Will Sr. Managers Change? LO7430

Brock Vodden (brock.vodden@odyssey.on.ca)
Wed, 15 May 1996 00:59:49 -0400

Replying to LO7388 --


At 11:18 AM 5/11/96 +0000, you wrote:

>I do not agree that we know what leadership is, nor do I agree that we
>have useful experience in helping leaders to develop their capacities. If
>we were able to do this we would not have your "myriad of underachieving
>organizations led by ---".

This is an debate for another time. Whether there exists an effective
leadership model or not, the senior managers about whom I am writing are
not likely to discover it. These are organizations which tend not to seek
external help or ideas or anything that will change the status quo.

>Most of these leaders have had advanced education and many have tried
>various consultants and books.

On the contrary, very few have advanced education. These organizations
consider the main qualification for managing in their organization to be
"experience in our organization, our industry, or one that is very
similar." When they recruit a financial officer, the first criterion will
be familiarity with making our kind of widget, the second criterion will
be financially oriented. The goal is to find someone who sees the world as
we see it; a leading edge financial wizard, unless she has experience in a
widget-like industry, is not likely to be acceptable because she might
want to change something.

There are a few exceptions. For example, I did some specialized work over
a two year period for a major scientific and consulting engineering
company in which almost all senior managers were PhD's (all in scientific
disciplines or engineering). The problem was that none of the executives
knew how to run a business or an organization. Although the executives had
advanced education, the experiential management education they had gained
in their industry was totally inadequate. The company underwent a major
shake-up recently and most of the Executives have been demoted or
replaced. I am not in touch with them on a regular basis, and do not know
if the selection criteria for replacements were any more appropriate than
earlier ones.

>The educators and consultants and books do not present a set of doable
>actions >which are independent of one's personality and have a compelling
>set of reasons >why they are correct.

Their selection of consultants is interesting. They select them on the
same basis as they hire managers: familiar view of the world.

They often turn to the wrong consultant, or they engage the consultant for
the wrong reason. For example, early in my freelance career, I was a
training and development consultant. Part of my practice involved
designing and delivering management and supervisory skills programs. Quite
often, I would discover at the beginning of the assignment that the group
I was to train were not responsible for the problems we were trying to
solve. (In fact, the source of the problem was often the executive who
engaged me.) While doing the needs analysis for these assignments, I began
to discover the problems that I have been raising in this discussion. In
some cases, I was able to convert the assignment to address the REAL
issues, but not always.

>This LACK of resources and knowledge is why your "myriad of underachievers"
>exists today.

The first resource we need with this population is something to get their
attention. Remember, these folks are not likely to call you or me to help.

>So I see the problem as a lack of an executable discipline backed up with
>compelling reasons why these actions are the right ones. If we line up ten
>people with a mechanical engineering degree and show them a machine with a
>problem, there is a good chance that 6 or more will agree on what the
>problem is. If we then tell them the problem and ask them to design a fix,
>5 or more will agree on the fix. Try the same with business school
>graduates over a people problem. Or try 10 experienced managers of people.
>You may not get even two to agree on the problem and rarely two on the fix
>once they know the problem. The point is that we have no collective base
>of knowledge on which anyone agrees because no one has come forth with
>actions/reasons which will stand the test of time in an average manager's

I question the person-machine analogy. Problem analysis in social
organizations is infinitely more complex than in machinery. The complexity
is part of the human condition, not a weakness in diagnostic techniques.
In terms of solutions, there are usually several options which can be
equally successful. Furthermore, a solution that works in one case may
fail in another very similar case.

>> I believe we cannot continue to look at this as one company's problem
>> (multiplied by x). It is a national problem - if not a Western world
>> problem. It is in my view a major drag on Canada's productivity.
>> What an opportunity! If we can find the upstream factors, and a way to
>> deal with them, and ways to get the attention of a majority of the
>> under-achievers, the potential for productivity gains are enormous.
>What are these national actions which will be the magic wand for which you
>are searching? I know that if my set of actions/reasons are used in the
>workplace, the vast majority of those people will become personally
>empowered, strong and independent team players who can think for
>themselves and exercise self-control through high standards of values.

The key phrase here is "if my set of actions/reasons are used". The
national action I seek is something that will raise the awareness of
hundreds of thousands of owners/executives/managers to the possibility
that there are better ways of doing things, and that there are resources
out there to help them and their organizations become more productive. If
this happens, they will be open to new ideas, and better prepared to
change. They will become, not the thousands, but the hundreds of
thousands, of good people working on their own set of big problems with
the help of other good people from time to time. The potential for
productivity gains and organizational renewal are enormous.

In spite of the complexity of organization life and the lack of neat,
simplistic recipes for solving management problems, the fact remains that
we have many wise leaders in all walks of life. They don't all use the
same approaches or styles. They don't share the same perceptions of
issues, but they are effective in their own way.

>. This is the one bite at a time approach
>because having one good person working on the big problem is nowhere near
>as effective as having thousands.
>So this is my tactic to correct all societal ills. What is your's?

I have a goal as stated above. I am seeking ideas to help me develop the
strategies and tactics. So far, people are offering me the "one bite at a
time" response, which doesn't completely address the issue I raised.

I appreciate the thoughtful responses you have sent me on this topic. We
disagree to some extent, but we have also been talking at cross-purposes,
probably because I did not present my issue with complete clarity. Another
source of confusion is that very few consultants have worked with this
type of organization (by definition, they don't hire people to solve
problems that are invisible to them). The most notable cases came to my
attention when I was called in to deal with some other issue, and just
happened to observe the leadership issues. I was rather like a plumber
called to install a new bathroom who happened to notice that the whole
house is being slowly devoured by termites. Termite extermination is not
likely to be part of the plumber's mandate. If the owner believes that
termites don't exist, what can the poor plumber do?



Brock Vodden Vodden Consulting Business Process Improvement "Where People and Systems Meet" brock.vodden@odyssey.on.ca

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <rkarash@karash.com> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>