Managers Are An Unaffordable Luxury

Doing more, and doing it better, faster and with less is driving global business. A cadre of professional managers running organisations is going the same way as the typing pool.

Organisations can no longer afford managers who only manage; instead, they also need them to be leaders. This begs the question: what is the difference between a manager and a leader?

Simply put, leaders build people and manage processes, while managers just manage processes.

The organisation has various processes that must be completed entirely, efficiently and reliably—the classic belief of “getting the paperwork sorted”. Attention to detail is paramount. Multi-tasking, time management, and personal effectiveness all contribute to process success.

The manager must ensure these activities are being carried out correctly and so the supervision of staff is key. If the operation is not coordinated, then there is potential for chaos. However, it is more likely we are dealing with inefficiencies and costly delays.

The manager has to monitor worker’s activities to ensure priorities are dealt with properly, the urgent is done first, the details are correct, the sequence is in proper play and employees are working correctly. The “mice” on the treadmill need to be present and correct.

All this activity has to add up to planned outcomes, such as numbers around revenue, production volumes, quality milestones, speed of delivery, and consistency. The manager has to tally the score against the score sheet, note discrepancies and get them attended to promptly.

Whether the organisation is new or mature, the goal is to reach an equilibrium between competing demands so that the organisation moves forward in a planned and expected manner.

The goal is the maintenance of systems and the manager is the maintainer.

All of this sounds wonderful. Yes, we want our brand to be safeguarded, by ensuring everything is working properly, and our salaries to be paid on time, thank you very much. The question is whether this is enough?

We need our managers to be able to do all of this and more. The ability to handle people, as well as getting everyone doing what they should be doing, when they should be doing it, and how is a critical skill.

The managerial role may seem mechanical, but those pesky people who resist mechanisation keep popping up in the system. They have personalities, ambitions, biases, demands, failings and strengths. This big confusing mess of humanity under the manager’s control needs to be led as well as managed. They are not a process!

Supervision is one level of interaction, but it is inherently backward looking and historical in nature. Leaders, on the other hand, are thinking about motivating people, looking forward and trying to understand what makes each team member tick.

They are striving to align the goals of the organisation with the inherent motivations of the individuals in their team, rather than trying the approach of injecting the “motivation syringe” into their heads. Leaders need to have a reservoir of trust and good human relations skills to make this work.

Leaders are pointing people towards the future, not just reviewing the past. They are working with the team to create a vision. This may be a sub-vision of how to execute the organisation’s broader vision, itself perhaps designed on high during a boozy directors’ offsite gathering. The section leader can’t change this lofty vision but they can lead the team to conjure how to make it come to life.

Even with the vision a given, there is still an opportunity to have the team design a mini vision for their section or department under the umbrella of the big picture.

The point is to lead people—using an innovation methodology—to an outcome where there is shared ownership of what was created. Leaders always keep in mind that people “own the world they create”, so getting the team involved is a critical skill.

Leaders are not able to function in stasis. They know the competition never sleeps and understand this is one marketplace and its name is “global”.

The leader knows that incremental improvements may not be enough and, instead, breakthroughs are needed and these come from the people who work for us.

Does anyone remember a great thing called i-mode? Gone! Steve Jobs leading the Apple team killed it off with an innovation. Breakthroughs count and innovation is how to produce them.

Richard Branson, founder and chairman of the Virgin Group, announced as a hoax on 1 April, 1986, that his firm had created a supercomputer called Music Box, which would let anyone, anywhere download any music they wanted.

Steve Jobs later told him that the idea inspired him, and Apple ultimately created iTunes, which would put a big hole in music stores’ business and directly impact Branson’s own Virgin Megastores.

Virgin store managers who were “managing” a better process were not much help when leaders somewhere in California put Virgin’s music business to the sword. Innovation counts and this requires the leader to tap into the team’s full power.

Change in organisations doesn’t happen by itself. The leaders must get busy coaching their employees and ensure their skills are constantly evolving.

Challenging them to go faster, further and higher is not simply managing a process. Instead, it is igniting workplace enthusiasm to ensure the team themselves want to be better.

The typists have all departed the typing pool and moved on. Managers who can only manage processes are going the same way.

The modern business requirement is to be able to manage processes and build your people. Businesses that are slow to recognise this will be eating their competitors’ dust and wondering what happened.