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

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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.

 


From Manager to Leader

April 15, 2013

 My Company has an assessment called “Towards Ten Thousand“.  It measures how effectively people in organisations work together.  People who work in teams.  Only we don’t use the word “teams”.  The generic term we use is “workgroups”.  The word “Team” is reserved for only the most highly effective workgroups and there are precious few of them.

I adopt a similar distinction between Managers and Leaders.  Leaders are superior managers.  Leaders are competent technically but what distinguishes them from mImplement | Plan Strategic | Implementing | Implementation plan | Implementation management | Strategy Implementation | Implementations | Implementation guide | Implementation processanagers is their ability to manage people.

Leadership can only be practiced when the manager is responsible for directing the activities of a workgroup.  Four star general and former President of the United States Dwight Eisenhower said that “leadership is the art of getting someone else to do what you want done because he wants to do it”.  So a condition of Leadership is the presence of a goal that the leader is incapable of achieving by him or herself.

Why Kevin Rudd failed in leadership bid

Take Kevin Rudd for example.

Whether you agree with his policies or not, he gives the appearance of being very competent technically.  He is knowledgeable, does his homework and speaks fluently.  But the reason for the coup that ousted him in June 2010 was his lack of leadership – his apparent inability to manage people.  Not only was the cabinet and caucus dysfunctional but the turnover in his staff who tired of his bullying and autocratic style was legendary.  Rudd was soundly defeated in Caucus by 71 votes to 31 when he challenged Julia Gillard for leadership of the ALP in February 2012 yet he remains the preferred leader in all the opinion polls.  The reason for this paradoxical situation can be explained by the difference between management and leadership.  The electorate see Kevin Rudd the manager whereas the Caucus see Kevin Rudd the leader.  The Caucus see Kevin Rudd as sorely lacking in the “art of getting someone else to do what you want done because he wants to do it”.

The Wagon Wheel Way Enterprise Operating System

In the Wagon Wheel Way™ Enterprise Operating System, Leadership is the third of the five key implementation requirements.  Preceding it are Organisational alignment and Management of Change.  Before Leadership can be practiced, everyone needs to understand where the organisation is now, what the overall goal is and the broad strategies for getting there.  Lastly, each staff member needs to understand the role that he or she will play in the journey.  Leadership qualities in the CEO are vital and if absent will lead to poor leadership at the workgroup level.  However, the presence of a CEO who is also a leader does not guarantee the reverse, particularly in a large organisation.  I worked for a company that had an exceptional CEO but his leadership example was not replicated by many of his most senior managers.

Rather than go into leadership theory, the chapter on Leadership in my book “Execution to Die For” focuses instead on Leadership behaviour.  It answers the question – what do leaders do that non-leaders do not?  The reality is that achieving execution to die for requires people at all levels of the organisation to be effective managers of people; being technically competent is simply not enough.

 

A list of Leadership behaviours may be found in Section 2.3 of “Execution to Die For – the Manager’s Guide to Making It Happen.  The book is available in hard or soft copy from Amazon and in hard copy from my web site http://www.planstoreality.com.au

 


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