Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Intentional management 13: looking beyond simply managing personnel 9

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on October 18, 2014

This is my 13th installment in a series in which I discuss how management activity and responsibilities can be parsed and distributed through a business organization, so as to better meet operational and strategic goals and as a planned intentional process (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3, postings 472 and loosely following for Parts 1-12.)

• I have primarily been approaching this series up to here, in terms of management organization and the issues of who reports to whom and on what issues and under what circumstances (e.g. see Part 3: the matrix management model and its variations for a discussion of a specific set of alternative-to-standard management system approaches.)
• I then began delving into the closely related issues of how to manage and supervise more effectively in Part 11 and Part 12 with a discussion of the challenge of micromanagement and how it arises in an organization. I note here by way of explanation as to why I began discussing the how of management on a negative note, our best teachers and teachable situations can in fact arise from the demands of thinking through how to do it better, that the negative examples we face bring to us.
• So I began with a bad and even worst practices example, and I continue addressing the issues of management style, and the how of management better from that and from the perspective of lessons learned. My goal for this posting is to move away from negative examples of how management processes can go wrong, to explore best practices approaches for making management and supervision more effective. That, I note up-front does not simply mean following a one size fits all formulaic approach, but rather consists of developing and instilling practices and processes that would meet the needs of the specific business and the people who would work at it.

To begin that discussion and formally begin this posting, I specifically stated at the end of Part 12 that I would:

• Delve more fully into the issues of management gaps and dislocations,
• Discuss in that context, the referee approach to working with and managing lower level managers and hands-on non-management staff,
• And peer-to-peer approaches for identifying, clarifying and resolving problems when working with others at the same level on a table of organization.
• And after that I would discuss the role of corporate culture in all of this.

And I begin this with some fundamentally defining observations:

• Effective management practices and processes bring everyone participating in a business system into effective engagement there, in meeting business needs and completing tasks to be done and in the right order and on schedule.
• When that intended goal is not possible, effective management processes facilitate and enable corrective responses, to more effectively reset goals, priorities and timetables as needed and to bring necessary work to completion. Effective management creates overall business agility and flexibility in the face of the unexpected and challenging.
• And effective management identifies and limits the types of gaps, duplications and other inefficiencies that I wrote of in Parts 11 and 12, as they arise for those postings’ examples through micromanagement, and I add from other problematical management practices too (e.g. failures to effectively communicate with or lead direct reports, or to work effectively with involved stakeholders.)

Continuing my focus here on micromanagement as a perhaps test-case example of problematical management practices, what are some better alternatives to it that can be viewed as business process best practices? I of necessity have already laid out the core foundation for any realistic answer to that in Parts 11 and 12 and I repeat that observation here again for its overarching importance.

• Effective workplace and management practices align responsibility with decision making authority and task execution wherever possible,
• So no one in a business, whether non-managerial hands-on team member or manager and at whatever level,
• Is held responsible for work to be done that they are not allowed to do themselves, and with the resources needed for that.

How this would be carried out operationally, depends on the business and its business model, and on its corporate culture. I will, by way of example here, consider two corporate culture and organizational model-driven examples in discussing that point:

• A top-down authoritarian system and approach which I will refer to as following a military command and control model, and
• A more egalitarian peer-to-peer approach which I will refer to here as following an open democratic model.

I intentionally chose two management models that are as far apart at least from initial consideration as possible here, to keep this posting’s discussion as generally applicable as possible.

I. The military command and control model as a case study: Let’s consider basic management and oversight requirements here, focusing for purposes of this discussion on command and control requirements for combat units that have to be able to act coordinately at a strategic level but that have to be able to make unit level decisions at a tactical level too. Both situations call for a largely top-down decision making and command structure, with more senior officers making wider theatre of engagement-level strategic decisions and often in close coordination with civilian executive authority as it sets overall policy, and with lower level tactical decisions made by the officers in charge of more locally situated units, and where possible with close coordination and communication with higher ranking officers.

I note here from the start of this management scenario example that I am only offering a simplified cartoon version of what in practice is a much more complex and nuanced management context, simply focusing on core details here that can be used to illustrate crucial points.

• Effective overall military action has to be able to address large scale opportunity and need and in a coordinated carefully timed manner.
• And local unit command authority does not always have the wide-ranging picture of what is going on across an overall theatre of engagement, and certainly in an immediate real-time manner to know precisely how their actions fit or would not fit into this larger strategic picture, and the overall planning and strategy in play.
• So overall command, coordinating unit activity as a whole comes from the top where at least ideally, command headquarters are able to assemble informational input from across their theatre of engagement and beyond to more fully see what has to be done and how.
• But local commanders still have to be able to make local tactical decisions and coordinate reactive and proactive responses to their immediate here and now situations too. So tactically, they need flexibility in being able to make command decisions too, and from the top down within these local units.

The perils of mixing micromanagement into this are immediately apparent and both for strategic and tactical decision making and management processes. Everyone in this system, from the most senior officers in charge down through lowest rank commissioned officers and noncoms, and the troops they lead need to know the range of decision making flexibility that they would be expected to be responsible for. This calls for ongoing coordinated communication and the sharing of information both down and up the chain of command as to precise situations faced. And when someone in this chain of command steps away from their own responsibilities that others are depending on them to focus on to in effect try and take over the responsibilities of others instead, the wrong decisions are being worked on and made and the right ones are being pushed aside and delayed if worked upon at all. And at the very least, any effective connection between the strategy and tactics of action and response breaks down.

II. The open democratic model as a case study: Now let’s consider an innovative technology-driven small business that operates in a highly competitive and rapidly evolving industry and that has to meet the demands of a rapidly evolving marketplace that has come to expect great as a norm. I write here of a business situation where everyone, from non-management hands-on employees on up holds crucial information, skills and insight, and effective decision making at a team level and even at an overall business level requires actively engaging employees as team members from across the organization. That, in this scenario is where new sources of business value can be found. And it is where new value creating ideas and insights need to be cultivated if this business is to become and remain competitive in the face of the onslaught of new that their competitors are also bringing to market.

Overall strategy is still going to come primarily from the top at least as to formal business-wide sign-off. And tactical decisions – immediate here and now implementation decisions that would be needed at team levels lower down on the table of organization where specific products and services are actually designed and produced, are in most cases going to be made lower down on that table of organization and by those hands-on teams – by the people doing this work directly. But more of the overall flow of decision making that takes place in this organization is going to be made, or at least directly shaped lower down on the table of organization than would be the case in my first military command structure example, above.

Both of these scenarios call for active decision making with final binding decisions made by specific individuals and final business-wide decisions made from the top of the table of organization. Both only work effectively where responsibility for action and decision making authority are effectively aligned. The difference is in where specific levels of strategic and tactical decision making authority, and responsibility of action are distributed.

As a final thought for this posting, I would bring this overall discussion squarely back to a Human Resources context and with a goal of connecting this entire thread of discussion of this series back there too. When HR personnel work with employees, and regardless of position on the table of organization they work with people who need to know and understand the management systems that they work in, and where they fit into those patterns. Effective work performance hinges on connecting into and supporting the management systems and processes in place, so the right people are working on the right tasks and with the right priorities and with the right support, and both for resources needed for their tasks at hand and for work that needs to be coordinately carried out by others. Effective HR needs to fit into this and support this overall system.

And with that, I have at least started a discussion of the first to-do list topics that I offered towards the top of this posting. I will have more to add to that in other postings but I will turn in my next series installment to the second and third items on that list: the referee approach to working with and managing others, and peer-to-peer approaches to working with, influencing and managing. I will then, as proposed above, discuss the role of corporate culture in all of this. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and also at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.


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