One of the interesting aspects of working with many client managers is hearing how they’ve experienced or observed the Major Mistakes Managers Make. One such manager described this fatal error (concentrating on problems not objectives) to us as follows: "One reason for the lack of effectiveness on the part of so many managers is that they major on minors." When we asked him what he meant, he said he had observed many managers spending as much as 90 percent of their time dealing with problems that only influence 10 percent of their productivity. In many instances, they become so involved with problems that they totally lose sight of their objectives.
Turning Problems into Opportunities
Managers will often approach us seeking a personal conversation. Given a supposedly sympathetic ear, we find very few talk about their objectives or goals. Almost invariably they’ll concentrate on problems, so it seems that managers could use some tools to help them avoid this flaw.
A number of years ago we consulted with a company that recognised this failing of management. In response they attempted to eliminate the word problem from the vocabulary of their managers by having them referred to as opportunities. We found it fascinating to participate in their management meetings and hear managers say, "I'm faced with an opportunity I'm having difficulty solving." They may have changed their vocabulary, but they didn't have the tools to eliminate the fatal error. One of their managers revealed the futility of this exercise when he described his attitude to a new marketing approach by quoting Pogo. He said: 'We are surrounded by insurmountable opportunity."
We call the opposite of concentrating on our problems and losing sight of our objectives "creativity." Creativity fails us when we become absorbed in problems and ignore the end results we want to obtain. Creativity dies, or at least withers, until we shift our attention back to our objective. In our opinion creativity in business can best be defined as "the ability to understand the forces impacting upon us, and being able to utilise those forces as a means of reaching our objective." More simply stated, it means ‘the ability to understand your business environment and conditions and to use these to your advantage’. The very issues and circumstances that first appear as roadblocks to our success can often be used as levers that make success a reality.
To achieve this we must first stop dissipating our energy on being obsessed with our problems, and fighting the environment or situation. Far too many managers act like they are total ‘non-swimmers’. If you put a non-swimmer in a boat, take them a kilometre offshore and toss them in the water, what will they do? Certainly they will try to swim, but in their panic, they will fight the water. The more they thrash about, the more they fight the water, the faster they dissipate their energy, and the faster they drown. Put a competent swimmer in the same situation and they will do something quite different. First, they’ll relax, float and tread water. In treading water, the expert swimmer is using the environment, using the conditions to sustain themselves. Next, they set an objective, the shoreline, as a destination; then at a reasonable pace, keeping their shoreline objective in sight, they swim to shore. Throughout the entire process, they use the water (their environment) as the means of achieving their desired result. Whenever we abandon or lose sight of our objective, we begin to drown, because we’re killing our creativity.
Why do we do this? Our educational system has conditioned us to view any situation that might disrupt our plans as a threat. For the most part, when we were in school we were taught that we must have a "right answer"; this conditioned us to develop a ‘one-answer mentality’. That may be true in mathematics; however in the business world, things are more variable. There is always more than one way ‘to skin a cat’. When we have a set of objectives and we’ve developed a plan, the factors that may interfere with its achievement can disturb or frighten us, because we can see the right answer (our plan) ‘running off the rails’. French philosopher Emile Cartier described the danger in our one-right-answer approach when he said, "Nothing is as dangerous as an idea, if you have only one."
Creative managers versus those who fall into the trap of concentrating on their problems think differently when challenged. Faced with a roadblock, the problem-obsessed manager asks the question "what?" "What will happen to me if I fail?" The creative manager, on the other hand, asks the question "how?" "How can I use this situation or condition to my advantage?" The very use of the question "how?" presupposes success, and that the objective will be reached.
The need for creativity runs through every segment of business. Management is essentially a thinking, not a doing job. The lifeblood of every business lies in ideas and creative thinking. Just look at Apple as an instructive example! Truly successful managers not only learn to view the environment as the vehicle for reaching their objectives; they train their people, their team, to share this creative perspective.
In our next post in this series we'll discuss Major Mistake #6 "Being a buddy, not the boss".
In part one of this series we said that when managers fail to lead effectively it’s not because they can’t master numbers, but because they try to master people or attempt to manipulate them. As a result, one of the traps managers fall prey to in this area is when they try to manage everyone on their team the same way or attempt to manage them as a group. It doesn’t work. Effective managers, understanding the essential differences between the people on their team, and being aware of their strengths and weaknesses, manage them as individuals. All good management is essentially one-on-one.
Managing people as a group is a weak management style but if this approach is so ineffective, why do so many managers try it? Some are simply lazy and being unwilling to take the time to do their jobs properly, attempt to do a week's worth of work during a staff meeting. They don’t fool their staff for a second. Others have never mastered the basic skill of looking another person in the eyes and simply saying what's on their minds. For them the back wall of the meeting room is the focus of their management effort. Still others see the staff meeting as an expression of power and attack people on issues that should be handled one-on-one. When we let our ego get out in front of us, we have a tendency to attack people and in doing so, we fail them…..and ourselves.
Wise managers make the effort to get with their people one-to-one when dealing with specific problems or issues. They also remain highly ‘aware’ and available. When employees are angry, dejected or tense, they pick up on that and steer them somewhere they’re able to talk in private. You will have scores of opportunities to help the people who depend on you if you remember that you were hired to manage people, and achieve results through them!
We occasionally hear a frustrated manager declare a particular person a lost cause when they don’t respond in the same way another did to a particular technique or approach. But a technique that serves you well with one individual may be useless when used with another so good management also involves selection as well as application.
All effective managers use a mix of different managerial styles or approaches, varying them to match the employee's needs, emotions or the situation. What they’ve discovered is that there’s no right or wrong way to manage! If it works it’s good, if it doesn’t work it’s bad. Let’s take a look at four different approaches used by effective managers.
When a manager uses Autocratic Management as a style and says "Do it this way, I said so'', this manager is drawing on self-strength. Two factors determine whether or not autocratic management is appropriate; the circumstances and who is being managed. There are times when this is the only way to deal with a situation. When the bullets are flying, or the building is on fire, you don’t call a meeting; someone takes charge and tells people what to do. Remember, no right or wrong way to manage. If it works it’s good, if it doesn’t work it’s bad!
Managers using Bureaucratic Management are managing by the the rule book. Because we often overwork bureaucratic management, many of us don’t look at company policy as a tool; instead we use it as a weapon to force people into submission. However there are some employees who not only want bureaucratic management, they want it in abundance for the satisfaction they curiously receive from regimentation. Remember, no right or wrong. If it works it’s good, if it doesn’t work it’s bad!
A third management style, Democratic Management, doesn’t mean letting people vote. When we let the team vote, when we let employees make management decisions, that's not democratic management, that’s an abdication of our responsibilities. With democratic management what we’re really looking to do is let people participate in the decision-making process by seeking and discussing their feedback, ideas and opinions.
The last style we’ll discuss is Idiosyncratic Management. This is really misnamed because all good management is idiosyncratic, because all good management is one-to-one and attuned to the individual. When we use the term idiosyncratic management, we’re referring to the extremes of personality, extremes that are literally idiosyncrasies.
To avoid the trap of managing everyone the same, remember…..no right or wrong, if it works it’s good, if it doesn’t work it’s bad! and you need to know your employees as well as you know your family so use an approach that works with each individual.
In our next post in this series we'll discuss Major Mistake #5 "Concentrating on problems not objectives".