I recently spoke with some younger managers frustrated over discord in their department. After some superficial discussion it became clear that a senior manager was routinely calling lower- level technicians to gain information and insights on certain issues. These inquiries, while well intended, created “crisis” drills to gather the information and speculate about the reason for the question. The technicians treated the request with urgency and would report the information directly back to the senior manager. This often resulted in information taken out of context, misconstrued, and blindsiding of their immediate manager. The young managers wanted my insights into how best to handle these situations along with the disruption to normal workflow and resultant backlog.

Situations like this occur every day in most organizations. Those who can handle the chaos, manage through the frustration, continue to achieve effective results, and are eventually promoted.  These managers learn that good management is defined as “the ability to overcome dysfunction to achieve effective results”. Why fix the root cause when most senior managers use these organizational dysfunctions to differentiate themselves and gain favor for promotion? When complaints about dysfunction in the organization are raised by lower-level employees, senior managers challenge them to demonstrate their abilities by overcoming the dysfunction. Sadly, the dysfunction, while reducing the organization’s effectiveness and causing great stress and discord, is almost never directly addressed.

It’s time to address the root cause problem. Management and organization should be treated as a system. Roles and accountabilities must be clear. Structure is designed to support the organization’s purpose and strategy. Employees follow a framework of behaviors designed to build trust in the organization and deliver outstanding results every day, regardless of which individuals come and go in the organization. Such organizations do not tolerate dysfunction. Employees are happy and engaged. The organization can often double its effectiveness even if it was partially successful before.

I suggest a new definition of good management; “The ability to create and maintain an organization and system delivering reproducible, exceptional results”. Make the focus on the organization and system rather than the individual overcoming obstacles, especially since dysfunction in the organization are almost always preventable.

I readily admit that I used my individual talent and initiative to achieve promotion to senior management. But then I realized my best approach was to improve the organization and system. When I took a new assignment as leader of a global business, we took an organization which had not delivered sales gains in seven years to delivery of double-digit growth for five consecutive years. Interestingly, I left as the organization was being sold. The new owner ignored the system and focused on individual talent. After hiring more than 4 CEOs in 5 years, the business is still flat to declining. I would be glad to discuss my experiences with systematic management with anyone who may be interested.


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