Saturday, May 21, 2011

Angry Management

An icon in the computer industry recently lost his temper and fired all his staff in a particular product line because the product was not a success. I'm pretty sure most of my business school textbooks said he did the exact right thing. Management is holding staff accountable for a failure. But if you draw that logic to its ultimate conclusion, if all his staff failed then why didn't he fire himself too?

I agree that managers have to hold staff accountable for failures. I disagree with letting emotions interfere with good judgment. The problem isn't with holding staff accountable for a product failure. The problem isn't with firing some folks who may have been incompetent and should not have been in the roles they held. The problem is with losing your temper.

As a manager, how can you possibly make a rationale business decision when you are angry? Every rational road of reason in your brain is blocked in a traffic gridlock of anger. You are going to make mistakes. Making arbitrary decisions is the result of letting emotions shutdown alternative routes of logic. Seeing only one road to follow is the result of letting emotions limit broader thinking. Anger leads to simplified logic: if the product is a failure, then team is a failure. If the team is a failure, then fire them all.

Much like throwing the baby out with the bathwater, the icon of the computer industry threw the whole team out on the street. A less emotional decision may have called for a post-mortem review. Create an opportunity to let emotions dissipate before making a decision. Let rush hour to fade and discover new roads of logic. Maybe some members of the team truly needed to leave the organization. But it is inconceivable to think all of them were a problem.

No one comes into work with the intention of doing a bad job. As a manager you need to take some time to understand the full reasons for the failure. Before you fire the whole team, think about how much support and guidance you gave your staff. Did you hire the right people? Did you set the appropriate strategy? Did you put the right support processes in place? When you ask these questions you realize accountability for a failure of this magnitude moves up the organization. You need to think carefully about the true origins of the failure.

Responding to a crisis on an emotional level allows the manager to hide the truth behind a wall of anger.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Change Challenges

Sometimes I wonder why it is so hard to introduce technology change in organizations. While planning a new enterprise system implementation several years ago I discovered that everyone said the old system was bad and had to be replaced. After we installed the new system, everyone blissfully reminisced about how wonderful the old system was. If this reaction happened once for one technology change I would understand. But seems to be a consistent reaction to technology change.

Is the reason human nature, or how we approach technology change? The very nature of the word technology might have a small part to play in the problem. The word technology is derived from "knowledge of technique." Not "cool gadgets are fun" or "my new iPad will change the world." I would suggest that the etymology of the word of technology reveals an interesting perspective on how to introduce technical change to an organization.

What if we paid more attention to understanding the technique needed to use new technology, rather than the technology itself? To address technique we naturally focus on process improvement. Let's try to improve our processes at the same time we implement new technology to ensure the technology is optimally used and the organization is appropriately prepared to apply the new technology.  Makes sense, but I've seen serious resistance to this approach too. Changing process concurrently with new technology implementation isn't enough.

I suspect we implement change with blinders on. We have a narrow focus on planting new technology using advanced processes but ignore the fertility of the ground. What about looking at the rate of technology change relative to the rate of culture change in your organization? How fast does your organization's culture change relative to its outside environment? How fast are you planning to implement new technology internally? I suggest that anytime you introduce technological change faster than the natural pace of change in your organization, you are going to have change challenges. Conversely, anytime you introduce technology slower than the internal change rate you get stagnation.

Is first prize matching the rate of technology change with the acceptable rate of organizational change? Is that the ideal synchronization? Nope. How do you compete or derive a competitive advantage if you simply plant the same crops the same way every year? The challenge is how do we increase our rate of technology change without the resistance caused by being faster than our natural organizational rhythm of change?

I suggest you change the culture first, and then introduce the new technology. When the rate of technology change has to be faster than the rate of organization change, the culture has to change first. Make sure the field has all the nutrients needed to grow a new crop and you will reap what you sow. But changing an organizational culture is a lot harder than buying a new technology. I'm afraid that too often we take the path of least resistance and try to use technology to drive the organization change. In this field of endeavour, maybe we have put the plough before the horse.