Culture first

This morning I read an article in the NZ Herald about management training being below par. Intrigued by the title I found

Alexander says making hiring and promotion decisions based on skill-set alone would be a mistake – culture must come first.

For staff lumbered with an inept manager, Alexander says they will need to help them see the errors of their ways.

cited is Megan Alexander, general manager at recruitment firm Robert Half.

It reminded me of a Tweet that I saw earlier where a company fired a new CEO after 7 months because his social skills didn’t match his analytical capabilities. This stands in stark contrast to the times when I started of in the mid Eighties. I remember a certain gentleman who had no desire for social interaction. He was residing in his office, called his staff in and gave orders. Never ever was he listening to opinions or suggestions that questioned his decisions. You had to prepare him by feeding information in small doses over time.

Today such a leadership or management style is unthinkable. People would complaint, work would be delayed, quality would slip and staff turn over would increase. I wonder if (how much) tweets and facebook rants would also damage the organisation’s brand image if such a manager persists in his/her job. Thinking back at the oil spill in the gulf of Mexico it’s more a personal reputation issue than an organisational one. While originally the organisation was blamed and took a heavy beating, I bet in a poll today a third would not pick the right company.

However, what Alexander is talking about is a much less visible layer of management, the so called middle manager. Coming from the rangs and having earned their reputation on technical or practical achievements they move into a management position. Here they are confronted with something entirely different. Rather than taking the mickey how the boss has handled the issue yesterday, they are now faced with making decisions that have consequences other than for themselves. They move from being responsible for a task to being accountable for an outcome. This is a major shift. It requires a different mind set and different skills.

I was 23 and in the German Army. Although I was studying computer science at the time. During the semester holidays we were placed into a battalion and lead for 3 months a chunky part of the new recruits. I was travelling by train and talked with a gentleman about it. When he asked about the size of my upcoming responsibilities I said about 100 people. He looked astounded and left me wondering what lay ahead. It was a terrifying experience at first although I sought and got help from 2 wise people, one was the company leader the other the master sergeant. Both told me different things which time and time again held true.

Know what you want to achieve and the essential steps to get there.

The very first thing you need to know in absolute clarity is what is expected from you. Once you are clear about that you can define what get you there. This in turn leads to what you know and what you don’t know. You can determine what resources are required and make a plan. This is a leadership advise and gives you the bird eye view. It is critical to have it.

Don’t do it all yourself.

You’ve got experienced team members and specialists. Work with them. Give them direction and boundaries. Make those boundaries to their capabilities and not to your desire of control. This second advise is a management tool. It’s about people. You cannot do all yourself. It doesn’t work. Hence make use of the skills your team has and give them the freedom to exercise them. Now you are on the ground. While the birds eye view tells the direction, the ground view deals with all the obstacles directly in front of you. This requires a variety of management skills. Although they all come back to dealing with people.


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