Connect what to who (not how)

ETSA Building 2

Tom Foster writes Management Skills Blog, one of the best going around on organisations and management.  I always urge my clients to sign up, please do yourself a favour and do the same.

One of my favourite points of Tom’s is  “it’s not about how, it’s about who“.    This simple phrase goes to the heart of a change in thinking managers at all levels can apply if they want to provide better value-adding leadership to their people.

A manager who is spending their time thinking about how their people need to do something is not actually doing their full job.   This is for a simple reason – managers are paid to exercise their judgement on what needs to be done in their area to fulfill the needs of the organisation, then decide who is going to do it.

An example:  Say backlogs for a processing area are currently at 160, where 20 is the maximum accepted.  The manager of the area is accountable for getting this down to 20, so their natural instinct will be to try to figure out why it got to 160 and get it down.  In other words…how.

Here is another way.  Find the most capable person on the team, and assign them a task.  To make the work clear, use the categories described by Jaques and Clement in Executive Leadership, being;

  • the context and purpose (why 20 is the maximum limit and what happens if we don’t get it down);
  • the output needed (below 20 and stays there);
  • the quality standard (no drop in processing quality and no staff burnout);
  • the timing (by the end of the month) and importantly;
  • the resources available (can call colleagues off the line for 30 minutes each day, and has $1,000 budget for overtime and pizza).  
  • any limits (don’t bother any other areas while doing this).  

The most capable person on the team now has an opportunity to shine, and with the resources allocated, is now actually empowered (as opposed to being told to feel empowered).  Importantly, the manager can now get on with the job of determining the next problem to solve to keep the whole show on track and integrating the work of the team into the plans of the organisation.

In other words, the work their team is relying on them to do – value-adding leadership.

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