As Work Changes, So Must Managers
Here is an article published in The Wall Street Journal earlier this year which is very relevant to today’s rapidly changing environment and the role of managers on Agile Projects.
(Mark Hurd who was my former CEO at HP is mentioned in the article)
What is a manager?
In simplest terms, a manager is someone who organizes a group of people to accomplish a goal. It is a job as old as the human race.
As an academic discipline, management is much younger. Frederick Winslow Taylor is often cited as the founder of management studies. His 1911 book “The Principles of Scientific Management” portrays managers as organizers: they arranged cogs in the industrial machine. Their job was about increasing efficiency and productivity. For Taylor, management “studies” meant standing in a workplace with a stopwatch, measuring workers’ actions, and devising ways to eliminate “all false movements, slow movements and useless movements.”
But in the years since World War II, the nature of work has changed. Peter Drucker was the first to clearly capture the difference.
In 1959, Drucker used the phrase “knowledge worker” – referring to people whose work primarily involves the manipulation of information and knowledge, rather than manual labor. The knowledge worker’s contribution to an enterprise couldn’t be measured with a stopwatch or a punch card. It couldn’t be forced or controlled by any amount of oversight. And it couldn’t be encouraged by simple pay schemes tied to hourly output.
Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan Motor Corp., explains how he got buy-in for major layoffs in Nissan’s turnaround. From an interview 11/17/09.
Drucker broke the manager’s job down into five pieces. A manager, he wrote:
Sets objectives. He or she is responsible for determining what the overall objective of the group is, sets goals for each member of the group, and decides what needs to be done to reach those goals and objectives.
Organizes. He or she divides the work into achievable chunks, and decides who must do what.
Motivates and communicates. The manager creates a team out of the workers, so that they can work together smoothly toward a common goal.
Measures. The manager creates yardsticks and targets and determines whether they are achieved.
Finally, a manager develops people. In Drucker’s world, people aren’t interchangeable cogs; they are individuals who must be trained and developed to achieve the full power of the organization.
To be a good manager in today’s world, you must also be a good leader. It is not enough to give employees directions. Managers must also give them purpose.
What exactly does that mean? In his 1989 book, author Warren Bennis listed differences between managers and leaders. Among them:
- The manager administers; the leader innovates.
- The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
- The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
- The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.
- The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
- The manager imitates; the leader originates.
- The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.
- The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.
- The modern manager’s challenge is that you must do all of the above. It’s an awesome but essential task. Managing without leading is a recipe for failure.
Attempting to lead without actually managing is disastrous as well. Many managers have met their downfall by setting an ambitious vision for their organization, and then assuming someone else would execute it.
“One characteristic of the successful dreamers I think of – Francis Ford Coppola, Steve Jobs – is that they also have remarkably deep understanding of the industry they work in and the people they lead, and they often are willing to get very deep in the weeds,” writes Stanford Professor Robert Sutton. “This ability to go back and forth between the little details and the big picture is also evident in the behavior of some of the leaders I admire most,” he says, mentioning Anne Mulcahy, chairman of Xerox; Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic, and Mark Hurd, the CEO of Hewlett-Packard.
These truths don’t just apply to CEOs. They also apply to the millions of middle managers who make up the core of any large organization.
Middle managers, of course, are not masters of their own fate. Unlike a Mulcahy or a Hurd or a Jobs, they must carry out an agenda that someone else has set for them. They may bear a heavy load of responsibility, but they have limited room for freedom of action.
A decade ago, the Journal’s Jonathan Kaufman captured the challenges of modern middle management by shadowing the manager of an Au Bon Pain bakery caf named Richard Thibeault. The 46-year-old Mr. Thibeault, a former factory worker, had always thought becoming a “manager” would mean he had arrived in the world. He would sit behind a desk, work 9 to 5, and be a pillar of the community.
Instead, he found he had to rise each day at 3 a.m. to bake muffins, prepare soups and fret over his store’s falling sales. Instead of the steady hours he enjoyed in the factory, he often put in as much as 70 hours a week. His job was an odd mix of broad responsibility and limited authority. He trimmed staff in order to meet corporate cost-cutting targets, but was not allowed to cut prices in order to attract needed customers.
“Some days I think maybe I should go back to factory work,” he told Kaufman. “It was easier.”
Yet for all their frustrations, middle managers in today’s well-run organizations often find they are given surprising responsibilities. They may find themselves heading up a team whose tasks involve not just following orders, but solving a knotty problem or developing a new product. They will be asked to innovate, to challenge the status quo.
Middle managers often find themselves heading projects that involve others who don’t directly report to them. Giving orders won’t cut it. Middle managers, even more than CEOs, must exercise influence without clear authority.
They must learn, in other words, to be leaders – the topic of our next column.