How often do we find ourselves going through the process of describing the steps required to perform a particular task rather than setting guidelines and objectives? For most of us the answer is too often and in this article, we’ll look at the potential costs of this learned managerial behaviour.
Leaders are often trained to manage processes and people to achieve certain objectives. For simple, repetitive tasks, the most efficient way of doing this is by telling people what to do, step by step. The process is somewhat mechanical and easy to deliver as the steps have been developed over time and have been proven to be the most effective and efficient way of performing the task at hand.
When we move up from junior and middle management roles to an executive level, there should be more complex processes for more strategic tasks. However, the delivery of instruction on how to undertake these processes is not always adjusted to reflect the seniority of the task.
Often managers are using the option they perceive to be the easiest and adopting the process of telling people what to do, step by step. There are two reasons why it’s the easy option. One, simply running through the steps required to achieve an objective demands very little input from the manager – it’s simply stating the status quo. The second reason is that it’s low risk. It’s the way things have always been done and everyone knows it works.
There’s another ‘benefit’ of this process as well – the employee feels comfortable. All they need to do is what they are told and everyone will be happy.
What could be wrong with this scenario? You may ask.
Nothing at all, that is, if you want a stultifying workplace with employees who will become disengaged and practices that will become embedded and inflexible.
The alternative – the train rather than tell – is to engage employees in contributing to the processes required to achieve the objectives required of their role.
This doesn’t necessarily mean training in the normal structured sense of delivering and then assessing what has been taught, but rather explaining to an employee the objectives of their role, the resources available to achieve them, what has worked in the past, what hasn’t – and how what they are tasked with fits into the organisation’s bigger picture.
You can see that this demands more of the manager. More thought, more time and more ability to accept an amount of risk.
It demands more thought because it challenges the manager to think beyond the normal processes associated with a role and how it has been done before. More time is required to prepare and deliver the information and there’s more risk because this process does something that some people can find scary – it empowers an employee by giving them a certain freedom to make decisions about how they will do their job.
Now, imagine this process becoming widespread in a workplace. What a great place to go to work! Engaged employees have opportunities to innovate and develop new work practices. An agile organisation that has the embedded ability to organically recognise and respond to changes in its operating environment.
These observations come largely from my own experience working with people and organisations at the C-level. They are supported by the results of an ongoing questionnaire, run by Forbes, that has been taken by more than 500,000 people since 2009.
They found that, unsurprisingly, “most employees lack the required strategic focus and entrepreneurial attitude to multiply the opportunities for the initial task they were asked to complete. In other words, the workplace has trained and conditioned the mind-set of its employees to be doers versus thinkers.”
It’s a depressing result and it’s not the employees’ fault. It’s the result of managers going through the motions of managing rather than leading and it can be an organisation-wide problem, or restricted to some areas of a company.
Fortunately, problems like these can be addressed, even if they have become embedded in workplace culture. Executive coaching has proven to develop leadership skills and motivate individuals to implement them… and so changes begin.
If you would like to discuss how small changes in your management style could benefit your team and your organisation, why not contact me firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website www.melindafellconsulting.com.au