Collaborative People Management: A 21st Century View

SummaryThe study of management theory and practice is relatively new. It commenced around 1900. It included strong emphasis on, as it used to be called, “the human side of enterprise”. That’s no longer enough.21st Century DemandsThe people manager of today requires a very different approach: the manager needs to be collaborative.I’m not talking about some sort of “friendliness” or “good interpersonal relations”. We’ve tried that. It’s been found wanting. I’m talking about managers and employees collaborating effectively for the good of the business. The collaborative people manager puts the business first.Part Of The BusinessPeople management must enhance business results. It must do so clearly, precisely and measurably. It’s no longer enough – if it ever was – to “develop employees”, “provide satisfying and rewarding work”, “enhance employee personal and professional growth”, or to do all those “good for the employee” activities so highly promoted and favoured in the 20th Century.We must acknowledge the reality that employees are part of the resource we use to make our business successful. If they fail to do so, it doesn’t matter how well they create good interpersonal relationships, your business will never reach its full potential. As Ricardo Semler puts it, “They must go home proud of their work”.It All Begins With MarketingSound people management is an outcome of sound marketing. As my friend Bix Berry says, “Marketing isn’t everything, but everything is marketing”. Your marketing must be precise, specific and crystal clear. If not, your employees will lack a firm and clear foundation for their performance.Outstanding marketing depends on two essential elements• A crystal clear business focus• A small, very specific target market.To put it in 20th Century jargon; you need to know exactly “what business you’re in” and your “ideal customer”. Marketing creates the context for the collaborative people manager.And remember what Peter Drucker said. He was one of the most respected management gurus of the 20th Century. He said: “What business am I in? The question can be answered only by looking at the business from the outside: from the point of view of the customer and the market.”If you can’t define these issues with absolute clarity, you can’t expect your employees to help your business succeed. Your people management must support your marketing position.Staff Selection Is the First StepEmployees are a resource. Like any other resource, you need employees who’ll give you the business results you want. That’s the expectation you have about the performance of your computer system. You can reasonably have it about the performance of your employees too.To put it bluntly, you need the “right” people”. Without them, you won’t get the “right” business results. Exactly how you define “right” is up to you. But you must find them. And that’s what your selection process must be designed to do.Before you commence your selection process you need to be clear about exactly what on job performance you expect from each employee. You also need to be sure how you’ll measure that performance to determine whether nor not the new employee is “getting the job done”.There’s no place for slipshod, careless or rushed staff selection practice in the 21st Century. And staff selection must be focused on effective on job performance. Spend time choosing new employees. It can’t be done professionally without detailed analysis and preparation. It certainly can’t be done in a hurry. And keep the face to face interview in perspective. You can’t tell what anyone can do merely by talking with them.Systems Are The KeyHere are some “words to live by” in the 21st Century• The best thing a manager can do for an employee is to put systems in place that make it impossible for the employee to fail• If your systems are poor, your people will fail• A poor system will beat a good employee every time.This is what distinguishes the collaborative manager. It isn’t about “motivation”, “interpersonal skills”, “human resource development”, “interpersonal relations” or “understanding human behaviour”.These issues can be important. But your systems must lead to successful on job performance. All the “motivation” on the planet won’t compensate for poor systems.Two Key Aspects Of PerformanceBoth the collaborative manager and his or her employees need to know exactly what performance is expected. And they also need to know very clearly whether that performance has been provided.You need both performance systems and performance standards. A performance system is a method of working that ensures that employees will achieve the specific performance a manager wants. It’s a result-centred method of achieving performance.A performance standard enables you to measure whether the specified performance has been achieved.I repeat: regardless of what was seen as essential last Century, the essence of 21st Century people management is this: “If your systems are poor your people will fail”.A 21st Century Management PerspectiveClose staff supervision is out. There’s only one way that you’ll be able to manage your business effectively. It’s when employees are competent to responsibly handle all day to day routines. That’s collaboration. And that can happen only when you have excellent systems in place. Training is no longer enough. It probably never was!It’s no longer a manager’s job to become closely involved in employees’ work. It’s the employees’ responsibility to manage their own work. If they can’t do their job without your help, you can’t do yours. The collaborative manager makes it as straightforward as possible for employees to contribute to business success.And remember, the better the on job performance of employees, the more they’ll contribute to effective business results. The more they know that they contribute, the better the contribution that they’ll make.It’s remarkable how confident and accomplished employees become when they know that their job performance is both highly valued and clearly linked to business success.In the 21st Century, it’s the manager’s job to create the conditions for that accomplishment. “Amateur psychologist” skills are unnecessary.The 21st Century TeamIt’s a conundrum. We recruit individuals into our businesses. Once they’re in the business we measure their performance, at least in part, by how well they function as team members. Except in very small business, every employee is a member of at least two teams.We failed to acknowledge this automatic team membership in the 20th Century. We stressed team “building”. But the team exists. It doesn’t need to be built. It exists. The team is the basic human unit in the workplace. “Team development” matters far more then “team building”.We promoted effective team contribution by emphasizing the strength of interpersonal relationships between team members. The basic belief was that people who “get on well” together would work together effectively. Proponents of this point of view seem to know little about how successful sports teams work.Realistically, close interpersonal relationships can inhibit team effectiveness. Maintaining a relationship between team members can become more important than team achievement. This is particularly likely when “What’s best for the team?” threatens a relationship between members.The collaborative manager accepts that close interpersonal relationships are a result of effective team performance. They are not a prerequisite for it.The Technology ContradictionDr Tom Gilbert once told me, “Leon, we don’t live in The Information Age. We live in The Data Age. Information is data you can use.” Sadly, managers often confuse data with information.Today’s technology allows the collaborative manager to quickly and easily obtain really valuable business information. But you must take care that you don’t simply accumulate data for its own sake. It’s easy to unwittingly drown employees in data. Confusion replaces clarity when data is mistaken for information.The technology also enables you to specify your performance expectations in clearly measurable terms. And you can discover, on a daily basis if necessary, whether those expectations have been met. If necessary you can take remedial action promptly and effectively.But there’s a bigger advantage for using modern information technology effectively. Employees can receive virtually instant feedback on their performance. They can know “how well they’re doing” frequently and easily.In one of my client companies, they process car engine repairs using thirteen workstations. Today’s technology enables each operator to measure his or her own work. But it also means that they can assess operations at all other workstations too. The whole repair process is integrated for “perfect” performance.The collaborative manager understands how access to useful and valuable information can enhance employee on job performance and with it, “job satisfaction”. It also provides excellent opportunities for employees, both individually and as team members, to be responsible for routine performance without managerial involvement or intervention.George Bernard Shaw’s ViewGeorge Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright who died in 1950 at the age of 96. Perhaps his most famous work was “Pygmalion”. It’s the story of how a speech and grammar expert, Professor Henry Higgins, changes the life of a cockney flower girl by improving her speech and accent. He has her accepted into the upper echelons of British aristocratic society. It became the basis for the Broadway musical hit, “My Fair Lady” by Allan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe.Shaw says simply; “The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves. It’s how she’s treated.”The collaborative people manager understands this. Treat your staff as adult, trustworthy, dedicated contributors to business success. That’s what you’ll get.Treat them as lazy and difficult individuals without initiative or intelligence, that’s what you’ll get.George Bernard Shaw knew what he was talking about. You’ll get exactly the performance you expect from employees. You have complete control of that. You must “engineer” successful employee performance: not hope for it as an outcome of well-meaning psychological parlour games.Three Key WordsMany big complicated words invaded staff management in the 20th Century. They attempted to sum up people management for the 20th Century manager.They’re obsolete now. The three words that matter now are• Expectations• Consequences• Perception.Many years ago I read this profound statement in a book about communication. It was published by the American Management Association. This is the statement: “In the final analysis, what counts is not what people are told, but what they accept”.Employees have expectations. They assume consequences. They perceive all of this based on previous experiences and how they feel that they may be affected by new or altered situations. The collaborative manager realizes that his or her expectations, consequences and perceptions may be very different to those held by employees.The Collaborative PerspectiveThe 21st Century people manager is a collaborative manager. He or she…• Sees people management as an integral part of day to day business. It is not some esoteric exercise in relationship building or “pop” psychology• Knows that successful marketing is the overall context. People management will be truly successful only within that context• Accepts that successful staff selection is the first step. Staff performance starts with staff selection• Recognizes that systems are the key. If your systems are poor, your people will fail• Sees on job performance as the goal. Both effective performance systems and performance standards are essential• Understands that ultimately, employees must be fully responsible for all routine, day to day business matters without management intervention• Recognizes that effective interpersonal relationships at work are a result of effective team development not a prerequisite for it. Each employee is a member of at least two teams• Accepts that information is “data we can use”. Today’s technology enables both managers and employees to measure performance quickly and easily. It enhances employee self-management.• Learns from the likes of George Bernard Shaw. It’s how you treat employees that counts. You’ll get what you expect from your people. It’s “engineering” that only managers can create and control• Never forgets PEC: perception, expectations and consequences. They have a huge influence on employee response and reaction.ConclusionWe started studying people management about a century ago. We’ve tried lots of techniques since then. It’s time to discard those that are ineffective. It’s time to become collaborative.

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