Saying goodbye to the mechanisms of control

Photo by Daquella Manera

Today, I was watching this presentation, that Adam Singer made out of famous bloggers quotes, and found a quote from a post by David Armano titled Passion vs. Productive:

There are actually few organizations that can support passionate employees—even if they say they want them. That’s because the original industrial revolution was designed to support productivity … Managers want passionate employees, but don’t always know how to manage them. Passionate employees question things, probe and push. Who’s got the time to deal with that?  Productive employees get things done. No questions asked.

This is a great explanation of how many of the common practices of management got developed. In yesterdays world of management, which was focused around production, the main focus was productivity of homogeneous products.  In order to increase the production of homogonoues products or make your employees do one thing and do it well, you create strict rules. You don’t let each employee find his own way or experiment with new innovative ways to create things . You don’t allow your employees to follow thier passion. You Taylorise thier world. Thus, many of the common practices of management are mechanism of control to deal with the heterogeneity of employees and to subdue it. That is why yesterdays mangers used so many rules. They are shackles, prisons, to deal with the heterogeneity . In order to shape employees into a recurring homogeneous molds.

Today’s world is about embracing and reveling in the heterogeneity of employees. It is about letting go of the mechanisms of control. It is about not making any rules any more. It is about letting employees follow thier passions. Giving them Authourty. Letting them develop their own Mastery. Giving them a sense of Purpose.

In order to do that we need to rejoice in the ability to lose control. To rip off the chains of misconception about management that were developed in the world of production and our let go of our fear of the unknown. To change our conventional wisdoms about what management really entails. To celebrate the diversity of human talent.



Shorts: The Nametag Guy (@nametagscott) on Commitment

Watch this short presentation by The Nametag Guy. Here is a quote:

It is about commitment. And more importantly, it is about visually, daily, remind people of that commitment. See, people, customers, fans, they are not going to give you credit for what they hear you say. They are going to give you credit for what they see you do

In other words: Show, don’t tell.

Here is what I wrote, not a while back:

The more practical thing I was thinking about is the importance of leadership on the creation of culture. There is a wide agreement among researchers that leaders are the main agents of change. And new leaders have the most prominent effect on the organizational culture. The problem I think most of us face while dealing with leaders and their attempt to change culture is hypocrisy. Leaders who say one thing and do another. I think the most frustrating thing people encounter. Sometimes the hypocrisy is intentional, sometimes is just a matter of bad practices. If it is intentional, well, there is a bigger problem. If it is not intentional, I think many times it is a matter of disconnection with the reality of the organization and the people who operate it. The leaders don’t know what is really happening. That is why I think one of the most important process leaders should adopt is MBWA – management by walking around. Go to your people, walk around them, talk to them, be the costumer, deal with a costumer, see where the people are sitting or working … If you consider yourself a leader, this is as much a part of your job as sitting in your office. It is more than that – it is something you need to put into your schedule. How many leaders you know have “walking around” in their schedule?


Isn’t it time we stop with trying to create rules?

One of the more interesting locations I visited during the course I took in Singapore and India during the last few weeks was the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel in Mumbai. It is one of India’s most famous hotels, known around the world for its amazing levels of service. During our visit we heard a lecture from the head of the training division that described the history of the hotel and it’s culture. She was describing the culture of service and employee engagement and the fact that most of the employees in the hotel have worked there for more than 20 years.

Then, one of my classmates asked how does the hotel keep the employees so engaged for so long. I didn’t write the answer down, but this was, more or less, her answer:

We create employee freedom by not surrounding our employees with rules. At the same time making sure they understand the culture and what we are trying to achieve.

That sentence resonated with me. I am not surprised given my writing on outcome management and the fact that this is what I wrote a few months back as one of my lessons from Barry Schwartz’s talk at TED:

Let them to the job – people work differently. They produce the same outcomes differently. Don’t interfere. Don’t make up rules. Maybe, as Barry says, don’t even create incentives (I am not sure I totally agree with that one). Don’t try to make them do the job the way you would have done it. Give them the intellectual and mental space to work it on their own. Provide support and training but don’t create rules about the specific job. If phase one was done correctly, they will find the way to produce the outcomes you required.

Then, I read what Seth Godin wrote in Tom Peters‘ Blog about excellence (The post appeared in my RSS reader but is no longer available on the Tom Peters blog, the link is to another source on the web):

When the Ritz-Carlton hotel empowers every employee from chambermaid to manager to “make things right,” they’re not engaging in the sort of quality control most managers are comfortable with. In fact, if they were able to write down exactly what to do in every situation, the excellence factor would disappear. What the hotel accomplishes with its policy is this: they challenge their employees to become artists.

Another way to put all of this (not mine, Dan Pink’s): Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. I am really waiting to read his new book (and not only me: 1, 2) to read more about these concepts, as I think they really encompass how managers should treat their employees. Just to start you thinking. Don’t you think that saying we should give our employees Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose is the same as saying not to create rules for them?


Shorts: Chip and Dan Heath on what is working

In Seth Godin wonderful E-book What Matters, Chip and Dan Heath write:

We’re wired to focus on what’s not working. But Murphy asked, “What IS working, today, and how can we do more of it?”

You’re probably trying to change things at home or at work. Stop agonizing about what’s not working. Instead, ask yourself, “What’s working well, right now, and how can I do more of it?”

This is another example of how important it is to notice what is not there. The problems jump out on us and demands our attention. However, dealing with the less obvious things is more important. It is also a reminder for us to focus on our strengths and on our comparative advantages. By focusing on what works for us, we can improve much more then by focusing on what is not working for us.


Shorts: Tom Peters on management and leadership

Tom Peters writes:

It is sometimes said that the difference between ‘management’ and ‘leadership’ is ‘doing things right’ versus ‘doing the right thing.’ I think that’s nuts. In fact, let’s assume there is a ‘doing things right’ and a ‘doing the right thing.’ Well, both are of equal importance, and if anything ‘doing things right’ takes precedence. Another way to put it is that having an ‘excellent strategy’ is approximately worthless unless execution is equally ‘excellent.’ Far more things fail to come to fruition because of lousy execution than because of lousy strategy. (‘Execution is strategy’ is the way a boss of mine, Fred Malek, put it waaaaaay back in the 1970s.) Hence my ‘take no prisoners’ ‘bottom line’ is that ‘doing things right’ is as much a part of effective leadership as ‘doing the right thing.’

My take:

The first time I saw the famous quote (“the difference between ‘management’ and ‘leadership’ is ‘doing things right’ versus ‘doing the right thing”) I loved it. I felt it was a simple enough expression of the difference between the everyday life and the faraway vision. However, the more I think about it, the more I realize that Tom is absoultly right. It is nuts. It embodies the underlining assumption that managers are cogs that only follow rules. We know that is far from true. Great managers sometimes defy the rules. They defy conventional wisdoms all the time. Managers and leaders are different, but both of them need to do the right things and do them right.

Thanks Tom!


Lessons about Business in Asia – it is not different

As I mentioned in my last post, in the last three weeks, I have been visiting Singapore and India as part of a International Business in Asia course (part of my AGSM MBA). While I have accumulated many ideas for new posts in the last few weeks, I think there is no better was to restart my posting than with a post that summarizes my main learnings from the trip.

Everybody talks about how different Asia is. About how business in India, China, Singapore or any other country in Asia is totally different then the western way of doing business. This is the frame of mind that I came with to a n educational trip in Asia (Singapore and Mumbai). However, I discovered  that there are no differences! Business is business. Everywhere.

“This guy is crazy”, you must think to yourselves. “Everybody knows that there are cultural differences and that companies have failed because they did not understand these differences”. And my answer is… You are completely right. Well, expect about the crazy part…

I am not saying that the countries are not different or that you do need to respect diversity before you venture into a new market. I am just saying, that this is what you would do when you will go to every country in the world. East or West. Let me go over some of the lessons I learned and try to explain this idea  a little more thoroughly:

1. Respect for the local culture – the fact that people from different countries differ from one another in habits, behavior, communication and heritage.  And companies should be careful not to make the assumption that if something works in one market, it will work in another. There is a need to first understand the culture, then tweak and customize the products and services to the local culture. However, this is true to any other “western” country. IKEA had to change its offerings when it came to the states. Starbucks failed when it came to Israel. No one would try to sell exactly the same thing in France and in Germany. Lesson: When you go into a new market, start by re-examining all your assumptions about customers. It is true in Asia as it is in any other place. Not doing it is just bad business.

2. Local differences – a theme the came up again and again in the trip is the diversity inside some of the countries. There are many Chinas and Many Indias was the theme. South India is not like North India. Different languages, different foods, different costumes and holidays. And again, the European market is not the same all over Europe.  Products that work in the UK do not necessarily work in Belgium. There are differences in foods and languages even inside some the European countries. The American market is not the same all over the states as some companies realized when tweaking their products to the Hispanic market in California and the Cuban market in Miami. Things that work in New-York will not necessarily work in Lo-s-Angles. Looking at countries as one segment or market is just not smart business. Lesson: Beware of the fallacy of the average (in the wider sense of the term – and see an interesting perspective of this here).

3. Time, Time, Time – people expect immediate successes. In real life going into a new market, starting a new business and overcoming cultural barriers take time. You wont succeed over night in the west. You will not succeed overnight in the east. Don’t let anybody else tell you otherwise. Lesson: Size of market does not guarantee immediate success no matter where you do business. Patience and perseverance are the keys to success (and see point number two again to understand why the size of the market is in some ways, a myth).

4. People are people – as this blog concentrates on managing people I tried to understand all through the trip if the difference in the culture has an impact on the principles of people management. Does people motivations for work differ? Does the role of a manager or a leader in these countries differ? My answer is – no, it does not. You will find the same diversity of people in Asia as you will find anywhere in the world and there is a need to understand it and leverage it. True, as a whole, Indians are more entrepreneurial in nature than Chinese and Chinese are more bound by conformity, but this is only as a whole. In the individual level, which is the most important level for the manager, people still vary. In this sense, sensitivity to communication methods is vital and understanding the preferences of each individual becomes even more important. Lesson: Managers face the same challenges everywhere, even though the tactical problems might appear to be different.

Countries and people are different. However, they are different in the same way everywhere. Smart business uses good processes and ignores assumptions and attempts to copy models from one market to another. This is true everywhere in the world.


A short vacation

Due to personal reasons (a trip to Singapore and India) there will be no more Comparative Advantage posts during the month of December.

Although I am sure that I will encounter many issues to write about while I tour and learn about business in these countries (and China) I am not sure about the level of access I will have to internet and the available time I will have for writing.

Thus, I am taking a much needed vacation and will be back with many more posts about managing people and other related subjects in 2010! See you then.

In the meantime, if you haven’t already done it, I urge you to read my e-book: Playing It to Excellence and Happiness in Real Life – Five Concepts I Learned by Playing Basketball, Working and just Living.

Have fun and happy New Year!