Manager or doer?

All of us start our business lives as doers. We’re hired to complete a set of tasks which, when added together, form a job. When we’re advertising for a position, we usually write a job description and a job advert listing the tasks for which the person doing that job will be responsible. That’s the ‘doer’ end of the scale.

However, if a doer is promoted to take on the role of a team leader (for example), there are a number of things to be aware of –

  • The first is very common. You promote a doer to a managerial position because they are good at ‘doing’, but they aren’t successful in the new role. This scenario was set out in the classic management book, The Peter Principle. The effect on the business is that you lose a good doer and get a poor manager
  • When you’re making such a promotion, consider first the personality and characteristics of the doer. The right person for promotion may not be the best doer
  • The next point to consider is how you will support your newly promoted person. You don’t really expect them to know intuitively what to do – how to be a manager rather than a doer, do you? They’ll require clear objectives, guidance, coaching and possibly some management training
  • The last point is related to personality. When someone is promoted, they’re no longer ‘one of the boys and girls’, instead, now they’re the boss. Taking that step up can be difficult, not only for the newly promoted person, but also for those they supervise

The further you move up the ladder in business, the less time you’ll have for doing and the more time you must spend managing.

But what exactly is ‘managing’?

When I write a job description I start with the answer to the question, ‘What is the purpose of this role?’  A well-defined role will have clear objectives and criteria by which they can be measured.

A manager’s role is no different – it will have clear objectives and criteria by which they can be measured. The difference with the manager’s role lies in how those objectives are to be achieved.  The manager is responsible for the objectives but achieves them through the efforts of others.  Coordinating others and enabling them to carry out their roles successfully is a job – it’s called management.

As simple as it can be

Simplifying things is a challenge for any business. If you have a simple process, people can follow it without making mistakes. If you have a complex process, mistakes can and will be made.

I find that quality management systems often appear to be over-complicated. There’s a theory that goes something like this –

‘The system is important. Important things are complex and difficult to understand, so they are written in complex language.’

If you add to this theory the individual who overplays the difficulty of their job, you have the quality management system that becomes a bureaucratic nightmare  –  otherwise known as the business prevention system.

Those are the systems that people hate. They are seen as restrictive, serving only to enforce compliance.

One recent experience with a customer – a very large organisation – illustrates this. They were returning a unit to us for some additional development work, but the unit had been purchased as a standard unit, not for development.

We’d agreed in April to do some further work. In July, after several emails, we got a reply from someone in the customer’s team, a frustrated engineer. He told us –

‘I can’t send you the unit. It’s sitting on my desk, but it’s so far into our systems that I can’t work out  how to send it back to you.’

I’m sure these were exceptional circumstances, but it’s an example of a system hindering the business.

However, if you can take a step back and look at the reasons why particular processes or procedures exist, you may find some nuggets of value.

A procedure or process often came into existence to resolve a problem. Over time, extra layers were added. The result is that you end up with a complex mess.

When you set about simplifying a process or procedure, start by asking, ‘Why does this exist?’ and create a simple process to deal with just that: ‘Why?’.

If that’s not possible, perhaps the process is trying to do too much?

You’re likely to find examples of trying to do too much when you examine  complex assembly processes. We have processes that are extremely complex – one product we analysed recently had 174 parts. Any process that tries to capture such a large assembly of parts is going to be complex.

However, it’s possible to view that product as a number of different sub-assemblies. Each of those can still be regarded as complex, but there are probably only 30 parts in the most complex of them.

We have an overall procedure in place to assemble this product, but the lead procedure is simple and refers to the sub-assembly procedures, which in turn are also simple.

Making a process or procedure simple isn’t easy – but it can add great value to your business.

A system set for failure

The surprising thing from reading the news about the misbehaviour of RBS is that a structure where RBS have their own property business was not seen to be a recipe for trouble if not disaster.

If you have a business, or a department or a division, they need objectives and targets. You can guess that in this case the property business had a set of targets to maximise returns from the properties in their portfolio.

If that’s the case, you have the bank’s internal property company competing with the property companies who are borrowers from the same bank.  It’s not that much of a stretch to see that the internal company, incentivised only to maximise returns, would influence the lending teams to turn over any business that even began to struggle. Someone undoubtedly misbehaved, but the system was setup to encourage that bad behaviour.

One of my clients had a problem with their collections; very long days outstanding, and it wasn’t getting any better. When we drilled into it, the credit control team were doing their best but sometimes had to go back to the customer service team.

The customer service team’s incentives were all around speed of customer response and satisfaction  and had nothing to do with credit control, so of course the requests for help from the credit controllers were very low priority.

We made the credit control team a “customer” for the objectives of the customer service team; many of the problems were cleared up and the debtor days were greatly reduced.

When you set your departmental objectives, do you make sure they align with the overall business objectives?