Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Intentional management 15: looking beyond simply managing personnel 11

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on December 27, 2014

This is my 15th 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 1-14.)

I have been delving into the issues of referee and peer-to-peer management approaches for the past several series installments now, focusing in Part 14 on two points as they would apply to a more top-down authoritarian system such as a military command system:

• The referee approach to working with and managing lower level managers and hands-on non-management staff, or when working with same-level peers,
• And peer-to-peer approaches for identifying, clarifying and resolving problems when working with others.
• Note the way I expand these points out from a more strictly top-down approach here to allow for more open and collaborative contingencies, as for example when working with civilians and civilian government officials, and with members of distinctly separate military command systems (e.g. with command level members of allied forces in a joint peacekeeping initiative.)

And at the end of that discussion I changed directions to at least begin a discussion of how these approaches apply or fail to in a more open democratic business model and its day-to-day expression. My goal for this posting, at least to start, is to further flesh out my discussion of management in an open democratic organization. And to set the stage for that, I repeat here that:

• Even in a highly structured top-down management system, room has to be left for lower level managers and for non-managerial workers to make decisions and take initiatives themselves, least the entire system become clogged up with everyone in management expending all of their time making the wrong decisions from seeking to micromanage all who are below them on the table of organization. And even in a highly structured top-down management system, more senior leadership depends for its management and leadership ability on input and insight from their subordinates who are actively situated at the sites that would be impacted upon by higher level command decisions made.
• And similarly, even in a highly open and democratically organized and run business, there are still times and circumstances where someone in a position of managerial authority, has to be able to make a binding decision so everyone can move forward from there. And they have to be able to close off discussion and move forward on information and insight already at hand if they are to do this.

If my focus in Part 14 was on the limitations of the top-down command and control approach in a more authoritarian system such as a military chain of command, my goal here is on the strengths but also the limitations of taking a more egalitarian peer-to-peer approach in an open democratically run business. And the dividing line between when peer-to-peer and egalitarian is and is not best can be found in that murky gray area of change and uncertainty. And much of what will follow here will be about what that means.

• When everything is normative business as usual and everything can effectively be done simply by following normal operating practices and procedures, management in an open democratic system is primarily a matter of communications and keeping everyone on the same page (see my series: Communicating More Effectively as a Job and Career Skill Set at Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 342 and following for its Parts 1-17.)
• But when that business operates in a rapidly changing highly competitive context and is always adjusting to meet new and emerging challenges and opportunities, and both from the outside, and from within from its own innovation,
• Or when it has to effectively operate with limited resources in order for example to keep ongoing expenses down,
• Or when it has to function through crisis or disruptive change,
• Managers have to be able to step in and referee, and when necessary make final binding decisions too, and even unilaterally at times. The alternative can be stasis at a time when rapid action and response are essential. In this, a failure to come to a decision or agreement in time is in and of itself a decision and agreement; it is just that this type of failure to effectively act can mean making the worst decision and coming to the worst possible agreement and outcome.
• So the core point of this part of this discussion boils down to two crucial questions, which I note up-front do not have simple one size fits all answers.
• When should a manager in an open and democratic business organization step in and make more unilateral decisions?
• And how should they make, communicate and enforce these decisions, so as to remain supportive of the overall system and approach in place, and in ways that can achieve wider buy-in for those decisions as made?

The approaches that I have found most useful in addressing both of those questions all come down to one point: identifying where normal collegial decision making is breaking down and as early as possible, and knowing how to anticipate where it is likely to do so – then stepping in to resolve, or if possible to avoid these breakdowns. But at least as importantly as that, this means stepping in to make binding resolving decisions as a more senior manager in ways and under terms that can lead to as much general buy-in from involved parties and stakeholders as possible. And it means knowing and accepting the fact that not all best possible decisions are going to be perfect and not all of these decisions are going to be universally popular. In this, leading a more open and egalitarian organization is not, or at least should not be about always seeking to be the most popular person in the room. It should be about being fair and respectful and about seeking to make the best decisions, long-term as well as immediate short term and both for the organization and for all of those involved and affected. This is about being thoughtful and fair and it is about communicating more effectively, so that is conveyed and even to those who would prefer different decisions than what you reached. And with that, I come back to the issues of communications. Regardless of system in place: more authoritarian or more openly democratic, good management is all about good communications, and both when making decisions and when communicating with others about them, and throughout the process of gathering input needed to make an arguably best decision and when making it work.

And with this, I finally come to the issues of corporate culture per se – a complex of issues that has been present in all of this discussion up to here but that needs direct attention now. And at approximately 1,100 words in this posting up to here, I will continue that discussion in a next series installment. 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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