The Evaluation of Management and Other Leadership Responsibilities

In my last post, I opened the ques­tion of busi­ness mod­els that help us tran­scend a mind­set of “dis­pos­able work­ers.” It’s a tough ques­tion because it calls for dis­cern­ment — the abil­i­ty to judge well. And judg­ment, you know, is a noto­ri­ous source of pro­jec­tion, mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion, bias, and many oth­er fol­lies. I pre­fer to think that the dis­cern­ment that is required is real­ly based on a deeply felt and deeply under­stood vision of what an enter­prise and enter­prise com­mu­ni­ty can be. 

One step toward a bet­ter busi­ness mod­el must be a bet­ter eval­u­a­tion of the skills of man­age­ment against that vision. Gary Hamel’s recent, wide­ly linked and tweet­ed arti­cle, Man­age­men­t’s Dirty Lit­tle Secret, sum­ma­rizes the sit­u­a­tion: employ­ee engage­ment, essen­tial for finan­cial suc­cess, is far from what it needs to be and this is direct­ly tied to “the lega­cy man­age­ment prac­tices found in most companies.” 

One of those lega­cy prac­tices has to do with the pro­tec­tion of man­agers. I do not mean to say they often feel pro­tect­ed. But in many orga­ni­za­tions the truth is that it is pret­ty dif­fi­cult to get fired once a cer­tain lev­el has been reached or time peri­od has passed. The fact is that when lay­offs come it is not the man­agers who are near­ly as care­ful­ly reviewed as front-line, non-super­vi­so­ry staff. There is an unspo­ken priv­i­lege giv­en, and this is espe­cial­ly true if the man­ag­er has been in the sys­tem for a long time. Yet, it is also the case in such orga­ni­za­tions that peo­ple at all lev­els know and talk about spe­cif­ic man­agers whose per­for­mance is deemed a prob­lem. With­in con­ver­sa­tions among senior man­agers these names get passed around — as long as they are in some­one else’s depart­ment. The folks with­in a senior man­ager’s domain may be rec­og­nized as a prob­lem, but no cru­cial inter­ven­tions seem to be necessary. 

For exam­ple, a few years ago, I worked with a senior man­ag­er who him­self absolute­ly knew that one of his imme­di­ate reports had inef­fec­tive peo­ple man­age­ment skills — the report talked con­stant­ly and in patron­iz­ing ways, as if he under­stood sit­u­a­tions and peo­ple with­out ask­ing a sin­gle ques­tion of any­body. His own reports saw him as total­ly inef­fec­tu­al, a joke. But this man­ag­er also had been around for twen­ty years, was a “good lieu­tenant” to the senior man­ag­er and believed one day he’d actu­al­ly take the senior man­ager’s place. My client did not have the plain courage need­ed to tell him the truth — that he would nev­er suc­ceed into the senior role. He allowed the report to believe in a fan­ta­sy future and main­tained his very high rate of pay by virtue of his super­vi­so­ry respon­si­bil­i­ties. His appraisals were glow­ing, with only the slight­est hint that there might be an issue here or there. But, as I’m sure you can see, it was­n’t only the report who was liv­ing in denial — it was the senior man­ag­er, as well. And togeth­er they formed an orga­ni­za­tion­al block that was hard to break. The senior man­ag­er accept­ed medi­oc­rity in return for not hav­ing to deal with a messy emo­tion­al respon­si­bil­i­ty. He lacked (or had giv­en up) the essen­tial dis­cern­ment and vision that might have led him into the right kind of action. He was not think­ing of what is in the best inter­est of the orga­ni­za­tion or his employ­ees. Heck, he was­n’t even think­ing of what might be in the best inter­ests of his report. This is such a stan­dard story.

It seems to me, in its sim­plest form, the eval­u­a­tion of a man­ag­er ought to pro­ceed along two essen­tial paths: 1) the man­ager’s busi­ness results, includ­ing ongo­ing, strate­gic and cre­ative work; and 2) how the man­ag­er achieves these results. And I hope you see that when I use the word, “eval­u­a­tion” here I am not refer­ring to the for­mal annu­al appraisal process. I am refer­ring to the process of per­for­mance judg­ment and com­mu­ni­ca­tion that is hap­pen­ing con­stant­ly between peo­ple. I believe it is the respon­si­bil­i­ty of an orga­ni­za­tion’s top lead­ers to make sure this eval­u­a­tion is real and com­plete for both cri­te­ria, and that action is tak­en — per­son by per­son — to inter­vene when one or both of these ele­ments is fail­ing. To do oth­er­wise is to grant immu­ni­ty and priv­i­lege to peo­ple because of their posi­tions and tenure. Inter­vene means offer feed­back, coach­ing, sup­port, men­tor­ing, guid­ance and facil­i­ta­tion of per­son­al change; and if no change occurs to either move the per­son into a job he/she real­ly can do or to humane­ly sep­a­rate the indi­vid­ual. This is where an enor­mous break­through could occur. 

As the exam­ple above shows, eval­u­a­tion and the action that fol­lows real­ly means a break­through in the fab­ric of illu­sion in an orga­ni­za­tion, the fab­ric that lead­ers hold on to and want to believe in. One of these illu­sions is that lead­er­ship involves being a spec­ta­tor to what oth­ers are doing, see­ing how they work things out over time, “hold­ing the space for” out­comes that nev­er actu­al­ly mate­ri­al­ize, no mat­ter how long one waits. Anoth­er is that we are all too busy to see and act on what is real­ly hap­pen­ing. Anoth­er is the top leader know­ing that if the process of dis­cern­ment were also applied per­son­al­ly it might mean a sig­nif­i­cant revi­sion to his or her own self-image. Please do not hear dis­re­spect. These are traps, and it is easy to fall into them.

And it is not that we don’t try to get at this eval­u­a­tive data and with some objec­tiv­i­ty. We do have “360 degree” pro­ce­dures. We have train­ing pro­grams, often big expen­sive, gener­ic ones. We have orga­ni­za­tion devel­op­ment con­sul­tants, inter­nal and exter­nal. We have descrip­tions of lead­er­ship “com­pe­ten­cies” galore. We have the so-called annu­al or bi-annu­al appraisal process. But real­ly, none of this is effec­tive with­out the fun­da­men­tal dis­cern­ment I men­tioned ear­li­er. These tools just become forms with­in process­es and sys­tems, some­times becom­ing more arti­fi­cial and inef­fec­tive the more objec­tive and imper­son­al they attempt to sound. The real eval­u­a­tion stuff I am talk­ing about is more at the lev­el of the “secrets that every­one knows,” the per­for­mance issues of spe­cif­ic man­agers that are not being addressed because of the con­flicts and inter­per­son­al stress­es that it would cause. It’s a mat­ter of address­ing the default sys­tem of the com­pa­ny, the stuff that is sim­ply accept­ed, that has giv­en some man­agers appar­ent immu­ni­ty for their per­for­mance fail­ures. This often results from fac­tors that have noth­ing to do with the ulti­mate suc­cess of the enter­prise. Among these fac­tors are hav­ing to face some­one with a strong per­son­al­i­ty, plac­ing tech­ni­cal over inter­per­son­al skills (despite the orga­ni­za­tion’s stat­ed val­ues), neg­a­tive views and dis­missals of employ­ees who com­plain, over-esti­mates of the knowl­edge drain involved in los­ing some­one, high lev­el friend­ships and unspo­ken pacts, fear of law­suits, bad advice, the desire to avoid grief, guilt or crit­i­cism, and the sim­ple longevi­ty of incum­bents who seem to know the com­pa­ny way. Any of these things can be used to ratio­nal­ize and there­fore excuse the leader from leading.

The respon­si­bil­i­ty I am describ­ing is noth­ing new. But it may be the hard­est one of all to mas­ter in a demand­ing econ­o­my because it is so per­son­al. There’s no “instru­men­tal­i­ty” here to pro­tect the leader. There are no lay­ers to go through, no pro­gram or coun­sel from a con­sul­tant to pro­tect the leader from own­er­ship. Dis­cern­ment and respon­si­bil­i­ty do not come from oth­ers inside or out­side the orga­ni­za­tion. They are based on a deeply pri­vate judg­ment, with all the atten­dant expo­sures and risks, a judg­ment that must cut through so many lay­ers of fog in order to gen­uine­ly see the sit­u­a­tion. They are based on the recog­ni­tion that unless action is tak­en, per­son by per­son, the enter­prise will nev­er real­ize its capa­bil­i­ties and poten­tials, not just for tech­ni­cal per­for­mance and cus­tomer rela­tions, but for the cre­ation of an inter­nal com­mu­ni­ty, as well.

You see, if we are to have integri­ty about this search for a bet­ter work­place, a more humane and inclu­sive busi­ness mod­el that is also a high per­for­mance one, we have to look in a more pro­found way into our­selves and ask the telling ques­tion, “How am I col­lud­ing in the prob­lem I say I want to solve?” The fail­ure to address obvi­ous and well-known issues, includ­ing the pro­tec­tion of man­agers (and exec­u­tives, too) is one of the ways in which this col­lu­sion most eas­i­ly hap­pens. But the trick is real­ly in the dis­cern­ment that comes from that under­ly­ing, guid­ing vision. For me this vision would nev­er be about short-term returns and dis­pos­able work­ers, dis­pos­able peo­ple of any kind. I can think of it only as an inspir­ing bea­con. It must offer the hope and the respon­si­bil­i­ty of co-cre­ation. It must offer a chance to con­tribute to some­thing much larg­er than one­self. It must offer oppor­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple to release their full poten­tials. It must be some­thing we believe in, found­ed in truth and care, some­thing as equals we are gen­uine­ly will­ing to act on together.

Technorati Tags: and . Direct link to Oestreich Associates website.)

No Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email is never shared.Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.