Management Theories and Practical Reality

I have been reading a lot of articles on management lately.  With the world coming out of recession, and economic recovery slowly taking hold, we are being bombarded with theories on how to ensure corporate survival.  One common thread is that we need need to take a hard look at how we operate in a business environment that is leaner, and requires flexibility and agility to meet new opportunities.  There are proponents of 6 sigma, Agile project methodologies, and strategic execution just to label a few.

Empowerment of the team to make decisions about how the work that needs to be done, should be done is generally accepted as a cornerstone of most current management theories.  Agile project techniques move the responsibility for managing and delivering to the team; Continuous improvement initiatives require systems that allow workers to directly contribute to better ways of working.  The theorists have it mostly right, trust the people who do the work to come up with the best way to achieve results.  Does this mean that you one day announce that the the developers, designers, service delivery teams, etc. are now responsible for planning, executing, and reporting on the work they do?  Of course not.  There has to be a plan, a roadmap on how to move an organization from one mode of working to another.  This however seems to be a missing element with most theories on how to meet the challenges of the new business environment.  They all propose how it should work, but not how to actually get there!

So how do get from point A, to point B?  First, change must supported from the top, but, and it’s big but, it must be driven from the bottom.  The larger the organization, the more complex the move will be, but complexity can be managed.  Taking a lesson from IT projects, start small.  Small projects are more likely to succeed, large projects are more likely to fail.  Choose a part of the organization that already has a team that is performing well.  Work with them to create a roadmap to greater empowerment.  If the team is involved in developing the roadmap, and if they buy in to the vision and future desired state, they will be more likely to find ways of overcoming obstacles.  You may be asking why start with a team that is already performing well?  The answer is based on the idea that if you are going to change how an organization operates, it’s better to start with a success.  Working with a team that is performing well is going to be easier than moving a dysfunctional team to more autonomy.   Building on success is always easier than building on challenges.

One of the greatest challenges will be keeping the executives on side and keeping the momentum on this project.  Celebrate successes; Show where teams are delivering greater value; Create and report on Key Performance Indicators like staff retention, morale, customer satisfaction, market share, new customer acquisition, etc..  This is a long term project.  Depending on the size of the organization, it could take years of dedicated work to fully change direction.  Create a powerful vision, live the vision and you will succeed.  And remember……

“Nothing succeeds like success”


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