When looking for the ‘right way’ to manage our organisations and people, it would be naive to believe there is a ‘one size fits all’ solution that will lead us to the overflowing pot of profits at the end of the rainbow and sometimes the best intentions can have disastrous results.
Management is a puzzle where you fit the pieces according to the situation; it’s about arming yourself with the largest toolbox you can find so that, just like a good Scout, you can “Be Prepared. Management is not about having all the answers. No one solution, style or paradigm can be held up to be definitively better than all the others. Each situation, employee and customer calls for a tailored solution if business is to prosper and survive long term.
It used to be that only those ‘in the know’ cried out for a paradigm shift in the way we manage our organisations and people. A number of observers think that the shift is already happening and research into what makes the most successful organisations successful is mounting. Could it be that the way we treat our people is more important than we realise? Does the way we treat our people really affect our bottom line or is this a fluffy myth put about by touchy feely idealists striving for the greater good?
The evidence is becoming undeniable, putting people first does boost your bottom line. The Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s record 2007 A$2.27 billion interim profit was attributed by commentators as largely due to the culture change that had been taking place within the bank in the 18th months following the appointment of Ralph Norris as CEO. During that time, CBA had sought to reinvigorate both employees and customers through changes in human resource policies and procedures. A high quality of both products and services offered by any business; win/win for all stakeholders, can be the upshot of engaged and motivated employees.
In 2007 I was Practice Manager of a large accountancy practice and conducted a staff satisfaction survey. 32% of our staff were classed as ‘unhappy’. At first the partners saw this as a personal affront: “How can they be unhappy? We’re always having barbeques and putting on drinks.” There lay in front of us the option to concentrate on the 68% of staff who were happy; it was tempting to think of these people as ‘our best staff’. Therefore, the action we took was to find out where staff thought we were going wrong. We did the best thing we’ve ever done – we put those staff in charge of getting it right and set up an organisational structure which was basically:
- Head honchos (the owners) have their names on the sign,
- I, as Practice Manager, was the coordinator, and
- The staff ran it.
Teams were then formed and staff that were passionate about ‘getting it right’ joined the relevant team. Now job applicants were interviewed and assessed by staff, meaning not only were they assessed on their capabilities but also the likeliness of them fitting the organisational culture. On joining the organisation existing employees spent more time coaching and training the new person because they’d had a personal say in deciding this was the right person for the job.
Requests for sponsorship were handled by another team, the coordinator of which was the youngest member of staff being 19 years old. Whenever there was an event that we had sponsored, this employee would speak on behalf of the organisation, rather than the owners. Doing this instilled a huge amount of staff pride in the company, grew the confidence of our young employee exponentially and helped us to become an employer of choice as outsiders saw the trust and faith instilled in our staff by the owners.
Other teams developed and maintained house rules, accuracy and technical performance standards. Staff commented that they now looked forward to coming to work each day and new employees were astounded at the ‘family’ type culture they had joined.
Two years later, the staff satisfaction survey reported zero percent unhappy staff. The practice also experienced a decrease in time taken by staff to complete our client’s work and a 5.6% increase in work completed by target dates.
‘Managing Without Managers’ seems, for some, the perfect antidote for organisations suffering from a lack of effective leadership, inhibited performance and disengaged employees. The reality of self-managing teams is that members will naturally take on a leadership role by “bringing people together”. To imagine an organisation where there is no ‘boss’ is a pipe dream at best. Particular personalities will undertake a leadership role naturally and team members need to feel confident and secure in having a say to ensure that the right personalities end up leading the team.
In order for teams to perform, there needs to be good communication both within the teams themselves and also with other teams in the organisation. A clear direction and shared purpose enable teams to work together to achieve organisational-wide objectives and whilst there needs to be a structure in terms of the purpose and operations of the team, processes should be flexible enough to enable members to be creative and adventurous in their solutions.