lesson from these examples? It’s that when you behave towards your staff as you would like your staff to behave towards you and you set the example by MBWA and a willingness to do “dog work”, you will tap into the constants of human nature that cut across gender, cultural, religious and ethnic boundaries and job roles and status. As Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson would say – how hard can it be ….?


Holistic – weasel word or word of wisdom?

January 17, 2014

Connecting The Plan With The Current Reality

I was reading an article recently about Adrian Newey, the Chief Technical Officer of Red Bull’s Formula 1 team and one of the primary reasons for Sebastian Vettel’s string of four consecutive world driver’s Championships.  The article began with the following sentence.  “Holistic is a weasel word beloved of management consultants and other such flim-flam merchants, but when it sallies from one man’s mouth (Adrian Newey), you know what he means.”

Indeed, whilst “holistic” might not be as popular a weasel word as “world’s best practice”, “engagement” or “emotional intelligence”, it does make an appearance in Don Watson’s “Dictionary of Weasel Words” where one of his definitions of “holistic” is “taking account of more than one part.  Not partial or fragmentary, thereby yielding superior conclusions.”

However what Newey means by holistic is the capacity to understand how every aspect of a Formula 1 car’s components interact with every other part so that the car’s overall performance is superior to that of its competitors.  After graduating in 1980 with a degree in aerodynamics from Southampton University in the UK, Newey worked his way up from years as a race engineer to senior designer at Williams, McLaren and now Red Bull.  During this period, the design offices at F1 teams have become dramatically larger with dozens of engineers and aerodynamicists working in semi-autonomous groups, each trying to optimise the performance of their particular speciality.  Newey is in a class of his own in his ability to both understand the detail and how each design component will impact on the car’s overall performance.  In contrast, with some of Newey’s competitors, “graduates arrive in design offices without hands-on experience and go straight to the coalface, joining those sub-groups working on individual sections of the car, chiselling away at abstract targets to yield a certain percentage improvement in downforce … and the result is a disjointed overall design that looks as if its constituent elements have been picked and assembled at random.”

But it’s not just the application of holistic thinking to the technical side of the job.  Certainly, like Newey, you need to understand and then orchestrate the integration of every technical function within an organisation so the performance of the whole is optimised.  But it’s one thing to plan; quite another to implement.  You don’t achieve anything if your plans, however brilliant, remain on the drawing board.  Thus, taking a holistic approach requires the manager to appreciate the linkage between managing the technical and managing the people who will bring the plan to reality.

Newey puts it this way:  “When I started at Red Bull, I treated the job as mainly a design based challenge.  But there were two main problems that had nothing directly to do with design.  The first was that this was a team of low morale because there had been a lot of hiring and firing of key personnel with different owners through the years.  The second was a strange type of arrogance – a refusal to acknowledge how mediocre their performance was.”

“It took quite a while for Christian (Horner – Team Manager at Red Bull) and I to create the cultural change that we needed to get away from the ‘we’re happy to finish seventh mentality’.  I wasn’t a believer in setting out that we’re going to win the championship next year.  But I did want to say: ‘This is how we’ll try to go about things.  Let’s see where it gets us – hopefully, further up the grid than we are now.'”

“These days there’s a huge energy through the place.  The factory and the race team are incredibly hard working …….  It’s very rewarding that many of the people who were there from the very early days of Red Bull are still there today.  They are performing at such a high level now.  They’ve been able to really re-invent themselves, and I admire them for that”.

So to summarise what it means to take a holistic approach to management, here are the key points:

■          Think and act holistically – make it your responsibility to achieve an understanding of the “technical” aspects of what everyone does who works for you.

■          If it’s an area that you are not familiar with, sit with the people who are and ask questions – spend time with accounts, your IT team, your customer service people.  Go out with your reps, spend a day in the labs, get behind the customer service desk.  Observe and analyse – but remember it’s your role to take the individual pieces of the jigsaw and connect them to form the big picture.

■          Managing holistically means managing the technical component of the job and managing people.

■          At the risk of using another weasel word, your job is to empower the people who work for you.

■          How to do that?

●          Work with them to set collective goals that are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, a Result – not an activity and Time related.

●          Be visible and available – practice management by wandering around

●          Don’t micro-manage – your role is to set objectives and provide the support and resources for others to accomplish them

●          Encourage innovative thinking – “how could your job be made more effective – how can we collectively improve”?

●          Provide feedback on the big picture – people want to be “in” on things

●          Show appreciation for a job well done.  Everyone at Red Bull, from the cleaners to Adrian Newey received the same bonus of $10,000 for their part in winning the team’s fourth Constructor’s championship.

The sad reality is that our world does not encourage holistic management of the style that Newey epitomises.  Conversely, the rewards for those that do practice it have never been greater.

Graham Haines


Do you have an operating platform?

November 19, 2013

I’m told that the number of apps for SMART phones now exceeds a million; quite a contrast between that statistic and the handful of platforms and operating systems required to support them.Connecting The Plan With The Current Reality

Whilst not showing quite the virility of the mobile apps family, the market for training courses and consulting programs continues to escalate to the extent that no matter what your need, there is a product tailor-made to “fix” the problem.  The trouble is that without an operating platform on which to run this type of applications software, there is a tendency towards treating the symptoms rather than the causes.  Take, for example, a program on teams and teamwork.  It’s a fair bet that the program will encompass team members’ roles, dealing with conflict, active listening, emotional intelligence, communication, team leadership and many other facets of what we instinctively recognise as team attributes.  Games to foster and illustrate teamwork are played and sporting exemplars are tabled.  The program might culminate in an address given by a well-known personality who headed a celebrated team.

Fired with enthusiasm and keen to practice what they have been taught, the attendees return to their everyday work environment.  After a few short weeks, the course is but a pleasant memory and the reality sets in.  The work environment is simply not conducive to the practice of teamwork.

Why is this scenario played out so often?

The short answer is that teams and teamwork, or leadership, or employee engagement or customer service are all dependent variables.  And if you trace their dependency back to their origins, they all end up at Planning.  If you want to get maximum value out of your training budget; indeed, if you want your organisation to be successful – however that is measured – it’s essential that you have an operating platform that sets out the hierarchy of dependency.  That way you know what parameters have to be satisfied in order to extract the maximum value from any “applications software” program and for your organisation to achieve success.

The operating platform is made up of four components, the first of which is independent but with the second dependent on the first and the third dependent on the first and second and the fourth dependent on the three that come before.  The platform has to be constructed in a specific sequence – you can’t build Component 2 until Component 1 is complete.

The four components are as follows:

■          Planning

■          Implementing

■          Monitoring, Measuring, Adapting

■          Revising

They represent an operational cycle – when “revising” is necessary, it’s back to “planning” again.

Within each Component, there is also a hierarchy of dependency at work.  Take “implementing” as an example.  The sequence is thus:

■          Implementing

●          Organisational Alignment

●          Management of Change

●          Leadership

●          Teams and Teamwork

●          Employee Engagement

This component of the operating platform works like this.  Organisational Alignment  – everyone understands where the organisation is now – everyone understands the destination and the journey and everyone understands their role in getting there – is dependent on Planning.  These three criteria should have been addressed at the planning stage.

Next is Management of Change.  Until the organisation is aligned, the changes required to achieve the organisation’s goals will not be known and hence cannot be managed.

Leadership – at all levels – cannot be practiced unless the organisation is aligned and consensus on the required changes has been reached.  If this is not the case, leadership will resemble

“The grand old Duke of York, he had ten thousand men

He marched them up to the top of the hill, and he marched them down again

And when they were up, they were up; and when they were down, they were down

And when they were only half way up, they were neither up nor down”

Now we come to Teams and Teamwork.  There are two prerequisites for effective teams and teamwork.  The first is that the team in question should have a clearly identified purpose and goal, both of which are subsets of the purpose and goals of the organisation as a whole.  Secondly, the catalyst to team development is a “significant performance challenge”.  Teams are a means to an end, not an end in themselves.  Whether these two team criteria are met will depend on Organisational Alignment, Management of Change and Leadership.  And only when they are in place will the applications software on effective teamwork have a platform that is conducive to its long term development.

The last factor is Employee Engagement.  Its position indicates that it is the most dependent of the five variables that together form the implementation component of the organisational operating platform.  If the three criteria for Organisational Alignment are met; if the rationale for Change is understood; if Leadership is such as to accomplish the change required with the minimum of resistance and resentment; if the basics for effective Teams and Teamwork are in place; if team purpose and goals are embraced by team members  – then surely the groundwork for engaged employees has been laid?

Just as there is a hierarchy of dependency for implementation, a similar hierarchy exists for Planning.  Most of the strategic planning that I see places too much emphasis on “this is what we want to do” with too little thought given to “this is how we are going to do it”.  As a consequence, the resultant action program is based on the former rather than the latter.  Executive management fail to appreciate that whilst strategic planning may be determined from above, it is actioned from below.  The vital link between Planning and Implementing is Organisational Alignment.  At the planning stage, OA is about aligning the organisation to its external environment and its internal resources.  At the implementing stage, OA is primarily about the alignment of staff to the outcomes from the planning stage.  At the Monitoring, Measuring and Adapting stage, It’s about both.

Understanding the interdependence of every facet of the operational cycle is no mean task.  Realising that there is a hierarchy of dependency and knowing what order that hierarchy is in adds a further degree of complexity.  That’s why enterprise operating platforms are few and far between but applications software continues to proliferate.

Graham Haines is principal consultant of Plans To Reality that specialises in strategic planning and execution. He is the developer of the unique Wagon Wheel WayEnterprise Operating Platform. Graham has a joint honours degree from Durham University and a Graduate Diploma of Education from Melbourne University. He is both a Certified Management Consultant and a Certified Practicing Marketer. His new book, “Execution to Die For – The Manager’s Guide To Making It Happen” draws on over 40 years’ of practical experience in understanding the interrelationship between all the factors that result in great execution.   His web site www.planstoreality.com.au contains upwards of sixty articles upon which “Execution to Die For” is based.


The Three Skill-sets of an Effective Manager

July 29, 2013

Let me ask you a couple of questions.  No. 1 – who is the best manager that you have ever had?  And No.2 – why did you select that person? Implement | Plan Strategic | Implementing | Implementation plan | Implementation management | Strategy Implementation | Implementations | Implementation guide | Implementation process

It might be that you are hard pushed to think of anyone in response to the first question but if you did identify someone, I bet I know why.  It wasn’t because of that person’s “technical” skills as a salesman or engineer or physiotherapist or teacher.  Nor was it because of that person’s self-management discipline – always had reports out on time, always seemed capable of doing a dozen things at once, never flustered.  No – the reason for your choice was that he or she treated you with respect, made you feel good, made you want to make that extra effort, made you feel part of the team.  In short, you felt empowered.

The qualities required of a manager fall into three skill sets – technical competence, self management skills and leadership skills.

Technical competence requires little explanation – it is simply the knowledge and skills required to undertake the role that has been given to the employee.  Self management skills are the personal attributes that enable employees to effectively exploit their technical knowledge.  Leadership skills – I prefer the term “empowerment skills” – may be defined as the ability to get the best from those for whom the manager is responsible.

The Western education system overwhelmingly focuses on teaching technical competence – even at a tertiary level.  University courses consist of a specific number of units that the student undertakes to acquire an academic qualification.  The units by definition are “single and complete” and are usually taught by a specialist in that particular discipline.  Some universities are now recognising that this narrow focus on technical skills does not adequately prepare the graduate for a subsequent career.  I know of at least one university that is adding  what it calls a “personal edge” module to its Management Degree in the belief that its graduates will have a competitive advantage when seeking employment.

Regarding the third set of attributes – empowerment skills – there are indeed units on Leadership, Change Management, Teams and Teamwork etc, but these units again are taught in isolation from one another and tend to focus on concepts and theory rather than on their practical application in the workplace.

When one considers the utilisation of these skill sets in the workplace, it is evident that, during the course of a manager’s career, the emphasis on two of them undergoes significant change.  At the commencement of one’s career, by far the greatest emphasis is placed on technical knowledge.  When technical knowledge is combined with self management skills, a junior management position will result and the third skill set will be brought into play.  As one’s career progresses, the ability to empower others will eventually supersede technical knowledge as the key requirement.  These days, technical knowledge becomes redundant very rapidly whereas empowerment skills have remained essentially unchanged over thousands of years.

In the final analysis every organisation is judged on its ability to get things done – to achieve its goals.  So a company exists to make an adequate profit; a hospital to cure the sick; a charity to aid the disadvantage; a government to enact legislation etc.  Unless the organisation is extremely small, getting things done can only be achieved by a collective effort and if that effort is to be effectively harnessed, an organisational structure is required, comprising workgroups, departments, divisions etc each with a designated manager.  The role of each manager, whether he or she is responsible for 5 or 5000 people, is to empower others – to get things done.

So given that empowerment skills are not taught at an academic level, how are they acquired?  There appear to be four sources of such knowledge.  The first of these is in-house training programs, the second is external training courses, the third is personal experience of what “works” and what doesn’t and the fourth is learning by example from your manager or supervisor.  All are valuable but I believe that the fourth is the most valuable of all.  I say this because the most fundamental requirement for getting things done – effective execution – is not leadership or change management skills or teams and teamwork.  It’s organisational alignment.  Organisational alignment is the bridge between planning and execution and it’s also unique to the workgroup, the department or the division as the case may be.  Before a manager can effectively deploy his or her empowerment skills, there has to be a collective and clear understanding as to who the customer of the group’s output is, what the objectives are, what the standards are and how the role and goals of your workgroup mesh with the goals of the organisation as a whole.

In my study of the reasons why things don’t happen as the planners intended, four out of the thirteen barriers identified at the planning stage relate to the empowerment of others and since the grand total of thirty-six barriers is arranged in sequential order it follows that an inability to overcome those at the planning stage will seriously compromise the quality of execution – the ability to get things done.

If you mentally selected someone in response to the first of my two questions, it’s highly likely that you chose him or her because that manager did take the trouble to explain the current situation that the workgroup found itself in; did involve you in the planning process itself; did listen to your views and act on your input; did acknowledge the extra work involved in implementation and take practical steps to ameliorate it and was prepared to explain how your workgroup’s objectives fitted with those of the organisation as a whole.  These are the things that good managers do and poor managers don’t.  This is Organisational alignment.  It starts with the alignment of the organisation’s goals to the environment in which it operates.  Next is the alignment of the strategies to achieve those goals.  It ends with the alignment of employees behind that part of the strategy for which they are responsible for executing.  Only when everyone is pointing in the same direction can managers empathetically manage change; display leadership and encourage responsibility; develop teamwork to meet performance challenges; foster employee engagement and set the example for meaningful and interactive communication.

So how widespread is effective leadership?  When I asked you to think about the best manager that you have worked for, did anyone spring to mind or was there more than one contender?  Certainly the research points to a decline in the ability – and I would maintain the willingness – of managers to empower their staff.  And to understand the reasons for this, you have to look at the modern work environment.  These days there are so many forces acting on organisations of every kind that result in one thing – change.  Change that happens with greater frequency and change that is ever more radical.  Its impact on employees is twofold.   Firstly, the timeframe for implementation is diminishing.  That old adage that the more people that plan the battle, the less there are to battle the plan is forgotten in the latest knee jerk reaction to cut costs, outsource manufacturing, install a new IT program, combat a new competitor, react to new legislation etc.  The second impact flows from the first.  Security of employment has pretty much ceased to exist.  There was a time when enforced redundancy was principally caused by poor performance.  Not so these days.  Off-shoring, out-sourcing, sub-contracting, takeovers, mergers, down-sizing, right- sizing, restructuring and insolvency  – employment has never been less secure.  Employee’s response to this insecure environment depends on which generation the employee is from.

Many Baby-boomers react to redundancy with a sense of anger towards management; they feel let down by an employer that did not replicate the loyalty that they have shown; many may also experience a sense of shame despite their performance having had no bearing on management’s decision to dismiss them.

Gen Y, in contrast, have lived in this world of job insecurity for the whole of their working lives.  They feel under less obligation to show loyalty to their current employer because their employer shows less loyalty to them.   Their strategy to counter the ever present threat of redundancy is to use their technical knowledge and self management skills to climb the management ladder as rapidly as possible reasoning that, as they progress, their employability credentials will be enhanced when they seek another job.  Unless the job in question is at the very highest levels of management, the selection criteria will be heavily weighted towards the first two skill sets.  Job insecurity and Gen Y’s reaction to it has further ramifications.  Looking after one’s vested interest takes priority over that of others.  People stay in the same job for much shorter periods of time.  People operate under much greater time pressures.  These three consequences militate against managers exercising empowerment skills.  It takes time that they do not have; it’s not worth it because they won’t be around to reap the rewards of their efforts and even if they were motivated to exercise them, it will do little to enhance their employability for their next career move.

That leaves Gen X.  Such is the pace of change in technical knowledge, many Gen X managers often feel threatened by their more technically advanced Gen Y reports.  When this happens, some managers will seek to neutralise this advantage by withholding information, by deliberately excluding their reports from the planning process and generally keeping them at arms length – in essence not taking those actions that have previously been identified as the foundation steps of empowerment.  There is a lot of truth in the axiom that people join companies and leave managers.

There is one further factor that militates against the managerial deployment of empowerment skills.  Let me take a hypothetical example.  It concerns a hospital nurse.  She has her degree and is recognised as being highly competent from a technical standpoint.  She’s keen and enthusiastic and works hard with a sense of self discipline.  Her relationships with her patients leave something to be desired  – her degree course focused almost exclusively on “technical knowledge”.  Neither its practical application nor soft nurse/patient interpersonal skills featured – the general attitude was that these could be learned on the job through experience.  Her manager is pleasant enough but she has only recently joined the hospital staff.  She doesn’t seem to be adequately informed by her boss on the overall picture except that money is very tight.  She appears stressed and the basic message to her staff can be summarised as “heads down, bums up”.  After 18 months in the job, she takes maternity leave and our nurse is promoted to replace her.  Suddenly, our newly promoted manager needs to exercise a whole new skill set for which she has been inadequately prepared.  Even if she recognises this, she doesn’t take steps to acquire these skills for two reasons.  Her predecessor didn’t display them so she has no example to follow and she feels much more comfortable exercising her technical knowledge.

This scenario is played out again and again where people are promoted because of their technical competence when what really matters in their new managerial position is their ability to empower their staff.  If this sequence repeats itself often enough, managerial role models become increasingly hard to find.  Management mediocrity becomes the norm.

Of course, there are natural leaders.  People who are very competent technically, have excellent self-management skills and who seem to know instinctively how to empower others.  But such people are rare – and becoming rarer.  You may be fortunate to have worked for one but the need for such managers is too great for any economy to rely on those few found in the wild.  We need to domesticate the breed and improve the gene pool with the ultimate goal of breeding managers with all three skill sets that will inspire those whom they manage to emulate their example.

Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, the best selling authors of “The Leadership Challenge” summarised the findings of their extensive research on the subject as follows:  “Managers who focus on themselves and are insensitive to others fail, because there is a limit to what they can do by themselves.  Those leaders who succeed realise that little can be accomplished if people don’t feel strong and capable.  In fact, by using their own power in the service of others rather than in the service of self, successful leaders transform their constituents into leaders themselves – and wind up with extraordinary results”.

If the research is so compelling, why don’t more managers practice the skill of empowering those whom they manage?  It can’t be because the skills are hard to learn.  Indeed, the late James Strong, industry captain and patron of the arts, commented that “the key to leadership is simple common sense – treat people with respect and they will respond, no matter what background they’re from.  It’s worth 5000 textbooks on management, and the tragedy is it’s just plain common sense”.  Perhaps Voltaire had the answer when he observed that “common sense is not so common”.

 

Graham Haines is principal consultant of Plans To Reality. Graham has a joint honours degree from Durham University and a Graduate Diploma of Education from Melbourne University. He is both a Certified Management Consultant and a Certified Practicing Marketer. His new book, “Execution to Die For – The Manager’s Guide To Making It Happen” draws on his over 40 years’ experience. His web site www.planstoreality.com.au contains upwards of sixty articles upon which “Execution to Die For” is based.

 


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