Leadership

Powerful managers understand these two concepts


I recently got a call from a man who’d just taken the free mini coaching program we offer on our website. He wanted to know, “Can you give me some advice to help me force my team to work on what I think is important?”

He was in a business that had just gone through a round of downsizing. It was the third such staff reduction in as many years. Those who were left standing had become embittered because the workload didn’t seem to get any smaller even though there were fewer people to get the tasks done. As my caller spoke, it also became clear that his team members were probably concerned about the future and therefore actively looking for work elsewhere.

Fortunately, most managers don’t have as difficult an environment or outlook as this guy. But with the question he posed to me, I think he show a predisposition towards his direct reports that's pretty common among managers across industries.

It’s part of the bigger problem ailing many of companies today:

Business leaders need to become much better at getting more done with less. Although organizations in North America have been going through “rightsizing” actions for years now, most executives still don’t understand how to do it well. And, if those managers don’t change their ways, fewer people will stay with them. And their results will continue to decline. That, of course, will create more failing people and companies.

Unless you enjoy working at a place which seems to define success as simply not failing one year at a time, I suggest you learn to embrace these two concepts:

1. Power is not the same as force - There’s a real difference between power and force but it’s widely misunderstood. Consequently, when times get tough, in an effort to get more productivity with fewer players, most managers simply try to push their teams ever harder. It’s kind of like trying to break your dog of a bad habit by using a whip – it’ll work for a while but at some stage the law of diminishing returns kicks in. And you may end up getting bitten in the butt.

People appreciate being asked for their advice. Especially if the manager is sincere about using it. Team members will give power to the boss if she or he doesn’t use it against them. And the boss will get much more done he's are on the employee's side than would be the case by simply trying to force his decisions downward.

2. You can tell the quality of an organization by those who are leaving it - not those who are joining it. Even in difficult situations, good managers can recruit and hire high-quality players to boost the performance of their team through the use of money or other perks. This can mislead the manager into thinking all is well (or at least that things will get better) with the new players on board.

In an environment where the contribution of everyone is paramount, watch carefully to see who is leaving on her own volition. Sick companies have a way of causing the good players to bail out even if they’ve been told they’re being kept on during downsizing or difficult times. The result is that the new players who are recruited end up joining a team of losers and don’t make the hoped-for contribution.

The outlook for business in the flattening world of competition is that it’s going to be tougher. More highly educated managers from other countries are competing for the same customers and opportunities everywhere. The truly great managers will succeed and the rest, still using old and obsolete management approaches, will fail sooner than later.

john

Leadership Coach

About

John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

12 comments
gaurav.v.jain
gaurav.v.jain

If anyone pressurises me to do something, I then do just what i have been asked to do rather than what I think will assist us in achieving the objectives.

NoCubes4Me
NoCubes4Me

I was pretty surprised at the survey results as of 10.04.2007. I must be exceptionally jaded, but I would be thrilled to find a place with one of the apparent majority companies who recalibrate. Results as of 20:38 CDT 04 October 2007: Of course! We recalibrate and discontinue the "nice to have" stuff and keep just the "must haves". (78%) No way! Everyone has to shoulder more work. That's the real world. (22%)

JosB
JosB

I've seen this happen at my last employer (I left for other reasons, before the shakedown). It happens when the company showed too little value for their good employees. When key personel is leaving, talk to them. Not to keep them in, but to make sure they don't leave because the company does a bad job. When I left, I told them my main motivation was the business job, which they could not offer. But I also told them that I was doing an excellent job and never got the feeling that anyone besides a few noticed. I was working as contractor (think that's what it's called) for two large companies. Excellent as being asked by incident management to solve sensitive incidents (boardmember going mad because of computer not functioning the way he expected it while others could not solve the problem fast enough), educating helpdesk to solve problems by phone and by that creating more time for second line to meet SLAs, helping third line support solving problems they could not handle (was second line myself, but had been sys-admin before I joined the company). This should have raised red flags, specially since someone I know very well left that company a while before I did with similar comments (also before things were getting bad at that company). Only for her it was the main reason to quit the job. She was good, had shown it more than once, have outperformed almost everyone worked with, never asked for a raise. The reason she left was because management would not pay her travel expenses or give her a raise to compensate. Requests for relocation to an other site closer to her home were refused. I know we were both blocked by the same manager at higher level. That would not have been much of a problem if lower management showed appreciation. But it seems that's not possible in very large organisations anymore. And since she and I are both good at what we do and do more than expected, we can find employers that take better care of good employees without much trouble.

mdhealy
mdhealy

Just like in the Y2K era, when IT applications get a good close look every time they fall into several categories: "must have or we die," "must have or we pay high price," "nice to have," "optional," and "why haven't we killed this one off already?"

richard.gardner
richard.gardner

Prioritise the initiatives that optimise processes and reduce overhead (whether in terms of time or resources). If that means working harder to keep the business ticking over in the mean time then so be it. All option 2 gives you is a deterioriating business model, which doesn't help in the long run.

Narayana_Pn
Narayana_Pn

Good one. One question: If the manager knows this, but not his manager (like Sr. Manager or director level). What manager should/need to do to make his boss aware of this? Thx ...PNNM

royhayward
royhayward

I hope my current one already knows this. This is pretty much exactly why I made a job change 3 months back. I came from a growing company that had a high turnover rate, and had been downsizing my group for 3 years while increasing workload. to a small and growing company where the talk wistfully about that one guy who left two years ago to start is own gig. After working were we had three or more critical paths at a time, it is nice to be were I get to focus on a problem and not be constantly jerked of of it so it must be completed by others. I think you've hit the nail on the head with this one. I am saving this one to print and leave on a desk if they show they don't know this.

lebadbob
lebadbob

People will stay with a company if they feel they can change the bad situation. Most people will "fight the good fight" if they feel that the result will be positive. Good managers will listen to the input, and will discuss it with their employees. However, if you're putting your job on the line just for making suggestions, you're much more apt to feel the need to leave the organization. There are a lot of insecure managers who feel threatened by their employees if the employees open their mouths.

richard.b.fowler
richard.b.fowler

I can relate to your story. In my case, I was working for the government and the call came out from the legislature: "we need to reduce the budget, and the government employees need to set the example." Years of no raises, political jockeying in the department when lay-offs came around, and (as you noted) lack of recognition for a job well done -- well, it's the good workers who can find better jobs elsewhere, so I and others did. There are still some good folks in government, but when most senior managers are political appointees and most middle managers are maudlin, the work environment suffers and the line managers can't do anything about it. Oh well. Another election cycle looms ahead, with more of the same coming with it. The good news is, I'm not there anymore!!

Hendry_Betts
Hendry_Betts

you said exactly what option 2 said ... you just used "business speak." No one said that keeping the must haves and demoting the nice-to-have's from the project was a static model. You perceived it as such. No one in their right mind (or left mind for that matter) believes that the work can remain "constant" with a shrinking team. If they do then they are either students with no real work experience, or self employed and independently wealthy. Cheers.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

I'd rather companies didn't downsize, but when they do, they must understand that they can not maintain all the "nice to haves" I did have a boss who pushed back HARD on this very point. He argued that he needed to keep me and a few others. When the business refused his request, he put his foot down and informed the business that his group only had enough people left to support critical functions. No more development and no more bells and whistles.

richard.gardner
richard.gardner

If you take the attitude that you'll get less achieved because you've got a smaller team you start concentrating on "essentials", which by their definition in this context are the things that enable the day to day running of the business. Actually my point being that this is counter-productive, if anything you need to bring new projects on stream quicker to achieve payback. Which actually means you might need to speculate to accumulate (option 3) or work harder (option 1). Work CAN remain constant (and increase) with a shrinking team, getting rid of deadwood and staring the bottom line in the face can concentrate the mind wonderfully. And yes, I do know, I've been there, done that, got an impressive set of stats to prove it. I argued successfully for capital budget increases at a time of redundancies which ongoing halved expenditure and reduced support calls by 75%. Yes it was hard work, but it was necessary for the survival of the business. But I wouldn't expect anyone who has never worked for a failing business before to understand how to dig their way out of a hole. And yes, we're still here.

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