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How ‘Manager’ is Hindering Success

One of the degenerative aspects of corporate culture I have observed is the role of a manager and it’s time to shake it up. Managers must learn new skills and move from a governance and achievement role to one of stewardship and improvement. We have to believe that if we provide the best platform for talent to emerge and prosper then employees will yield results never seen before.

To be clear, this is not about the individuals performing the role of manager, I have met and interact daily with great people in these roles who truly believe in everything that is written in this blog. Its the role itself, the expectations of it, the KPI’s and the way we are forced to make decision that creates the problem.

Manager, the role, was invented as a way to stop the worker from having to think. We needed the worker to just do the work as it was defined so had to invent a role specifically to think. This then evolved into decision making and goal setting and performance managing and budget management etc. Hierarchically of course the manager was above the worker, had more privileges and became the aspiration of the worker. None or these things had success designed into them, in fact, the manager was designed-in as a professional gate keeper between what was happening on the floor with our customers and where and what a leader saw to make decisions. The tools and processes we added through functions like H.R and Finance and Legal only served to strengthen the hand cuffs on the manager role until today we are left with a the role of manager being about executing the policies and process of functions and driving to meeting KPI’s rather than contributing to true measures of success.

All these things were born out of a time of stability, standardization and repetition. With the pace of change industries are experiencing today and the unforeseen disruption that is occurring, organizations don’t have the luxury of time. Therefore the manager polices and processes are too long winded, inflexible and too distant from success to be tolerated…

Here in lies the problem, there is a leap of faith required to find greatness. A leap of faith to go through a normative learning experience that convinces the brain that if you let go of these things then the result will be far, far greater. We have heard the catch cries before, stop focusing on profit and profit will rise, if you focus on cost it goes up, if you govern people they will only give you what you ask for, innovation only happens when you embrace uncertainty.

From Firms of Endearment, Sisodia, Sheth and Wolfe on the humanistic organization:

“Earn a place in the customer’s heart and she will gladly offer you a bigger share of her wallet.  Do the same for an employee and the employee will give back with a quantum leap in productivity and work quality.  Emotionally bond with your suppliers and reap the benefits of superior offerings and responsiveness.”

This is all a snowball waiting to happen. Release the manager from the constraints of policy and process, they are then free to release their employees from achievement and compliance which in turn unleashes the talent of individuals to do what ever it takes to satisfy customers. Equals profit!

Where to start? I think its key to go back to the beginning, start with why your organization exists at all, understand what success looks like from the customers perspective and use that as the input to how decisions are made and the corporate functions function. It’s the real ‘if we began now what would we look like’ unraveling that is necessary to re-think what a hugely profitable company looks like today, realizing that focusing on profit is not the answer.

From there we can re-image what the role of Manager looks like. A role that facilitates the link between outcomes we are trying to achieve for the customer and the work being done on the ground. Making sure corporate functions are enablers of the constant delivery of value to customers not inhibitors and that all employees can see a direct alignment between the work they do and the outcomes being achieved.


About Gary O'Brien

A Principal Consultant with 20 years experience in ICT and a diverse background as an IT Business Strategist and People Manager. I specialise in helping executives, teams and individuals to adopt and improve Agile methods, principles and practice. Using a strong emphasis on facilitating organizational change, and the role of management and leadership in an Agile world. As an Agile Coach I look to help teams adapt Agile and Lean thinking to their specific environment and impediments they face. Experience includes working with CIO’s and senior leaders to create and execute a vision and strategy for and adopting Agile as an enterprise approach to improving outcomes for delivering customer value and optimising IT.


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