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Elastic Management

SuperLewinKurt Lewin is something of a hero to me, not least as the originator of one of my all time favourite quotes:

‘There is nothing so practical as a good theory’

This appeared in my intro to The Management Models Pocketbook and a blog I posted on my birthday.

So why come back to it now?  I want to look at one of Lewin’s best known models from a slightly unconventional angle, but let’s start with the basics.

Force Field Analysis

Lewin’s language derives from the world of physics; he talks of equilibrium and forces.  His metaphor is not, however, strained and works very well for me.  In his model, we (individuals and groups – even organisations) will be in equilibrium, unless a force acts upon us.

By equilibrium, he means that there will be no change.

Let’s get real!

In the real world, there are always forces acting upon us, so there is always change.  Lewin identifies two fundamental types of force:

Driving forces, which promote change

Restraining forces, which – take a guess – restrain it

ForceField

To understand the nature of change and how it is happening in an individual or a group, we need to inventory all of the driving and restraining forces, understand them, and assess the net direction and strength of the resultant force.

Under Pressure

Many of us in the worlds of business and public service are finding ourselves under a lot of pressure at the moment, and if you manage people, you may be putting them under pressure.  What can Lewin teach us about what is going to happen?

As we apply a driving force to our colleagues in times of pressure, many will respond and you will achieve the changes you need.  People are able to suppress their reaction to unwelcome pressure and hence you may not sense the restraining forces.  But they are there.  When you release the drive, as the pressure reduces, the elasticity of the restraining forces will show itself.

Two Tactics

How can you deal with this elasticity.  If you need to maintain your new productivity levels over a long term, you have only two options:

  1. You can maintain the driving forces
    We see this pretty often in organisations.  ‘Autocratic’ or ‘follow-me-the-superhero’ styles of leadership maintain long term pressure that can turn into stress and burn-out.  If you suspect you are in danger of causing this, you need to deal with it – quickly.
  2. You can release the restraining forces
    This is by far the harder tactic.  You need to understand what the forces are that pull back against your drive and address them one at a time.  So, longer hours may be mostly a problem because of a parent’s evening routine; so can you offer flexible hours to allow them to leave early?  A greater workload may frustrate someone who is angered by the slow running of an aged computer; so can you upgrade their equipment?

Welcome to the club

If you are anticipating 2011 will be a tough year for you, then welcome to a large club.  But don’t just despair or let events drive you.  Analyse and understand your situation, and take active steps to manage it.

This quarter, Pocketblog will be offering a range of solutions from the Management Pocketbooks library, to help you through.

Some Management Pocketbooks you might find helpful

The Managing Change Pocketbook

The Stress Pocketbook

The Motivation Pocketbook

The People Manager’s Pocketbook

The Tackling Difficult Conversations Pocketbook

Under Pressure? – take a break

For Queen fans

For music fans who aren’t so keen on Queen

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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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Why Modern Management is so Hard

Modern managers have it hard.  In ‘the good old days’ managers could expect to simply dictate targets, set tasks and instruct their staff.  What a wonderful world that must have been for managers!

Leadership and Politics

The New Machiavelli, by Jonathan Powell Jonathan Powell has recently added the fourth corner of pyramid of books about Tony Blair’s administration, following those of Blair himself, Mandelson and Campbell.  It received less coverage than the others but what struck me was that he has used Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’ as his framework.  So that’s the one I’ll be hoping for come the overflowing half-price offers at Christmas.  I’ve been fascinated by the Florentine since seeing him in a walk-on part in Marlowe’s ‘The Jew of Malta’ at the RSC.  (John Carlisle played him and Alun Armstrong the Jew, Barabus.  What a fabulous year that was at the RSC!)

The Prince

ThePrince It sent me scurrying to my well-thumbed Penguin edition which, even when I bought it over ten years ago was three times as expensive at a charity shop than the cover price; which appears to make scrappy paperbacks a good investment. (Scrappy now: not when it was published, I have to add, as Pearson are also publishing two of my books later this year!)

Three passages caught my attention.  Firstly, it seems that written leadership theory goes back not to Machiavelli at all, as I would have said yesterday, but to the Bible and Moses, which Signor M cites in discussing the role of fortune.

Second – and make of it what your political leanings will – Machiavelli takes sides on the current economic debate in the UK, saying that the Prince should inflict all injuries in one go, and confer benefits steadily. So, at last we see where George Osborne’s playbook comes from.

Okay Mike, stop digressing

Third, and most relevant, Machiavelli draws clear distinctions between leaders and managers that resonate through the modern leadership thinkers who influence business training and management schools today.

I don’t have the space to recount my favourite leadership models, but suffice to say; most of them emphasise that the role of a leader is not to manage: it is to lead.

Leaders Lead: Managers Manage

A smart leader lets their managers get on with the day-to-day running of the business, and that creates an easy division which is often represented in tables like this:

Managers_vs_Leaders

I am sure many trainers reading this blog have facilitated sessions that have ended up with very similar flip charts!  This comparison between leaders and managers was first made by Warren Bennis, in response to an HBR article by Abraham Zaleznik in 1977.

So why do Managers have it so hard?

If a smart leader lets their managers manage, then they only have one job to do: leadership.  But modern managers are constantly – and rightly – being reminded that our society demands leadership at every level.

Blame Douglas McGregor if you will.  His same Theory Y encouraged both managers to stop their easy command and control behaviours (of which Machiavelli would heartily have approved) and encouraged leadership thinkers like Bert Nanus and Warren Bennis to articulate a truly modern theory of leadership.

Leadership at every level and bringing the best out of every employee goes beyond indulging uppity managers in calling themselves leaders; it demands that all managers are leaders.

So here’s the deal

So there we have it:  Leaders lead but managers manage and lead.  No wonder so many people would rather be a leader than a manager – it’s any easier job!

Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

If you are just a leader, you’ll want:

The Leadership PocketbookThe Leadership Pocketbook

The Motivation Pocketbook

The Empowerment Pocketbook

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If you are a manger, you may also want:

The Manager's PocketbookThe Manager’s Pocketbook

The People Manager’s Pocketbook

The Management Models Pocketbook
(which contains two of the very best models of leadership)

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The Prime Minister’s Salary and a Force for Change

If you are living in the UK and pay attention to the news, you won’t help but be aware of just how many public servants are paid more than the Prime Minister – 170 according to the Guardian and Telegraph.

Why does it matter?

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Photo credit: World Economic Forum

It isn’t what we get paid that matters

It clearly matters that public servants’ pay is set properly.  But why does the comparison with one post matter?  The answer seems to be that most of us are less concerned with how much we get paid, than we are with how our pay compares to that of the people around us.

If you work in an organisation, you and your colleagues are probably curious about what everyone earns.  And whilst you may be happy with your salary now; how would you feel if the colleague at the next work station doing the same job at the same level earns 5% more than you?

Enter John Stacy Adams

It was John Stacy Adams who first articulated a management theory of fairness.  He was an industrial psychologist at the General Electric Company when he published ‘Inequity in Social Exchange’.  This puts our feelings into a mathematical framework:

What matters are the comparisons between the outcomes we get (through reward such as pay) and the work we contribute.  For me, that ratio is: O/W.

The Comparison

What I will unconsciously do is compare my ratio (O/W) with your ratio, as I believe it to be, (O’/W’).  If I find that they are equal, I will be content.  If, however, your ratio is bigger than my ratio, I will be unhappy – I will perceive an ‘inequity’.

So do why we worry that 170 senior Civil Servants are overpaid?  It must be because there is an instinctive belief that they cannot possibly do that much more work than the Prime Minister.  Is this true?  My answer to that is: ‘I don’t know’.

Equity works both ways

It is also the case that if I perceive I am over-rewarded, then I will probably feel a sense of guilt.  Our innate need for fairness is what drives Adams’ ‘Equity Theory’.  He argued that where we feel a sense of inequity, we respond in a way that will, in our minds, remove the inequities.

An example, please, Mike…

Sam is a sales rep; her boss, Chris, is head of sales.  Chris regularly sniffs out the best sales leads from her team and then ‘poaches’ the client, to try to make the sale herself.  She also re-allocates her less promising leads to other sales reps, like Sam.  Sam is angry and wants to do something about this.  She is confident in her ability to close a sale and knows she is every bit as good as Chris – if not better.

So what’s going on with Sam and Chris?

Chris believes she is better than her team members.  She has the experience and the seniority.  Having worked hard to achieve it, she unconsciously (maybe consciously) thinks she deserves to get the best leads and pocket the big commissions.

Sam has worked hard to generate the leads.  She feels Chris is unfairly cherry-picking the best leads from Sam and her colleagues, getting the rewards of their work, for little input.

A Force for Change

When Sam and her colleagues feeel the  inequity is ‘too great’, they will be motivated to do something about it.  Whatever it is – maybe challenging Chris, or under-reporting their progress – Equity Theory predicts change.

Look out quangos!

Management Pocketbooks you might like

Adams’ Equity Theory is one of many theories and models of motivation in the Motivation Pocketbook, by Max Eggert.

9781870471602

You will also find a detailed analysis of two other powerful models of motivation in the Management Models Pocketbook,

… and a wealth of guidance on how to manage your staff, Chris, in the People Manager’s Pocketbook,

… and ideas for how to handle your boss, Sam, in the Managing Upwards Pocketbook,

… and tips on how to have that tough conversation, Chris and Sam, in the Tackling Difficult Conversations Pocketbook.

PS:

Yes, Max and I have spelt Stacy correctly – it’s Wikipedia and another famous business amd management website that have it wrong!

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