Management is the practice that transforms work into performance. Effective management provides a framework in which more performance can emerge. This is what managers should measure themselves by: How much more performance their work on the system enables.
However, we live in the era of post-heroic management, in which heroines are not needed. Instead, small steps in the right direction can add up to sufficient impact.
“Sufficient” does not have a good reputation. The grade D in the German school system cements into our brains: “sufficient” is just before sitting out, just passed. “You’ll have to try harder next time.”
Sufficient is boring, mediocre and undemanding.
Why nine is more than ten
How much more performance is made possible by their work on the system, on the corporate infrastructure, is the central evaluation criterion for managers’ work. Surely a ten per cent increase in performance is better than one of only nine, right?
It depends on how much performance has to be tied up in work to achieve the one per cent increase. With the concept of Cost of Delay by Duration, we have a way of valuing that one per cent. Example: The ten per cent solution costs us 52 weeks of work in which we cannot realise the nine per cent solution because both take a different approach. The nine per cent solution costs us 12 weeks of work. The remaining forty weeks of the year we are nine per cent more productive. And have time to implement further improvements.
“Yes, but in the long run, the ten per cent solution pays off,” I hear the gentle reader murmur. How long term is long term? I’ll tell you: in our example 412 weeks, eight years – 7.9231, to be more precise.
Future over past
In the past, we believed we could predict the future with good forecasts and hard work. In the meantime, we have come to understand that the complex adaptive systems in which we operate can only be captured retrospectively. We know that intervening in the system changes it, leading us to rethink and adapt our decision-making. Short cycles of intervention and observation are the better choice. Instead of betting on the Big Bang, we would be well advised to take small steps. Knowing that in most situations perfection only exists in small steps, the demand for comprehensive perfection at the end of an annual plan is out of place.
Small steps, then, manageable and minimising risk. Because that is exactly what betting on the big bang is, a risk. Whether our decision will still be good in 40 weeks, we don’t know. Why should we take this risk? Rarely are there good enough reasons to do so, even rarer to find companies where Cost of Delay by Duration is used to quantify risk.
The second principle of the Manifesto for Effective Management states:
We value the future over the past, knowing that we do not have to defend today what was right yesterday.
In this is the recognition of three circumstances:
- Circumstances within the organisation can change at any time;
- as well as outside the organisation.
- There is no perfect, always valid decision.
Be it the changing needs of the clientele or the now changed organisation itself: with a short half-life of decisions, one allows oneself to change course at any time. That is “business agility” in the best sense, and that is sustainable management.
Sustainability is a principle of action for the use of resources, in which a lasting satisfaction of needs is to be ensured by preserving the natural regenerative capacity of the systems involved (especially living beings and ecosystems).
What happens when we think in terms of Big Bangs, two-year projects with advance planning and Gantt charts?
The longer the planning horizon, the more likely a change will occur that makes our plan obsolete. In far too many companies, people react to this with denial and rejection. The plan continues to be followed. People with an overview shake their heads, others are worn down by stricter controlling, justification power points are created; in short, much to do, little effect. None of this changes the fact that plan and reality no longer fit together.
In the past, such projects were called “death marches”. The term may be out of fashion, but its content remains unchanged. People are being burnt out. With pointless, worthless work, through ever new stalling tactics, through “corporate politics” – in other words, through deliberately brought about, or at least not actively prevented, trench warfare and obsolete finger-pointing.
This is certainly not the way to preserve the regenerative capacity of the systems involved.
Maintaining regenerative capacity
By engaging sustainably with the people whose experience and expertise we need, we enable lasting success. The key to this is unbiased, disinterested, diverse discussion of ideas and potentials, involving all people likely to be involved in the implementation.
As is often the case with sustainable approaches, a not inconsiderable cost block arises before implementation begins. This is a problem for many companies because it makes the allocation and procurement of capital more difficult.
All the more important to use the precious capital effectively and to put the experts around the table who are needed in your company to compare ideas on the basis of turnover potential and feasibility. Not the division heads, not the management, but the operational experts who know what they are talking about.
Acting sustainably and effectively
As a leader, you act sustainably when you do what has always been good management. Take care of yourself and your staff, and make sure that everyone can work as effectively as possible. Remove the unnecessary, allow decentralised decision-making, share principles rather than prescribe rules, evaluate performance rather than work.
Sascha A. Carlin
After graduating from high school and studying at Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences, Sascha A. Carlin worked as a software developer, in project management roles and most recently in management positions at service providers and on the client side. He was responsible for turnover, projects and people. Today, he helps companies stay relevant and works with leaders on their effectiveness as an Agile Coach. Sascha is co-initiator of the Mastermind Group for Mindful and Effective Management and the associated magazine “Das Rehbock”.