Archive | November 2012

Are Managers Making Themselves Ever More Irrelevant?

Here is an interesting personnel practice at a science-oriented organization: The names of candidates for senior promotions, and the positions where they are under consideration to be promoted into, are made known to members of the public.  The suspense goes on for months following this outside disclosure.  In the end, at least 2/3 of the people on the list will end up feeling disappointed, maybe bitter or angry, and possibly ready to look for another job.  While a process of thoughtful consideration and deliberation is necessary for promotion, the general tenor of this particular process is rather like jury deliberation in this country.  In fact, the jury process is almost the model which management in this institution tries to emulate.  By this I mean that the management has abdicated its decision-making responsibility.  Instead of exercising their judgment on their own people’s promotional eligibility – deciding whether the person is promoted or not – managers allow a much more complicated and cumbersome process to choose who to be promoted.  And managers have also, ever so cleverly, informed key people outside the institution which of their best employees are now ripe for recruitment.

English: Graphic for Seven Management and Plan...

English: Graphic for Seven Management and Planning Tools. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jury process is designed to determine guilty or not guilty.  Management concerns nuanced matters of human behavior and emotion.  Management’s considerations require more wisdom and insight than due process.  Due process will never eliminate subjective judgment, especially not in matters of human behavior and human relationships.  Management has evolved to processes that protect itself against lawsuits, complaints or grievances.  But in so doing, management has abandoned decision power in domains that require wisdom.  As a result, managers focus their power on matters that devoid of human touch, such as abstract rules and regulations.  But in actuality, managers are forced to pay attention to the full spectrum of behaviors exhibited by their direct reports:  messy problems, minor violations, thoughtful analyses, to demonstrations of superior performance. And when managers can’t find “how to make a judgment call” in their manual, they feel uncertain and often end up making good situations bad, and bad situations worse.

If managers keep surrendering to manuals, rules, regulations, or precedents, why do we not simply institute computer programs to make these decisions?

But having made all these complaints, I have to admit that due process as the ultimate arbiter is what society at large has been pushing for.  Our litigious practices have made all of us fearful of making decisions.

On the fifth hand, we need a much “wiser” organizational structure in which wisdom, track records of good judgment, empathy, integrity, and humility are part of promotional criteria.  But faced with the expectations that we measure these criteria, how do we use them?  I’ll keep thinking about these issues…if you have any suggestions, please share.

Till next week,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

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It’s Hard To Avoid Talking About Sandy

About the hurricane, I will say this:  I hope the recovery and rebuilding will put people’s lives on track in an orderly and speedy manner.

One of the many lessons from the storm for organizations:  During calm periods, we build our foundation, assets, and most important, relationships.  When crisis comes — and one can always count on some crisis coming — we will be better equipped to weather the crisis and maybe even move toward a better future.

Plenty of work units, organizations, managers, and employees seem to experience crises daily, weekly or bi-weekly.  Where would they find the time to “simply build” when they constantly oscillate between managing the latest crisis and catching up after it?  Embedded in all the managing crises, and catching-up work afterwards are the continuing power plays and politicking.  And if one needs to rely on politicking to solve and manage crises…it’s a self-referencing downward spiral.

On the recovery efforts on hurricane Sandy, Jon Stewart in the 10/31 Daily Show said it well, “Once you remove political and partisan gamesmanship from the situation, performance improves dramatically.”  He gave that segment the name of “Institutional Competence.”  Sounds oxymoronic, but it can happen when the situation becomes dire.

If only Sandy can be this “gentle…”

However, I have to concede that playing power games is fundamental to human nature.  So, to rid of any political gamesmanship, in politics or in organizations and in many cases in families, is unrealistic.  My point is not to advocate the impossible: Let’s stop playing politics.  What I propose is:  Be mindful of our desire to use power, and be especially mindful of how we use power and for what purposes.  It’s easy to hide behind a highfalutin disclaimer, “I hate playing politics,” or, “I avoid power plays.”  It is a lot more helpful if we embody and increase the level of self-awareness.  When we are aware of where we are going and what we want – and are brutally honest about this – we are less likely to create painful obstacles for others.

Parallel to the lesson from Sandy, we need to be constantly updating our infrastructure; this includes building and maintaining relationships for organizations…as well as actual buildings and equipments.  We know this, but we keep finding excuses for not doing it.  Time to revisit the knowing-doing gap lessons.

An afterthought – not original – what if all the millionaires and billionaires who have contributed so heavily to the current election contributed instead to building our nation’s infrastructure?

Right now, Sandy’s victims have enough painful reminders all around them.  I hope as recovery efforts continue, the political officials will continue to keep their power plays in check.

Till next time, a calmer time I hope…

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

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