It is not enough to Manage by Wandering About

February 28, 2010

Management by Walking About (MBWA) is a management practice first proposed by Peters and Waterman in their seminal book In Search of Excellence. As  a technique, it aims to allow management to bypass the bureaucracy of the organisation and stay in contact with those that do the actual work.  It is communication at its best.

The Harvard Business School Working Knowledge discusses some research that shows that management visibility on its own is no guarantee of success.  Unless managers understand that MBWA is more than just walking about, they can cause more harm than good.  The research looked at a number of hospitals that engaged with front line workers on process improvements.  The result showed that improvements were achieved in most instances, leading to not just improvements in processes but in the overall organisation climate.

However, it is also possible to damage that climate.  The researchers found that it is not just important to engage with front line staff.  It is how you engage that will make the difference.  It is too easy for MBWA to be viewed as an audit that is trying to find errors or an attempt to catch employees making mistakes. If this is the perception of MBWA, trust will be quickly eroded, increasing hostility and suspicion – the exact opposite of what MBWA is attempting to achieve.

Some simple steps that managers can follow to ensure that MBWA is effective include:

o Do it solo – senior managers should MBWA alone and not hunt in packs

o Ask questions

o If you give a commitment to act on something, follow up

o Don’t undermine your supervisors – this is not an opportunity to whinge

o Do it often – it is not a fad and repetition will make it seem the norm

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Creativity and Thinking in the Workplace

February 27, 2010

I recently attended a Creative Thinking workshop facilitated by Aaron Downes of Creative Development. A very interesting workshop, it made me think about whether organisations allow or suppress thinking in the workplace.  Do we foster independent thinking amongst our employees or is creativity frowned upon?

The greater use of standardised systems – such as reward and performance management – the greater danger that creativity is stifled as employees work to those standards only.  Equally managers feel constrained to manage and reward employee’s performance within a narrow defined range of objectives.  The systems become an end in themselves rather than a means to a better organisation. Such systems can straightjacket creativity by taking risk out of the equation.  When your reward – be it money or recognition – depends on not making mistakes, employees have little incentive to do other than play it safe.

What can organisations do to encourage creativity?  Crucially, organisations need to begin to develop a culture that values creativity, risk and failure.  They also need to give staff the tools to think different – be it De Bono’s Lateral Thinking or Go Mad’s Thinking Framework.  Finally, they need to give manager’s the space to allow staff to make mistakes without the fear of short term consequences.


Earning Respect in the Workplace

February 12, 2010

Brett Simmons hosts a guest blog by Jim Taggart on how Leaders can earn respect in the workplace.  Jim has been a student of Leadership for over 15 years and writes a blog at Changing Winds.

Some of the steps that Leaders can take to gain respect include:

1. It’s okay to change your mind.  A failing of many Leaders is the fear that changing their mind will make them look weak.  As Jim points out, what is important is explaining the reason for the change.

2. Communicate clearly and regularly. While this sounds obvious, in practice it is the lack of regular communication that can isolate a Leader from the rest of the organisation.

3. Give regular feedback on performance. Honest feedback when staff are doing well – and not so well – is a key step in gaining respect.

4. Share the Leadership. Delegate and empower – but only when your team are ready. As Jim says, park your ego.

5. Admit when you screw up. This is a powerful way to demonstrate Leadership – especially when it is done publicly.

Go to Brent’s blog for the full list.


Are your employees informed?

February 1, 2010

I blogged recently about the need for managers to provide employees with a direct line of sight to the organisation’s goals. Without an understanding of what the organisation wants them to do and how this links to where the organisation is going, managers can hardly expect employees to be interested in changing.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) recently released their Winter 2010 Employee Outlook survey.  It provides interesting reading on how employees are coping given the current economic climate.  In the section on Employee Attitudes to Management, 13 out of 14 items are rated lower than previous quarters. Just under half of employees (49%) feel fully/fairly well informed about what is happening in their organisation.  That is, over half of the workforce surveyed do not have full line of sight to the organisation’s goals, strategy or change plan; without full information, these employees are less likely to be engaged in where the organisation wishes to go. This is backed up by a 28% decline in the belief that senior managers consult them about important issues.

What lessons can we learn from this?  At the same time as a low level of information, there is a drop in the level of job satisfaction (down approximately 25% over the year).  With 37% of employees stating that the would ideally like to change jobs within the next year, managers need to realise that – even in a recession – they can lose their best and brightest. The top performers will always get another job and are more likely to leave an organisation they do not trust than one that they do.