Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Four random Simplicity thoughts

1. The 'manager' is dead - long live the coach

I’ve always believed managers are coaches. ‘Manage things - lead people’ is how my good friend and leadership expert Brian Ward of Affinity Consulting, Edmonton, Canada describes it. In the next few years I believe we will see far less directing and ‘managing’ of people as they become more and more empowered due to the ease of access to information. Nowadays the subordinate person who was previously ‘managed’ by their boss is in possession of as much information as the boss - thanks to the internet. The implications for managers are simple and obvious. If the manager is to retain that ‘higher place’ in the pecking order he/she will need to illustrate what is the added value he/she brings. And ‘many years in the job’ is not the right answer.

I advocate embracing the new challenge and see your role as a coach of talent. The manager with experience and qualifications should be in a position to impart that knowledge and encourage the people in the team. I see less hierarchy and more teamwork where the coach has the job of keeping all the team members happy, fulfilled, motivated, stretched and enthusiastic. This will require development of new and existing skills. The alternative is to watch frontline employees take your space in the organisational chart. The manager is dead – long live the coach.

2. Trust the frontline workers to manage themselves

I’ve always believed frontline employees have much more to offer than their job descriptions, and sadly, their managers allow. Peter Drucker said “90% of what we call ‘management’ consists of making it difficult for people to get things done.” In the new world of management I see frontline employees being in control of their own workload and calling upon the coach for advice when they need it. Customer expectations are increasing because the customer is more informed. Frontline workers must be at least one step ahead of the customer in order to meet that expectation. The customer of the future will be more demanding. To be left waiting for an answer while the frontliner goes through various layers of management to solve simple problems will not be acceptable.

We have to find ways of ‘letting go’ of the perceived power managers currently have. The best way to gain power is to let go of power. Frontline employees are more than capable of creating their own working practices and project teams with the ‘support’ of the coach rather than the ‘direction’ of a manager. The battle to obtain the legal right for people with a learning disability to vote in the United States was captured in a report called ‘Make us Citizens and Watch us Grow’. That title could be applied to most frontline workers. Trust the frontline workers – they know the answers.

3. Working in your pyjamas at home is OK!

As managers and frontline workers become freed up to decide on their own priorities there are enormous implications for the workplace and the hours of work. Working from home was controversial when it was first introduced in my workplace 20 years ago. Many of my peers believed it was a ‘brave step to trust people to work from home'. I predict even less traditional office-based working in the future – apart, that is, from those workers who have face-to-face customer contact. I also see far less control by managers of the hours worked by employees. We have to find better ways of measuring outcomes.

Relaxation of dress code is another spin-off. If people are working from home and there is no customer-facing role it matters not whether the person is working in their pyjamas all day. It doesn’t matter either if the person hasn’t shaved for a week. Outcomes matter - appearance does not. This stuff is not 'risky'. If we start from a position of trust in our employees we will be repaid with loyalty way above and beyond the repayment we get when we start from an implicit mistrust. I don’t even begin to understand why anyone might question the fact we all like to be trusted. A professional working in their pyjamas is ok!

4. Working in a global village

In the last five years I have made more new friends that I may never meet, than friends I have met. Email, blogging and electronic communication create a host of new communication methods. We no longer have to restrict our thinking to communicating with people in our office, our team, our organisation, our town, our country or our continent. The world has become a village. Everyone who wants to be is accessible. As with all villages, there are people we do not need or wish to communicate with.

So we just need to be discerning in our use of modern information technology and as always we need to choose our friends carefully. The onus is on current managers to seek new alliances, new ‘friends’ and new colleagues from any part of the globe and more importantly to keep an open mind about how and what we may learn and from whom. The new communication methods offer us open access to great minds and amazing learning. We need to grab the opportunity. We do not need to be restricted to traditional methods of communication and learning; your ‘next door neighbour’ may be thousands of miles away in a different time zone.


Dan Gunter said...


You've covered a lot of important ground and done so quite well here, my friend.

Insightful, as always.

John O'Leary said...

Hey Trevor: "champion," "advisor," "sr. resource" are other useful roles that managers can play with their teams.

Speaking of which, I usually counsel managers to NOT run their team meetings. They should encourage a well-organized team member to "facilitate" the meetings (in fact, the team should choose that individual) which almost always allows more group participation, especially if the manager lays back and learns to not dominate the meetings. I've never seen this NOT work. (It's also a great leadership path for the new facilitator.)

Dan Gunter said...

John, I'm with you all the way on this one. And I would add the role of "mentor." When orienting new hospital team members, I would encourage them from day one to always consider their own actions and ways of working and handling tough situations under the following microscope:

"If I was mentoring a new employee, would this be the example I'd want to set and see them follow? Would they respect me MORE or LESS for it?"

Judging yourself that way can all too often yield a painful answer.

Trevor Gay said...

Dan and John - Good to hear from you both.

I love the new facilitator role John and liberating team members to feel ok about taking charge is a skill of any leader. Surprise surprise we find that people are more than capable of leading even if their pay rate doesn’t reflect that! More power to front liners!

Dan - I’m currently a mentor for a newly appointed young manager in a charitable organisation here in the UK. She has some gaps in management experience and they asked this old guy to help out. I love the mentor role. Actually what the mentor job is all about is bringing to the table experience and talking through what the mentee wants. The mentor than tries to facilitate the necessary support.

Anonymous said...

An experienced ER nurse was telling me this week that all holidays were banned for the summer as they were so short staffed.

If the staff switched shifts with each other and the administrator found out about it, they were switched back.

Do you think that managers fiddle around with stuff that they don't need to do because they're afraid to face the big picture things that are really their responsiblity?

Lois Gory

Trevor Gay said...

Hi Lois – Hope you are keeping well and as always it’s great to hear from you again.

Yes I do think managers sometimes fiddle with things they feel comfortable with because they feel in control of those things. They are in their comfort zone in many ways. I guess we all do that to some degree or another. The best managers however in my opinion are very comfortable about ‘letting go’ of that sort of stuff.

I think employees prefer it when they feel comfortable that the manager is not going to dabble in things that frankly they should leave alone. If the manager is constantly ‘interfering’ it clearly undermines the position of the people doing the work – the manager simply gets in the way of real work.

I believe it is ok for managers to just check in and ask 'how things are going' now and again - but on the whole my view is that managers should just keep their nose out of things they do not need to get involved in. There is a big issue of trust here don’t you think Lois?

Dan Gunter said...

Trevor and Lois,

If I might toss out a little thought, the phrase "What do you think?" being the "four most important words for leaders" has a 5-word relative: "How can I help you?"

Managers would truly want to be effective LEADERS put these words to use. They choose to enable and facilitate the front-line people to get the job done instead of dabbling in things simply because they can (or feel the need to demonstrate their authority and control.)

If the nursing staff are equally qualified and it doesn't increase the cost to the hospital (in terms of pay levels, shift differentials, overtime, etc.) why should they really care?

The only scenario that really jumps out at me initially is the issue of fatigue. I have seen nurses swap out in order for one or more to have some needed time off but they did so by working doubles (which meant 16 hour stretches for some, and 24 for others) which we tried seriously to avoid for patient and staff safety and well-being. But that could be handled (and some points won with the nursing staff) by simply telling them "Swapping is okay as long as it doesn't mean extra pay expenses or extended shifts." That's simple enough. They'll figure out how to do that themselves, if they're given a little room to breathe and do it.

In summary, my feeling would be that if the nursing staff can work out schedule changes among themselves at no additional cost or risk, let them. It helps them out, saves the nurse manager/director of nursing time working on the schedule changes and the nurses end up happier and feeling like they have a little control over their own destiny and working conditions.

Hope nobody minds the fact I jumped in the middle of the conversation.

Trevor Gay said...

Hi Dan – of course you are welcome to any conversation at any point here my friend - this is my front room and you are always welcome in there!!!

I love the ‘How can I help you?’ idea.

I agree with you entirely and we both know the most effective managers know the difference between using that question TOO OFTEN and more importantly when NOT TO USE IT so that it becomes an undermining question.

Most people, most of the time, in my experience want their manager/leader to be there only when needed and not breathing down the neck of the workers.

The best leaders also know and recognise when they need to make an intervention and it will be done to take the pressure off.

I well recall 20 years ago working two 12 hour shifts one weekend as a nursing assistant when I was the manager of our residential unit for elderly patients with mental health problems. We were desperately short of staff and as a non-clinician manager this was 2 of the most effective days work in my entire 35 year healthcare career. I learned so much in those 24 hours over one weekend!

For weeks after apparently it was the talk of the unit that I had done it. This was not done by me for reward - in fact I was not paid for it – it was merely done to help out as a caring manager.

Even at my leaving do some 3 years later people mentioned that weekend.

This is not because I am some sort of ‘special’ person or specially gifted manager – it was merely that I think I recognise the difference between interference and help as manager/leader.

Would love your take on this one Lois.

Anonymous said...

Hi Trevor-

I think this ties in nicely to your post today about the importance of the work front line people do, especially in health care.

What could underline that more than a manager's actions that say 'this job is so important that it must not go undone! Please show me how to do it well.'

Dan- fatigue is already a factor at this hospital, unfortunately. I was told that it's not uncommon to be begged to do another 4 hours at the end of a 12 hour shift as they're so short staffed.

That's why I was surprised that the administration was interfering with the staff's efforts to make the situation more tolerable.

When you've got a shrinking labour pool and a tight budget (and who doesn't nowadays) you've got to do those things that make your place more attractive to work in than the one down the street.

In my humble opinion, of course!

Lois Gory


John- I've added your advice to my 'How to run a Meeting' file.


A better view from the sidelines and a great way to let the fledgling leaders try their wings. Who doesn't want to train their future boss in how to lead people?

Dan- I have your "If I was mentoring..." on a card pinned to my board.

Thank you, both of you!

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks Lois - one of the greatest joys of my blog is how people get connected through it - thanks for your input and I hope John and Dan hear your views.

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