CURRENT MANAGEMENT TOPICS

A selection of reports, articles an news items that have caught our eyes.  Generally they're not from the mainstream management journals and newspapers, but items that we think might have otherwise passed you by.  As ever, all contributions and comments are very welcome.

 


Forget the boardroom boys and macho managers

The Industrial Society (IS) launches its Leadership Week with the results of a survey into perceived leadership ability in British managers.  The results show that public/voluntary sector women aged under 35, in front-line leadership positions scored most highly in the six key competencies identified by the IS.  In general, leaders under 35 were seen to be more liberating than their older colleagues, and this was more valued by staff being led.  

The report doesn't say, but presumably this liberation isn't at the expense of effectiveness or output.  The challenge for most managers is to involve, empower and develop their people, whilst at the same time meeting tougher and better managed targets.  To do both well requires a high degree of versatility on the part of the manager: knowing when to empower and delegate, and when to direct assertively.

Industrial Society

"Who moved my cheese?"

Subtitled "An Amazing Way to Deal With Change In Your Work and In Your Life", this slim volume takes a fresh look (or wacky look, depending on your point of view) at how to cope with change around you.  It takes the form of a parable set in a maze, and follows four different beings (mice and mice-like humans) and their attitudes to the cheese that's so important in their lives.  The author, Spencer Johnson, wants us to see the cheese as something related to our livelihoods - our jobs or careers - although it can stand for anything, from health to relationships. The point of the story is that we have to be alert to changes in the cheese and be prepared to go running off in search of new sources of cheese when the cheese we have runs out.

 

This isn't everyone's cup of tea, but Johnson is a well-known management writer (including co-author of "The One Minute Manager") and the book is readable, and the lessons readily drawn.  If you're looking for a fresh way to think about change (for yourself or others) this could be a worthwhile read.

*Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal With Change In Your Work and In Your Life
Spencer Johnson, Vermilion Press 1999

Leaders who love the limelight

The Harvard Business Review looks at the "incredible pro's and inevitable con's" of Narcissistic Leaders.  Although many top business leaders still shun the limelight, people like Richard Branson, Bill Gates or Jack Welch seem to confirm the adage that if you've got it, flaunt it!  Whilst such "celebrity" leaders can clearly galvanise a business to succeed, there's also the risk that they can create damage and failure.  Author Michael Maccoby suggests ways in which Narcissistic Leaders can minimise such risks without losing the magic that makes them so effective.

There are lessons here for all leaders, not just Chief Executives of major corporations.  Visionary, fanatical, driven leaders can achieve great things: ideal if you're developing new markets or creating a new business.  But don't leave them in charge for too long: their poor listening skills, low empathy and competitive spirit will soon start to undo all they've created.  Many companies now distinguish their short-term, high impact entrepreneurs from their longer-term empowering leaders, and deploy them appropriately in different assignments.  But whatever your leadership role, remember to adopt some of the passion and personal commitment of the Narcissistic Leader if you want people to follow you.

Harvard Business Review, January-February 2000

"Prescott tops the target mountain"

As more and more organisations depend on Performance Management, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott offers an object lesson in the overuse of performance targets, judging by recently-released figures.  According to a study by LibDem MP Don Foster, the Government has introduced over 2,500 performance targets since coming to office in 1997, and Prescott's DETR super-ministry is responsible for 500 of them.  Some government agencies even have targets for achieving more targets: the Highways Agency has set itself a target to meet "target indicators to measure the effectiveness of the agency's expenditure".

When setting performance targets, you need to steer a fine line between "what gets measured gets done" and "paralysis by analysis."  To be fair, public servants are under greater pressure than most businesses to show how they're performing, as they don't have clear end-product or "bottom line".  But remember the trick with performance measures is to choose only a few, make absolutely sure they're the right ones, and use them all the time.  And don't let performance tracking become more important than the performance itself!

"The Daily Telegraph"

"Professional parasites in the workplace"

Researchers from Birkbeck College, London report that professional staff are hoarding their knowledge rather than sharing it freely, as a way of gaining better advancement. Their findings were published at the British Psychological Society's occupational psychology conference in Brighton, and were reported in several newspapers, including The Independent and The Times.  It seems that now jobs for life are a thing of the past, knowledge is power: "if the company isn't loyal to me any more, I'll use my expertise to get the advancement I want."  The problem is made worse by the increasing use of freelancers and temps, who quickly become invaluable to an organisation, then leave.  It also leads to tensions in organisations that encourage knowledge-sharing, such as on their intranets.

Make sure you don't have too many temps and contractors filling key posts, and remember that simple actions by managers can build (or lose) the trust of their staff.  Secrecy agreements and tight contracts may provide some protection, but only against the extreme misuse of knowledge.  This is where those warm, fuzzy ideas of an open, trusting work environment start to have a direct business benefit.

 

"Management Challenges for the 21st Century"

The New Year / Century / Millennium seems a good time to mention Peter Drucker's latest book - that he published last year at the age of 90!  The title is a good description of the content, set out in 6 chapters or essays that will provoke important reflection and discussion for all leaders.  His underlying theme that is that if you think organisation change has been turbulent in recent times, you ain't seen nothin' yet!  The industrial revolution we're going through is far more radical than anything we've seen before, and of course is happening far more quickly.  He looks at the challenges in terms of organisations, the people and processes that work in them, and for leaders themselves.  If only all management writers could remain on form for as long as Drucker has.

The book is highly recommended - not just by us - and could be used as an excellent basis for a top team to get together and review it's strategy.

Management Challenges for the 21st Century by Peter Drucker; Butterworth Heinemann.

 

"Staff lack faith in their bosses"

A recent survey (yes, another one!) from US training company Development Dimensions International (DDI) shows that we have a long way to go in gaining the confidence of our people.  In "The Leadership Forecast", a survey of over 2,000 people in a range of large companies, they report that only one third of staff have high confidence in the abilities of their leaders to guide the organisation for the future.  Leaders and their staff agree that senior managers need to improve their abilities in important skills, although the staff view is less generous than that of the leaders themselves.  The picture is even worse when looking at the important skills deemed to be important for the future: leaders and employees agree that today's managers only show strength in half of these future skills.  Not surprisingly, DDI conclude that what's needed is better / more training, but certainly the data questions the value of much of today's leadership development efforts.  It may work for today's leaders, but the game for tomorrow's leaders is going to be very different.

"The Leadership Forecast", Development Dimensions International;
at www.ddiworld.com, you can download a summary of the report in pdf format.

 

 

"To be or not to be - Shakespeare in Management"

Just when you thought you'd heard it all, here comes another way to train leaders - through the study of Shakespeare's plays.  Norman Augustine and Kenneth Edelman have been using the technique to train executives from major US corporations.  The idea is that we can learn how to handle today's organisational issues from the way similar issues were handled by the Bard.  Look at the project management of Julius Caesar, risk management as practised by Portia in the Merchant of Venice, and of course any number of leadership styles.  Movers and Shakespeares claim to be able tackle Leadership, Communication, Marketing, Diversity training, Team building, and Law and ethics through their executive programmes.

McKinsey and Andersen Consulting probably don't need to feel too threatened by this, but it does remind us of the need to be creative in engaging leaders in their personal development. If it works, don't knock it!

Shakespeare in Charge: The Bard's Guide to Leading and Succeeding on the Business Stage
by Norman Augustine and Kenneth Adelman
www.moversandshakespeares.com

 

"Number-crunching is not enlightenment"
Sunday Telegraph (UK)

The Gallup Organisation has published a massive survey of over 80,000 managers in over 400 companies.  It concludes that the greatest managers have little in common, employ vastly different styles and focus on different goals.  However, they did throw up one shared insight: managers know that people don't change much, so it's a waste of time trying to put in what was left out.  Instead the trick is to draw out what was left in.  So, select people for talent, not just experience, intelligence or determination; define outcomes for delegated tasks, not processes; motivate through a focus on strengths not weaknesses.

In another part of the survey, they showed that it's the employees' immediate manager rather than company policies and values that make them want to stay and do things well.

*First, Break All The Rules; Buckingham and Coffman

Chimaera Consulting Limited 1999 - 2000.