Managers Need to be Aggressive, Right?

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Are you finding it hard to achieve high performance?

It is really hard to get the high performance needed in the business world today. You have to be aggressive, drive people hard to get the performance you need and not accept any excuses.

Well… no.

The seems to be a trend these days for promoting or hiring aggressive people in management. The mistaken belief is that it is the only way to achieve and manage for high performance. When actually the people in any organisation are it’s competitive advantage and the key to truly high performance, which is only released when they are properly led and managed.

Trouble is those hiring or promoting often don’t understand what makes an effective manager. This is not surprising when you look back at the UK Chartered Management Institute’s report Management 2020, which showed a shocking lack of management training in this country.

So taking an aggressive, no-nonsense approach to management out of ignorance is perhaps to be expected. Any thinking manager might first reflect upon what it would be like to be treated like that themselves. Would they give and continue to give their highest performance?

No of course not. Like anyone else they would become apathetic, just take the money and go home at 5 o’clock without a backward glance. The hard-nosed approach often results in high levels of staff churn, which should be of serious concern if managers are truly interested in their costs.

Actually it was ever thus. The young thrusting manager, or as they might be called today, talent, have always been the dream of lazy and ignorant senior management. This is often also the get rich-quick brigade who also follow the lastest quick-fix fashion or fad.

These days there is a massive body of literature on how to be an effective manager and how to achieve the highest, sustainable performance by truly engaging with everyone in the organisation. Critically this means recognising that you are a manager of real people. Management is a skill that needs to be learned by applying that body of knowledge in the workplace with coaching and mentoring support from more senior managers or perhaps external professionals.

Best practice shows that the foundation for a thinking manager would be building trust and cooperation with and within the team that they are responsible for. Not possible by being aggressive. And as Simon Sinek says, being responsible means recognising and giving credit to others when things go right and taking the blame when things go wrong. Would your typical aggressive manager do that? I think not.

Are you as an effective, thinking manager as you might be or do you know some who is not? The answer is to get help possibly from a professional coach or mentor. This is true even if there has been more formal management education or training because the real learning and development takes place on the job over time. Critically it includes learning from mistakes.

If you would like to find out more about achieving high performance by developing effective management skills through the support a coach or mentor give me a call.

Find making plans work tough?

Some would have you believe that once you have made you plan if you stick to it through thick and thin, all will be well. Well in reality things seldom work out as you expect, especially because plans always involve people. Then, of course, there are those plans, especially strategic ones, that on completion are launched and then filed away with due ceremony not to be looked at again, perhaps until the next planning cycle begins.

"It's tough to make predictions, particularly about the future."

So said Lawrence Peter 'Yogi' Berra (1925-2015) who was an American professional baseball catcher, manager and coach. He was known for his malapropisms, pithy and paradoxical quotes.

I was reminded of this quote by a current BBC TV programme advert for the satirical news quiz Have I got news for you that features Paul Merton and Ian Hislop. Merton is dressed up as a fortune-teller reading his crystal ball apparently after the last series predicting all the events that will occur before the new series. Merton apparently predicts all the real events ending up with forecasting that Boris Johnson would become Foreign Secretary. Hislop finds this last prediction completely beyond belief and, after snatching his payment, storms off. The future is unfortunately unpredictable as Yogi Berra points out above.

At the risk of putting you into quote meltdown, Dwight D. Eisenhower said,

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.

Expanding upon what Eisenhower has said, the right pre-planning research, analysis, conversations and thinking in the planning process lead to an understanding of the whole situation or, as some call it, the system. Once any plan goes into action it will come into contact with reality. However, because an understanding has been gained, the inevitable challenges that are met can be overcome by informed corrective action and forward momentum maintained. Plans should not be the work of a specialist band of strategic 'monks' working in splendid isolation. For the pre-planning research, analysis, conversations and thinking to be a sound basis for a plan, they need to involve as many people as practicable.

Do you have an annual strategic planning process? Do you work it? How could you improve your planning process? How could you improve the way that you implement and work with your plan?

Is something happening?

Something is happening. Is it what politicians and commentators think it is? Furthermore, are the conclusions and political pronouncements actually evidence-based? Might something bigger be happening?

Has anyone stepped back to wonder what Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election, the increase in Labour membership and the Brexit vote might be indicating? Labour and Conservative memberships are still below their 1952 peak.

Above is a chart of UK election turnout since World War II. Let me explain. It both displays and analyses data. The green line is the average and two red dashed lines indicate the limits of turnout figures that might be expected to occur if the electoral system were to continue unchanged.

Up to and including 2001 election there is a gradual but clear downward trend. So is this telling us about the electorate? Something then happened that caused a statistically significant drop in turnout at the 2001 general election. Whilst there has been a gradual recovery since 2001 the UK electorate since seems to have been in a statistically different situation. This is before the invasion of Iraq.

Might the UK electorate be losing interest in the current political system? Does the increase in turnout since 2001 signal a gradual return to the situation before that step change or something else? By their absence from the political process the UK electorate are certainly saying something.

Both election turnouts and party memberships would seem to indicate that something is happening. However, is it what politicians and, yes, journalists would like to believe? This example brings me to on the general point about the way organisations do and don't use data. It sometimes feels that critical business decisions are being taken on no more than a whim inspite of any evidence. Yes the future is uncertain, which is no excuse for proper understanding of the whole situation and proper development of strategic plans.

Leading from the biggest picture?

Ever wondered what it is that highly effective leaders do to improve performance, even in the most difficult situations? Too many leadership and motivational gurus would have you believe all people need is to be given stretch targets. There is no one such silver bullet. As we saw in my last blog we all have our own reasons for doing something. We further saw the factors that were revealed by Frederick Herzberg's research that increased people's satisfaction at work. It further helps if work and the direction a company is heading is worthwhile and believable. In particular it can help to work towards an inspiring compelling vision of a ever-better total customer experience.

As a leader of an organisation, you are responsible for taking action that moves your organisation in that better direction. This needs a sound foundation, a critical part of which is an understanding of the whole situation or biggest picture. The word biggest is used here to encourage you to really push to discover as much as you can.

Back in the twentieth century, Royal Dutch Shell called this the helicopter view, which is a helpful metaphor. It serves to remind you need to both 'gain altitude' to obtain your biggest picture and 'dive down' into the detail to apply that knowledge of the context in your actions and decision making.

The three c's of customers, your company and competition, guide your scanning of the whole landscape. Remember also to look at the whole environment as well. Look at these factors over time. Where has the present biggest picture come from historically, are there new insights available now, and where are things heading over the next five to ten years?

Thinking is very difficult work. Especially when it comes to developing and applying strategy to move forward. It helps you, as a leader, therefore to have knowledge and understanding of the whole situation or biggest picture as a starting point. Have a great flight!

Next time we will begin to look some more at the Flow & Feedback Diagram as a way of making visible your company in the context of your customers and your external environment.

Data? Wiggly Lines? Improve for Free? Nah!

Let's go on making it up as we go along. Business as usual. Change? "I didn't get where I am today by changing!" Oooo, I'm not sure about changing... It's expensive isn't it? That depends on how you do it.

First the opportunity. Research by Cardiff University in the early 00's showed that across a wide range of industry sectors approximately half of all activity is pure waste. In that the customer would not pay for it nor is it stuff you've got to do (at the moment).

What's more you can get at the 50% without spending any money or very, very little, if you do business process improvement properly using the Process Behaviour Chart; the wiggly line above.

To paraphrase Dirty Harry:

Uh uh. I know what you're thinking. "Did he say half of activity is waste?" But being this is a Process Behaviour Chart, the most powerful management tool in the world and would blow your performance clean into the stratosphere, you gotta ask your one question: "Am I seriously interested in profit?" Well, are ya, punk?

According to world-renowned statistician and performance improvement expert Dr Donald J. Wheeler, too many organisations and improvement specialists are missing a trick. The perceived wisdom seems to be that to improve performance you need to spend money (and time) changing processes and probably equipment.

"Wrong!", says Doc Wheeler.

One of the biggest causes in most businesses and organisations in general is that people just do not operate their current process to its full potential. Largely this is due to not operating the process consistently and predictably. He recommends the Process Behaviour Chart as a way to understand and improve your business processes so that they perform consistently and predictably.

Look at the chart at the head of this article. It shows a process that is predictable and consistent, though within very, very wide limits. From the worst to the best performance was getting on for almost double! Great scope for improvement once you understand why the line is wiggling so much. Are your processes being operated consistently at their best? Do you even know how they are performing?

You know that we all don't necessarily operate properly and predictably to the process in everyday life. Drive or walk down any street. Just watch how many people don't use their direction indicators well before making a turn, if at all. I saw a driver yesterday make a turn towards a parking place on the other side of the street. They drove at 45 degrees across the road and at the very last moment put on their indicators just before finally completing the turn into the space. Although it was a quite street, it was curved and there were three junctions within 50 metres so there was quite a high risk.

People not working consistently and predictably applies to any process whether it be in everyday life, administration, government(!!!), food preparation, fulfilling orders in a warehouse, manufacturing and even in I.T. and the Internet. The list goes on. Without some objective means of understanding how well they are working to the process. So try using a Process Behaviour Chart. Ah! Go on!

Targets and the Perversity Principle

One of my favourite writers and speakers over the years has been Dr Myron Tribus. His "Perversity Principle" states:

"If you try to improve the performance of a system of people, machines, and procedures by setting numerical goals for the improvement of individual parts of the system, the system will defeat your efforts and you will pay a price where you least expect it."

And he is so right. There is a serious point here for all organisations that is routinely flouted. As a result the unintended consequences that Tribus is referring are occurring all the time.

There are countless examples including the trader in City of London who ran up billions of pounds sterling of losses in order to protect his bonus and the PPI mis-selling scandal. Standard practice for these bonus systems is a numerical target. Individual incentives evoke the wrong mental processes, which are close to those in fight or flight.

The better alternative is profit sharing and everyone in the organisation focused on delivering value to customers.