Micro management needs work

THE frailty of management has been ruthlessly exposed during the past few years. While Australia has had its corporate collapses, in the United States revelations that corporate earnings have either been inflated or have been airbrushed with creative accounting have undermined confidence in business leaders.

All this puts the microscope firmly on management and the way it performs. There is no subtle spin to it. The way in which leadership roles are performed in companies is fundamental to the success and long-term prosperity of the organisation.

It is important that leaders in organisations clearly enunciate and model their business values. These values comprise the soul of an organisation and should serve to guide the way in which it functions. Needless to say, once the ethics are established it is incumbent on people to follow them and to do so overtly. An energised organisation has shared values and a common purpose.

Some people will think that this only concerns ‘the big end’ of town, when in fact the art of supervision or leadership in its many different forms concerns everyone who is in a position of authority.

The recent revelations have been very public at the macro end of the business spectrum, but there is a multitude of examples of poor management at the micro level, which are never revealed. These inadequacies may be just as devastating in their impact.

Consider how much training and preparation people receive before they enter their first supervisory position. In many instances these positions are given to people who excel in the particular operational aspects of their job. This policy is quite seriously flawed. Scant regard is paid to the fact that the functions that will determine their success or failure in their new role, and hence the business, are often completely different from those required for an operational role.

It is disturbing to consider that at times the positions of authority are built on faulty foundations.

What is of greater concern is that failure in such roles can be difficult to detect, and in many cases the person who needs to make that judgement is the person responsible for the original appointment. Such errors have to be confronted before too much damage is done.

Poor supervision, management and a lack of leadership do not necessarily show up on the bottom line as obviously as a failure to sell the required number of widgets. It is more clandestine and can appear in many different guises. Tell-tale signs are: low morale; high labour turnover; situations where apparently healthy people are constantly on sick leave; deficient productivity; increasing costs and errors; and decreasing efficiency.

When employees lose their motivation and ‘can do’ attitude, but decide to continue to receive their salary cheque, the impact on the organisation can be debilitating. The opportunities lost and the lack of energy can seriously affect company performance.

The ability to detect and arrest such trends takes effort and an unblinkered view of the real situation. In such circumstances it is often more informing to determine what the customers and people really think, rather than to accept management’s simplistic explanations.

Ignoring the signs or failing to respond at the micro level can lead to more serious issues.

It is imperative that the problems are identified and that action is taken. Sometimes those in authority are oblivious of the situation, or worse still, they have put problems into the too-hard basket with the hope that they will disappear. Identifying and addressing poor performance is often difficult and unpleasant, but crucial to success.

The changing scene

Until recently it was generally accepted that a company’s printed financials were an accurate reflection of its performance and state of health. In some instances these have been found to be unreliable and so it does not augur well for the intangible issues, which cannot be measured by bottom line figures alone.

Executive bonuses have been determined by various methods, such as a predetermined increase in a company’s market capitalisation or the issuing of options linked to the share price, and these options did not even have to be included in the balance sheet. It is no wonder that in a number of cases these practices have resulted in inappropriate behaviour.

How much more vulnerable is the assessment of a company’s performance on the other issues, which are still critical to a company’s future, but are not as obvious as the bottom line?

So often it is said that: ‘People are our most important asset’. Quality management should support such bold claims with actions and the results to back it up.

Many times when employees hand in their notice the reason given is that they are going to another position with more money. The real issue is often to determine why they ever sought a new position.

For supervisors and managers it is easy to accept the ‘more money’ reason because it does not reflect badly on them and often it is rationalised by ‘they really weren’t up to it anyway’. If this had been the case, any inadequacies should have been addressed before the resignation. The damage and cost of a demotivated employee who continues in employment without corrective action being taken also must be considered.

It is the duty of leaders to know what motivates their people and to know whether or not they enjoy the challenge of their work. The environment in which people work and their attitude to the work they do is crucial to their ultimate performance.

High performing business environments exist where employees are challenged and valued.

They find the work experience positive and energising as opportunities to improve are provided.

If you and your people are completely honest … how does your work place rate and what are you doing about it?

p Tim Ford was the general manager of people and organisational development at BankWest from 1990 to 2001. He now runs his own consultancy, People Innovations, in Nedlands and is the WA representative for the Hay Group.

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