In a Middle European country in the 1930s, so the story goes, the management of a gun factory were told by the newly-installed communist government to stop manufacturing arms, but to continue to keep the factory open, and to continue paying the workers. When they enquired about how they were supposed to achieve this, the one-word answer that came back was: “Somehow.”
‘Somehow’ management is alive and well.
It feels good to set a vision and then, like Jean-Luc Picard on the Starship Enterprise, say: “Make it so.” And of course managers can claim that this constitutes delegation and empowerment – good things. But Picard is relying on a disciplined and highly-trained crew with rigorous procedures worked out by rocket scientists. Even he can’t mandate the impossible*, or if he cares about morale, the unreasonable.
‘Somehow’ managers care more about their bonuses than morale, and their inevitable reliance on pressure and threats when faced with the prospect of a shortfall causes untold stress to employees, create cultures full of contradiction, and does long-term damage to organizational capability as a result.
What’s the alternative?
It’s the responsibility of managers to ensure:
- that organizational plans, initiatives and structures add up to an adequate framework to achieve the strategic objectives they have set.
- that said plans, structures etc are adequately resourced.
- that there is sufficient slack and contingency available to cover inevitable bumps in the road.
- that progress is tracked tightly enough and feedback loops are responsive enough to adjust if the plans, structures etc turn out, despite best intentions, to be wrong or inadequate.
There are plenty of tools to do this, and quite often, there are competent people on staff who know them but aren’t listened to (granted sometimes these people are so inarticulate when discussing anything but methodology that they are their own worst enemies, but that is another story).
There’s a major difference between delegation and abdication. It’s lazy and ineffective management to set forth a dramatic vision or set of stretch goals, and then mandate their achievement ‘somehow’, while abdicating responsibility for designing a credible implementation scheme.
*(well okay, I accept he has warp drive and teleporters...).
© 2014 Andrew Bass. All Rights Reserved.