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Robert Owen: Fair Management

Robert Owen is often referred to as a social reformer. So what is he doing in a blog about management?

In fact, in his espousal of management over pure command and control, we can see in Owen the first shining of the light of humanistic management, that was not to become the norm in his home country of the UK for nearly two centuries.

Robert Owen

Short Biography

Robert Owen was born in 1771, in Newtown, in Wales. After working in several drapery businesses around England, in 1790, he became the joint owner of a textile factory in Manchester. Because he had little experience of manufacturing, he started off wth a rigorous regime of intense observation of how his employees worked. Through this, he said, ‘I maintained order and regularity throughout the establishment’. Could this be an early variant on ‘Management by Walking About’: Management by Observation?

Along with other investors, Owen bought a Mill in New Lanark in 1799. The realities of what was then regarded as enlightened mill ownership were that he inherited a workforce where 5 and 6 year olds were expected to work up to 15 hours a day. His first act was to stop taking children from the local poorhouse, to raise the minimum age of children he employed to 10, and to ban the use of corporal punishment.

This was the start of a series of reforms that led to Owen being labelled variously as a social reformer, a socialist, an educational reformer, and a utopian (by Marx and Engels!) But at this time, certainly, Owen justified all of his changes on purely economic grounds. He used profits to fund social improvements for his workers and found that productivity subsequently increased. Eventually, the New Lanark Mill showed a 50% Return on Investment (ROI).

Eventually, his reforms were to include taking no children into the mill, creating the first night school in the world, for his workers,  starting what became the basis of the British Co-operative movement, and founding the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union in 1834 – sadly, it did not survive the year. He also tried in 1815 and failed to introduce new legislation to improve working conditions nationally.

It may shock us now that his aim of increasing the minimum working age to 10, reducing the maximum daily working hours to 10½, and requiring a minimum of half an hour a day of education for all children was seen as a serious risk to the wellbeing of business. Lesser legislation was passed in 1819 and we still hear the same arguments about potential legislation around worker’s rights today.

Consult other sources…

If you want to learn more about his social reforms, educational work, or attempts to create trades unions and co-operatives, there is plenty of good material. I would like to focus on the things Owen did in management, that were almost a century ahead of his time, to only really be formalised by the likes of Mary Parker Follett and George Eastman, and the later humanistic management leaders, like Elton Mayo and Douglas McGregor.

Five Visionary Approaches

Humanistic Management
Owen recognised that, in his rapidly mechanising industry, machines would never attain a greater importance than the people who worked them

Abandoning Command and Control
Owen preferred to manage his workers, rather than issue commands. And to help him, he started selecting his managers on merit and giving them training.

Empowerment
Okay, so he would never have used this modern buzzword, but he firmly believed in the value of giving his managers real autonomy.

Change Management
Not only did Owen understand the value of winning trust from his workers before trying to impose change; he actively sought out influential individuals among them to help build and disseminate his case: what we call ‘change champions’.

Performance Monitoring
Every day, supervisors would assess the work of their workers, and award a colour code (from poor, black to blue to yellow to white – best), which would be displayed on a wooden block (his ‘silent monitor’) for all to see. Peer pressure and pride are powerful motivators!

 

 

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Rosabeth Moss Kanter: Change Master

Rosabeth Moss Kanter is one of the foremost academics working in the management arena. Her academic CV is second to none, and it is the sophistication of her insights and the depth of her research that have earned her the huge respect she has garnered. But hers are not merely incremental ideas – her work has charted some of the biggest issues facing organisations from the 1970s to today.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter

 Short Biography

Rosabeth Moss was born in 1943 and grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. She was educated at the elite Bryn Mawr College, where she studied English and Sociology, where she also met her first husband, Stuart Kanter.  She graduated in 1964 and went on to earn an MA and PhD in Sociology, at the University of Michigan.

Following her PhD, Moss Kanter’s first academic appointment was at Brandeis University, as Assistant Professor of Sociology. She stayed there until 1977, during which time her first husband died and she married Barry Stein, with whom she later (1977) founded a management consultancy, called Goodmeasure Inc, to sell her consulting services to many of the largest US corporations.

1977 was a key year for Moss Kanter. She also moved to become a Professor of Sociology and Professor of Organisational Management at Yale, where she remained until 1986, when she moved to Harvard Business School as a Professor of Business Administration. From 1979 to 1986, she was also a Visiting Professor at the Sloane School of Management at MIT.

The centrality of 1977, however, is because it was the year that saw the publication of the first of Moss Kanter’s books – and one that made a huge impact. It was lauded in its own right and has been seen, in retrospect, as the first of a triptych of connected and hugely important works. We will look at them below.

As well as being an academic and consultant, Moss Kanter has a slew of prestigious awards,and is also notable as the last academic to edit the Harvard Business Review (1989-92) and as an advisor to presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.

But it is the breadth and depth of Moss Kanter’s work we need to focus on. And there is so much of note that we need to get started right away.

Moss Kanter’s Big-three Works

1977 saw the publication of a revolutionary book; Men and Women of the Corporation. It analyses the distribution of power within a large US corporation and how white men dominated, leaving women and ethnic minorities disempowered. Her research demonstrated that it was not the behaviours of women and minorities that created this power gap, but the very system within which they worked, and the structures of power and opportunity. At the time, this was a revolutionary insight. Moss Kanter showed the importance of creating change to empower everyone.

With the great pressures for change that she identified, we can see a logical progression in Moss Kanter’s next book, 1983’s The Change Masters: Corporate Entrepreneurs at Work. Shockingly, this astonishingly good and important book is out of print; to me, it is her most important. It describes how some companies and some individuals master the process of change through integrating and innovating, moving right to the edge of their capabilities, and benchmarking themselves against their aspirations, rather than against the status quo in their market place.  She refers to ‘New Entrepreneurs’; change masters within a business that radically improve it, rather than leaving and starting afresh somewhere else. They transform vision into reality. Once again, the concept of empowerment features strongly, as does the need for joined up networks of communication, and decentralisation of resources.

The third book in the triptych looks at the changes US corporations needed to make to remain competitive in the global environment of the 1980s and 90s. Published in 1989, ‘When Giants Learn to Dance‘ likens the global economy to a sporting competition. What struck me was her articulation of seven skills that characterise the most successful ‘business athletes’;

  1. ability to get results without authority, through influence alone
  2. competing positively, through co-operation, rather than negatively through aggression
  3. maintaining the highest ethical standards
  4. self confidence tempered by humility
  5. an understanding of the importance of process for getting things done
  6. relationship building, across functions, departments, and organisations
  7. achievement focus – what McClelland would describe as a high nAch

More Recent Work

It is only space, not a critique on the works themselves, that prevents me from detailing Moss Kanter’s works, from 1992’s ‘The Challenge of Organizational Change‘ to ‘Move: Putting America’s Infrastructure Back in the Lead‘, published a few months before this blog, in spring of 2015. Along the way, there have been:

A Summary of Moss Kanter’s Themes

Rosabeth Moss Kanter is notable as an academic of business, but her approach has always remained a staunchly sociological one. Her focus on empowerment has followed closely on that of previous thinkers in humanistic management and particularly echoes the work of Mary Parker Follett, whom she admires greatly. Like Follett, she takes a very much integrative attitude, valuing holistic management structures, rather than segmented corporations. This is a theme that comes out strongly in both Change Masters and Giants. She describes these as characteristics of a ‘post-entrepreneurial firm’, where innovation is the principle benefit of combining the the strength of a large organisation with the agility of a small one.

Her writing is characterised by three admirable characteristics that are often not found together: subtle and complex ideas, detailed research evidence, and a highly readable writing style.

The Advanced Leadership Initiative

I want to end with a short reference to Harvard University’s Advanced Leadership Initiative, which Moss Kanter leads, as Chair and Director. It aims to prepare ‘a leadership force of experienced leaders who can address challenging national and global problems in their next stage of life’. These are men and women who, after their primary income-earning years, want to contribute to community and public service for their next years of life, using the skills they already have, to make an impact on significant social problems, in health, welfare, children, and the environment. I know little more about it than this, but what a wonderful initiative. A kind of lower-key version of The Elders, I guess.

 


 

Moss Kanter talks about leadership as being about leading positive change in this 17 minute TED talk, ‘Six keys to leading positive change‘.

And more…

There is a good selection of short videos and articles by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, on some of her latest thinking, on the Big Think website.

 

 

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Mary Parker Follett: Management Visionary

‘Ahead of her time’ seems to be the most appropriate epiphet to apply to Mary Parker Follett. And many have done so: Peter Drucker described her as a ‘prophet of management’, while Warren Bennis has said:

‘Just about everything written today about
leadership and organizations comes from
Mary Parker Follett’s lectures and writings.’

Mary Parker Follett

 

Brief Biography

Mary Parker Follett was born in 1868, into a wealthy Quaker family in Boston. She was an exceptional scholar and a polymath, attending university at Harvard (the Society for Collegiate Instruction of Women – later Radcliffe College), during which time she also spent a year at Newnham College, at Cambridge University (in England). Although denied a PhD by Harvard, she studied widely in law, economics, politics, philosophy, and history. While at Cambridge University she prepared and delivered a paper that was to become, in 1918, her first book: ‘The New State’. It was about social evolution and group-based democratic government. It was reviewed by former US president, Theodore Roosevelt and remains in print today.

After studying, Follett spent the next thirty or so years (from 1890 to 1924) focusing on voluntary social work in Boston. She innovated, being the first person in the US to use a school as an out-of-hours community centre; a model that was widely reproduced across the country.

However, what interests us most at the Management Pocketblog is her work from 1924, when she turned her focus to industry. She wrote that it is ‘the most important field of human activity’ and that:

‘management is the most fundamental element in industry’

She became an early management consultant and was much in demand by industry leaders and academic institutions. She spent her time advising and lecturing, up until her death, at a relatively young age, in  December 1933.

Sadly, her work is not widely known of in the western world, despite notable figures like Drucker, Bennis and Sir Peter Parker praising her to the rafters. This is despite the fact that she anticipated a wide range of issues and thinking that is still today presented as modern and aspirational for our large organisations.

Follett’s Visionary Thinking

Let’s count the ways that Follett was ahead of her time in the field of management. I get to eight.

1. Humanistic Approach to Organisations

Growing up in the time of FW Taylor, and ahead of the work of Elton Mayo, Follett rejected the functional approach to industry in favour of her emphasis on what we now call humanistic principle. She was a progressive, rational humanist in the management field as well as in the political and social arenas, and puts me very much in mind of George Eastman, whom I also described as a visionary. She very much anticipated the work of Douglas McGregor.

2. Empowerment

Follett rejected the idea that managers and staff have fundamentally different roles and capabilities. Instead, she saw that an organisation’s success would come from recognising the part that each has to play in delivering its services or creating its products. She advocated giving power to where it matters.

3. Joined up Business (… and hence, Re-engineering and Lean?)

This created a need for a joined up organisation, where activities, departments, functions and people are properly co-ordinated – both across the organisation and from the bottom to the top (and vice versa). She referred to the relationships between staff and managers and among functions as ‘reciprocal relating’. A leader’s role is therefore to see the whole organisation and the ‘relation between all the different factors in a situation’. Is it too much of a stretch to see this as anticipating the mission of re-engineering and lean management to close gaps in process flow? I don’t think so.

4. Group Dynamics and Team Working – Participative Leadership

The equal balance of power between management and employees leads to the need for team co-operation and that, she suggested, develops a true sense of responsibility in workers. To me, it also demands a model of leadership that Robert Greenleaf was to call ‘Servant Leadership’. Follett did not herself go as far, but identified ‘Participative Leadership’ as the style that involves a whole team in creating products and delivering services.

5. Personal Responsibility

Tying together empowerment, co-ordination and group working is the sense of responsibility they inculcate in workers. Follett again anticipated McGregor’s Theory Y, by arguing that it is this which most develops people.

6.Management Training

If we are to delegate greater responsibility to our people, we must do so well. Follett was an early advocate of management training, believing when many did not that the leadership aspects can be taught.

7. Transformational Leadership

In a paper called ‘The social construction of leadership: From theory to praxis’, Edith Rusch notes the unacknowledged similarities between James McGregor Burns’ articulation of ‘Transformational Leadership’ and Follett’s writings. She presents a compelling argument that Follett not only anticipated the ideas of transformational leadership, but that she was the first to put them forward and even used the term.

8. Win-Win Negotiation and Conflict Management

One particular interest of Follett’s was conflict. She suggested three approaches of domination, compromise and integration, that  Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann would later refer to as competing, compromising, and collaborating. Her thinking on the benefits and mechanisms of creating integrated ‘win-win’ resolutions is rich and sophisticated. In her suggestion that we uncover the real conflict and get to each party’s deeper aims, and then seek to satisfy those, she anticipated a lot of the thinking in best-selling negotiation book, ‘Getting to Yes’.

My one Favourite concept…

from all of Follett’s writing is this: the idea of ‘circular response’. This is that our behaviour helps to create the situation to which we respond. It is the idea of a feedback loop of self reinforcing interpretations and behaviour. I don’t doubt that the essence of this very modern sounding idea goes back to the ancients and classical writings of many cultures. But her articulation of it (and of the compelling phrase ‘circular response’) is so clear, that it has got me thinking.

Thank you…

to Mary Parker Follett. Before I started researching this blog, I knew nothing of her (unlike almost all other management thinker subjects). I had hoped that, being less known, there would be little to read and writing this would be quick. Far from it. But I have gained a lot from learning about Follett, and I hope you will too.

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It’s Time to Get Enabling

Last week, I was speculating that empowerment may create a social power base, to join others defined by John French and Bertram Raven.  I created my own definition of the word, by reading dictionaries, looking on the web and drinking tea:

‘a socially endorsed management process that
grants people genuine control and authority
within the work place’

That was a bit of a mouthful, so I turned to Mike Applegarth and Keith Posner’s excellent Empowerment Pocketbook for their definition:

‘Authority, Power, Licence.’

Far snappier than mine and the emphasis is theirs.  in fact, licence carries most of the burden of their definition.  They say that ‘to licence is to empower’.

The Empowerment Pocketbook

Another valuable point they make is that empowerment is a word managers use but rarely really explore.  My favourite definition comes from their introduction, not just because it makes the clear link with organisational culture, but because it tells us what empowerment really feels like, in the real world, and away from the book, journal or web page:

‘…the only culture where no one gets blamed,
is the one where it really empowers’

Some Nice Models

There are some nice adaptations of familiar models in the Empowerment Pocketbook.  They have adapted the Johari Window to team working and have a situational leadership model that places empowering as a leadership style that is high in two-way involvement and suitable for people high in responsibility and initiative.

I think the latter of the two is my favourite, so I will share it with you.

LeadershipStyles-Empowerment

Applegarth and Posner say:

‘Enabling the individual is an important step to achieving an empowered workforce, yet it is the one most often ignored.’

I think they are spot on with this.  Their toolkit for enabling the individual seems to me to be the heart of their Pocketbook and to provide some of the most practical content.

Too often empowerment is just a good word to bandy around.  if you are serious about it, though, it takes hard work and persistence.  The pay-off, however, can be huge.  Eventually, you will get better, more committed staff, who are able to work with less supervision, innovate beyond the means of their bosses, and delight your clients and customers.

It’s time to get enabling!

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Power Bases and Empowerment

I have always had a soft spot for John French and Bertram Raven’s model of Social Power Bases.  I am pretty certain in my recollection that this was the first management model I learned on my first management course as a new and eager management consultant fresh out of university.

Basic Consulting Skills was the course and, to my sorrow, I never found a slot for it in any of my consulting skills programmes.  Clients will insist on setting requirements that suit them, rather than indulge a trainer’s preferences*.

Social Power Bases

For those who are unfamiliar with the model (and who don’t have your copy of The Management Models Pocketbook to hand), let me recap, briefly.

French and Raven looked at the power within organisations.  They determined that all power originated from social interactions, rather than from the organisations themselves (as earlier researchers like Amitai Etzioni had theorised).

Their work led them to categorise these sources of social power into first five, then later seven power bases.  These are derived from the resources that the holder has at their disposal.

1. Legitimate Power – based on seniority of position

2. Reward Power – based on ability to offer inducements

3. Coercive Power – based on ability to impose sanctions

4. Expert Power – based on skills and expertise

5. Referent Power – based on personal characteristics; charisma

6. Information Power – based on the knowledge you can access

7. Connection Power – based on the people you can access

After French and Raven

This has proved a useful and enduring model, and so has attracted further research and speculation.  Later researchers and theorists have tinkered with names and definitions of the power bases and added more.  I think the strongest of these (which I included in my Pocketbook) is:

8. Resource Power – based on privileged access to valued resources

French and Ravens Social Power Bases

Empowerment

All of the above description is by way of a context to a new speculation.  It concerns one of the zeitgeist concepts of today: empowerment.  By reading dictionaries, looking on the web and drinking tea, I have come to a definition I think satisfactory for this word in the modern organisational context:

‘a socially endorsed management process that
grants people genuine control and authority
within the work place’

I do know that this is a bit of a mouthful.  First the granting of power must be led by more senior managers than the people granted the power.  Second, there is no power unless those people’s peers endorse it.  And third, the meaning of power must be about control and authority.

Empowerment as a Power Base

So here is my speculation.  If empowerment grants me power, then I have a power base.  I cannot make that power base fit neatly into my understanding of any of the eight established bases of power, that have been around since the 1950s.  So I am going to propose a new Social Power Base that, to my knowledge, has never been published before:

9. Empowered Power – based on socially endorsed organisational authority, granted by legitimate power

Management Pocketbooks you might like

The Empowerment Pocketbook

The Management Models Pocketbook (Chapter 8 covers power bases)

The Assertiveness Pocketbook

The Delegation Pocketbook


* Don’t worry, I have fitted it nicely into my ‘Three Hour MBA’ seminar.

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Employees first: Customers second

Vineet Nayar has been on the radio a lot recently. He is the CEO of HCL Technologies and has, on the face of it, an odd philosophy for how he does business: Employees First: Customer Second.

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New Wisdom

This flies in the face of the conventional ‘customers first’ wisdom.  But it is not quite as counter-intuitive as it may seem.  You just need to follow the logic of the process.  Who looks after your customers?

Vineet Nayar’s Four Fundamental Questions

  1. Q: What is the core business we are in?
    A:  Creating value for our customers
  2. Q: Where is that value created?
    A:  At the interface between our employees and our customers
  3. Q: Who creates value?
    A:  Our employees
  4. Q: What is the business of managers and management?
    A:  Enthusing, encouraging and enabling employees to create value

When you invest the time and resources to ensure that your staff are committed and happy in their work, they will be naturally motivated to make your business succeed.  When you select the right people to put into the front-line and deal directly with your customers, then inevitably, they will take care of them.

The Secret of Customer Care

After all, there is no great secret to customer care: it simply requires that you care about your customer.  When you care about someone, you instinctively take care of them.

Corporate Kinetics

About twelve years ago, I participated in some research that ultimately led to what its authors hoped would be a ground breaking book: ‘The Power of Corporate Kinetics: Self-adapting, Self-renewing, Instant-action Enterprise’.  The thesis was simple; that the agility that companies would need to adapt and thrive in the third millennium could best be achieved when the people doing the work were given the authority to change how they do their work, to optimise efficiency, effectiveness and customer service.  It was illustrated with case studies drawn from the clients of my employer, Deloitte.

I don’t think it changed the world, nor even the way that many organisations go about improving themselves.  It should have, but I think two apparently contradictory things got in the way:

  1. first was a sense of ‘so what?’ The ideas did not seem surprising: they were perhaps, a little obvious.  Of course the people who do the work have the clearest view of what needs to change.
  2. second was a sense of ‘oh but…’ Giving real authority to the bottom of an organisational tree appears to rob everyone above of a big part of their role and, subconsciously, of their self esteem.

Empowerment is a hard discipline.  But it is certainly what Vineet Nayar is talking about.  And it also gives us another reason (see last week’s Pocketblog) why management is hard:  because, if you start to accept the logic of some of these ideas, you need to find a new model of management.

So here’s the Deal: A New Model of Management

In this new model, managers would act much more like facilitators than traditional instigators.  They would lend their commitment and authority to anyone coming forward with a good idea.  They would need to be able to encourage people to do so and to suppress a portion of their ‘I know best’ reflex so that they could balance a proper critical evaluation and a fair assessment of the opportunities.

Some Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

Post Script

Coincidentally, a few days before this blog was scheduled to be posted, Strategy & Business, the magazine published an interview with Vineet Nayar, here.

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