Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Has Management Become Just a J-O-B? Five Enduring Lessons

A couple of weeks ago, I asked whether ‘management’ is obsolete. As a discipline, it’s less than 100 years old and emerged in response to the large and complex organizations that grew after World War I. Management doesn’t have an exam like the law or licensure like medicine to demonstrate proficiency. Nevertheless, management is a difficult practice that many have come to with poor training and confusing expectations. And yet, while some practices must change, there are some enduring lessons about management I’ve learned during my career:

Embrace Your Outliers: I had a manager in London who was gender blind and that was a real asset to me, who wanted to be one of the first women to present insurance risks at Lloyd’s of London. It was about competence and potential, not whether we used the same bathroom.

Get a Mentor; Be a Mentor: One of my favorite managers made it his job to take on new recruits in a structured way to develop our skills and show us the ropes even if we were not in his department. He insisted that we give back by becoming a mentor and I found that teaching was the best way to learn.

The Better You Are, The Better I Look: This was the philosophy of a dynamic manager who made a point of surrounding himself with the best people he could recruit. The team couldn’t have been more different and while that caused friction, it also made for amazing innovations, growth and surprising agility. I learned from him that diversity of thought is a competitive advantage and that as change is the only constant in business, it was advantageous to get out in front of it or get out of the way.

Make a Decision: I once asked a manager for feedback on areas to improve after a performance review. He thought for a minute and then said, “Don’t take forever to make a decision. Gather information, hear opinions and then make a decision. You can always modify it but people hate dithering.” Good advice.

You Are the Culture: If you are a manager, even if you aren’t the uber-manager, you set the tone for your department. People learn the way things are done from you, good or bad. Employees don’t leave their jobs; they leave their managers. A hard lesson I learned as a manager was when I took over from someone who had very different ideas about what it meant to manage. If I had to do it over, I’d spend a lot more time changing the culture before thinking I could change anything else.

I agree with Gary Hamel that management processes have to be redesigned to take account of new organizational structures, different workforce dynamics and technological advances. His Management Innovation Exchange is an open innovation project aimed at reinventing management. It doesn’t mean throwing out every good thing we learned as managers; it’s just about kicking out what no longer works, like celebrity managers.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Waging the War on Bureaucracy: Is Management Obsolete?

Sorry if you choked on your doughnut while reading the title but, really, there has been so much written about CEO’s and their lack of ethics but their abundance of perks; about how leaders are failing every stakeholder they answer to and about how, like the dodo, management as a practice is becoming extinct.

How did things get this bad? Like Wile E. Coyote, didn’t we see Roadrunner aiming that anvil right at our heads?

Here’s my theory: we brought it on ourselves; we asked for the anvil. Why?

  • We continue to hobnob with people who look like us and think just the way we do.
  • We ignore social media as a passing fad or something IT needs to eliminate from employees’ Internet permissions.
  • We haven't picked up on the fact that people are organizing online in communities that criss-cross time zones, date lines and borders to innovate, collaborate and create their own products and services. What's irrelevant are buildings and organization charts and titles.
  • We talk engagement but secretly believe “they” are lucky to have a job.
  • Change is for everyone else.
  • We've been drinking the Kool-Aid of “shareholder value” as the only means to an end.
  • And follow it up with a chaser of re-engineering as a synonym for de-layering, downsizing and off shoring (but, oh, that short term lift to the bottom line!).
  • We are rock stars, aren't we?

I held management positions for twenty years; I know what it’s like to slog away and then be rewarded for my efforts with a fancy title and a fancy car. The problem is, the Roadrunner is on our tails, with a stick of dynamite.

I am really raving about this issue because there is so much more that managers can do not only save ourselves but also to make a difference in our companies and to the employees who report to us. For a less heated rant, I recommend an article titled, The End of Management by Alan Murray, which appeared in the Wall Street Journal on August 21st.

In my next blog, I may rant less and offer a few solutions to an issue I didn’t know meant this much to me – until now.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Three Big Trends That Will Change the Way You Make Decisions

I attended a seminar this week on predictive analytics, a topic some say would cure insomnia. But, I found the trends important and worth more consideration by anyone who owns a business or runs one or is employed by one – so the majority of us.

I love data, even as a totally right-brained person, because it has a story to tell. The problem is we’ve exhausted the process of using lagging indicators to produce insight about future decisions. Companies should be moving from silos of data hoarded and rarely aggregated to a point where employees collaborate and make real time, fact-based decisions based on modeling organizational data and assessing the power of one choice over others to achieve results.

A few years ago, Thomas Davenport wrote a book titled, Competing on Analytics and cited large companies such as Marriott, Harrah’s and Progressive Insurance as the analytics champions. Not much hope for the rest of us, is that what you’re thinking?

Here’s what I learned from that seminar and I believe it is important for businesses of all sizes to get really clear about the implications of these trends:

Analytics are moving downstream. What was once done by a cube farm full of PhD’s will be done by us regular people who are tasked to come up with hard evidence for what we do (market, train, deploy technology, in short, everything). Technology will make it possible to collaborate with other functions to aggregate data and perform our own statistical and predictive work. On our laptops. In real time. Maybe a lone PhD floating among us.

Analytics are moving into every function. No longer will we be able to get by with a "I -can’t- quantify- the- ROI -of –why- I –need- this- money- from- the- budget-but- trust-me- on- this". Jack Fitz-Enz said it best in his new book The New HR Analytics: if the HR department doesn’t feel up to handling human capital issues in a quantifiable, predictive way; the C-suite will give the responsibility to someone else. That holds true for every function from Marketing to Customer Service.

Predictive analytics are a competitive advantage. At a time when we all are looking for the Holy Grail of business success, if your company isn’t starting now to explore the concept, it could find itself out-maneuvered and shut out by the competition.
  • What if your competition could predict which of its customers was likely to defect in 6 months and offer them a sweetheart deal before they are out the door?
  • How much money will you spend trying to woo a customer that isn’t interested in moving her business to you because you don’t know which behaviors trigger a purchase?
  • What if you could predict which employees had the greatest power to impact customer loyalty and could increase the likelihood of retaining them by customizing their rewards and recognition?

Am I going to turn away from my intuition or sense of what feels right in favor of analytics alone? Heck no, but using both is the right equation: Intuition+ Experience + Analytics = Insight + Results.

How about you?