Sunday, June 29, 2014

Are You a Micro-Manager?

Kenneth Fracaro back in 2007 mentioned that “micromanaging is a management style in which a supervisor closely observes or controls the work of an employee. In contrast to giving general instructions on smaller tasks while supervising larger concerns, the micromanager monitors and assesses every step. This behaviour adversely affects supervisor-employee communication, creativity, productivity, problem-solving, flexibility, trust, feedback, openness, and company growth and goal attainment,” (p.4).
If you’ve ever worked for a micromanager then you’ll probably have memories of feeling constantly under pressure, desperately wanting to come up for air and having your motivation knocked out of you day after day.
In a 2012 article in the International Journal of Economics and Management Sciences, Amandip Sidhu stated that “micromanagement is essentially watching, or making employees feel that their every move is being watched. Excessive attention to detail, planning tasks to minutiae, and obsessively tracking the time employees spend at their desks, on their breaks, etc are some of the more extreme activities associated with micromanagement. While this may seem to some like the work managers should be doing, in fact these behaviours are detrimental and take the managers focus away from the bigger picture. Furthermore, a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology by DeCaro et al (2011) showed that employees, who felt they were being watched, consistently performed at a lower level,” (p.71).
The most common reasons for why individual’s micromanage are;
  • They haven’t recruited the right people into the right positions, forcing them to micromanage to ensure the job is done correctly; 
  • They are a small business owner where the business has now grown, but they find it hard to let go of the day-to-day detail and now need to learn to let go of some of the detail and trust their employees;
  • They are driven by power, and enjoy command and control style leadership and micromanaging is nothing more than a power trip, which strokes their own ego as they believe no one can do the job better than them;
  • They have been over-promoted themselves and don’t know how to lead properly and hence micromanage to hide their own fears of losing control;
  • They use it to terminate an employee by constantly putting them under pressure to meet unattainable targets (which in most countries is illegal).

In a way it’s amazing that in the 21st Century, with all the research and history of poor leadership and poor management techniques, titles like ‘micromanagement’ are still actively applied in businesses to this day. This unfortunately shows poor leadership from the top, poor organisational design and poor recruitment policies.
Sadly micromanagement can exist at any level in an organisation and at Board level micromanagement prevents boards from governing well. It results in dysfunctional boards, public criticism, accreditation concerns, demoralized staff, and lack of respect for elected trustees.
The good news is that leaders that have learnt and understand the pitfalls of micromanaging ensure that employees and the organisation have;
• The Right Mind Set
• The Right Role
• The Right Work
• The Right People
• The Right Agenda
• The Right Information
• The Right Culture
Amandip Sidhu highlights how “building upon Peter Drucker’s foundations, we can formulate the following facets of ‘good’ management behaviour:
Managers trust the employee’s ability to deliver the results expected of her, and offering the training and coaching necessary to build that ability;
Managers and employees must have a customer-centric approach, where all deliverables are measured by their value to the end-user;
Employees should not be just considered ‘doers’ while managers are the thinkers and planners to minute detail. This master-slave type relationship hinders employee growth, undermines the employee’s ability to become problem solvers, and greatly reduces employee engagement. Many studies have shown, that workers simply handed a list of tasks and how to perform them quickly consider the work to become mundane and become disengaged,” (p.73).
There should be no need for micromanagement at any level – and if it exists you need to identify the real ‘cause’ of this behaviour and fix it – as you’ll be amazed with the change in motivation and performance when you do.
Fracaro, K.E. (2007). The Consequences of Micromanaging. Contract Management. July. p. 4-9.
Sidhu, A.S. (2012) Micromanagement: A Project Management Tool in Crisis, International Journal of Economics and Management Science. Vol. 1, No. 12, p.71-77.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Are We Making Progress with Policy Governance in SME’s?

John and Miriam Carver wrote back in 2008 that “in Policy Governance the CEO is given a great deal of authority by the board, so it is inconceivable that a board would not want to know that executive authority is being reasonably and defensibly used. A board that does not examine the use of the authority it has granted the CEO is not delegating so much as abdicating its responsibility, (p.1).
Boards of many SME’s are often either family based or ‘country club’ based, the later meaning they are made up of a group of buddies who often struggle to get beyond the ‘buddy’ system and woefully miss their core responsibilities – which is soon forgotten as they meet on the 19th hole and chat about everything but their policy governance requirements.
This may appear unfair and harsh as there are excellently run SME’s with board structures that many large organisations could learn from – but in the 21st Century and especially after the global financial crisis this appears sadly to be the exception rather than the rule. The global financial crisis gave boards the excuse to take their eye off policy while they focused on survival and turnaround strategies, and sadly set corporate governance in all areas back a decade or more.
Also there are some small businesses that may feel that they are too small to take the governance responsibilities too seriously as their main day to day focus is on cash flow and sales. In these very small organisations the ‘board’ is often very operationally focused and hence can lose sight of their other responsibilities. There are strong arguments for these small organisations to employ the services of one or two well-rounded non-executive directors, but though the logic is sound, in practice the two ‘sides’ often find it hard to gel; as the non-execs start to try to get the board to operate as ‘one’ – and the executive members just see the non-execs as interfering in their business and making suggestions about things that too the exec members are just time wasting administrative ‘rules’ that have no bearing on profitability. 
The Carver’s remind us that “board Leadership requires, above all, that the board provide vision. To do so, the board must first have an adequate vision of its own job. That role is best conceived neither as volunteer-helper nor as watchdog but as trustee-owner. Policy Governance is an approach to the job of governing that emphasizes values, vision, empowerment of both board and staff, and the strategic ability to lead leaders,” (p.2).
When it comes to small and medium sized organisations, they often struggle to clearly define the role of the board and its responsibility with respect to policy governance specifically. Four requirements that are worth the board considering are;
Firstly the board determines its philosophy, its accountability, and specifics of its own job.
Secondly the board clarifies the manner in which it delegates authority to staff as well as how it evaluates staff performance on provisions of the Executive Limitations policies.
Thirdly the board establishes the boundaries of acceptability within which staff methods and activities can responsibly be left to staff. These limiting policies, therefore, apply to staff means rather than to ends (i.e. in this instance methods rather than results, which links back to governance policies); and
Fourthly the board defines which human needs are to be met, for whom, and at what cost. Written with a long-term perspective, these mission-related policies embody most of the board’s part of long-range planning.
Whether boards like it or not they do have a governance responsibility and this does revolve around policy as much as other things. Policy may sound like a load of administrative rules and regulations that ‘we’ can do without – but it may be worth taking a moment and just sitting back and thinking about the real pros and cons of setting up your governance policies correctly. Sure it will take time to establish them and ‘write them up’ but once done – they set the foundation for many board related initiatives that have a direct impact on cash flow, sales, and profitability – in fact the policies are the foundation that help define who you are and how you will control your sustainable growth.
Carver, J. and Carver, M. (2008). The Real World of Governance Theory. Board Leadership. Vol. 2008, Issue 96, p.1-3.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

How Many Hours Should You Work per Week?

In an article in Fortune magazine Laura Vanderkam wrote that “up until now, there hasn’t been too much data surrounding this question, but researchers at Harvard Business School, the London School of Economics and other institutions have recently begun an ongoing CEO Time Use Project to figure out exactly how work hours relate to success. Using time logs kept by CEOs’ personal assistants, and looking across different cultures, the study asks how CEO time use corresponds with a company’s performance.
At this point, data is only available from a group of Italian CEOs of large firms. But according to Harvard’s Raffaella Sadun, ‘we found this very strong correlation between the number of hours spent at work by a CEO and the productivity of the firm’ (defined as revenue per employee) ‘and also the profitability of the firm.’ Every one percentage point rise in hours worked meant firm productivity rose by 2.14 percentage points.
Sadun and her colleagues found a big difference in productivity based on how a CEO spent those additional hours. Meeting with employees correlated with more productivity. Meeting with consultants or other outsiders did not. And the Italian CEOs didn’t turn out to be working what many executives would consider a taxing workweek. Each additional hour boosted performance, but that’s not too surprising given that the average CEO in the study was only logging 48 hours per week.
Over the last 50 years and beyond the ‘expectations’ around the working day and working week have changed. Thirty years ago the 40 hour week was considered your ‘starting point’, i.e. the absolute minimum you were expected to work – where how you were perceived as an employee would often be based on the amount of time you spent at work and not on ‘your productive output’. Yet even today there are companies that ‘slave drive’ their employees when it comes to work hours, where with an over-supply of labour many employees feel ‘forced’ to work beyond a normal 40/45 hour work week.
The other side to the same coin is how much sleep do we need? A common theme in the sleep arena is eight hours sleep a night, but do we really know where this claim came from, or was it just someone splitting the day into eight hours work, eight hours relaxation and family time, and eight hours sleep.
Each one of us has a unique sleep requirement. Our sleep need depends upon genetic and physiological factors and also varies by age, sex, and previous sleep amounts. However, a simple definition of sufficient sleep is a sleep duration that is followed by a spontaneous awakening and leaves one feeling refreshed and alert for the day.
The National Sleep Foundation in the UK reported that “the relationship between sleep duration, performance and health is important and timely. Between 1959 and 1992 the average amount of sleep reported by middle age individuals decreased by about one hour per night (from 8-9 hours per night to 7-8 hours per night). A study examining the sleep duration from time diaries (records of sleep time and awake time) of full time workers from 1975 to 2006, found a significant increase in the number of individuals who were sleeping less than 6 hours per night. A recent study from the National Health Interview Survey which examined the sleep duration of individuals across several occupations ranging from manufacturing to public administration found that the percent of workers who reported a sleep duration of 6 hours or less per night increased from 24 to 30% in the last 20 years. These findings probably demonstrate the development of widespread partial sleep deprivation or sleep "restriction" which is most likely related to external environmental or social factor(s) such as the need to work more than one job or longer work shifts rather than a biologic change in need for sleep. The important question is the extent to which such changes produce negative consequences for performance, health, and/or quality of life.”
Much research investigating sleep duration requirements has examined reduced sleep duration because, as evidenced above, chronic or long-standing sleep restriction is increasingly pervasive in the community. Studies of short sleep duration have shown that this ‘restricted’ sleep can be associated with increased sleepiness, poor performance, and increased health risks or mortality.
Organisations and individuals would do well to look at the simple correlation between motivation and output, where by ensuring an employee gets the right balance between work, relaxation and sleep time, you will actually optimise motivation and performance in the work place – or at least you will have the right equation that with the right leadership will ensure optimal healthy organisational performance.
For the CEO’s and self-employed, you need to learn to listen to your body and respond to those signals that tell you that you need a break – as ‘burn out’ at the top will lead to other organisational problems that will mean you will have to work even harder. An obvious solution and key competitive advantage is, of course, having the right team around you that will support you and take the pressure off when you are approaching ‘burn out’ and need a break.
Vanderkam, L. (2011). How many hours should you be working? Fortune Magazine. [On-line:]

Sunday, June 8, 2014

How Effective is 360 Degree Feedback?

Eric Jackson wrote in Forbes in 2012 that “when it’s done well, 360 programs allow all your team members to improve in key areas that might be limiting their upward career path or actually causing major conflict within a team. When it’s done poorly, 360 programs create mistrust, anger, conflict and can leave a team with lower morale than when you started the exercise.”
In case you haven’t gone through the process, here’s how it works. Your boss, your direct reports, and your peers give you feedback on ‘something’ – which may include performance, behaviours, strengths, weaknesses and/or highlight developmental needs and/or opportunities. Therefore, you get feedback from everyone around you, those that like you, those that don’t, but supposedly from those who know you well - hence, you’re hearing it from 360 degrees around you.
When it comes to asking for feedback a few basic criteria are important for it to work. Firstly and most importantly the organisation have to be very clear in respect of ‘what feedback’ they are assessing and why? Because 360 has become a bit of a buzz word, some ‘organisations’ just ask for feedback from the 360 degree participants without clearly understanding what they are assessing? How clearly they are asking for the assessment? And worse still how they are going to constructively utilise the feedback once it’s gathered.
Secondly, organisations need to be sure that the feedback they get is integral, i.e. honest. This is a huge assumption in many organisations to create a process that only works when all those giving feedback are going to give it with total honesty and objectivity.
Thirdly, over what period of time are you asking for feedback and do your questions allow the respondent to differentiate between feedback on a ‘topic’ over the short term and feedback over the same topic over a longer period – and give the respondents the opportunity to explain why there may be differences in responses at different points of time.
As with most business principles – done well and accurately 360 degree feedback is an excellent mechanism for personal, team and organisational development that can add real value to all involved.
A study on the patterns of rater accuracy shows that the length of time that a rater has known the individual being evaluated has the most significant effect on the accuracy of a 360-degree review. The study shows that subjects in the group ‘known for one to three years’ are the most accurate, followed by those ‘known for less than one year,’ followed by those ‘known for three to five years’ and the least accurate being those ‘known for more than five years.’ The study concludes that the most accurate ratings come from those who have known the individual being reviewed long enough to get past the first impression, but not so long that they begin to generalize favourably.
Eric Jackson highlights 7 reasons why 360 degree feedback fails;
1. The Boss doesn’t get involved or discounts the program’s importance;
2. The 360 tool/questions are too vague;
3. People offer comments that are personal in nature rather than constructive;
4. No plan is set following receiving the feedback;
5. If there is a follow-up post-360 plan, it happens only once;
6. Lack of confidentiality;
7. Forgetting the strengths and only focusing on weaknesses.
Although you will find different commentators with different views on 360 degree feedback ranging from the positive to the negative, the simple undeniable fact is that as a basic theory it makes sound sense to get feedback from all those who work closely with you – so that you can get feedback that can help you develop.
In the ultimate organisation – a formal process won’t be necessary since constructive feedback will be taking place on a day to day basis, i.e you’ll know exactly what those around you think of your behaviour and competencies as they’ll be telling you.
In other organisations that don’t have that transparent and honest culture, then 360 degree feedback can still be useful but only if you appreciate the pitfalls mentioned above and are prepared to both recognise them publicly and minimise the potential negative errors, by working to have a culture that optimises the outputs from assessments like this.
Jackson, E. (2012). The 7 Reasons Why 360 Feedback Programs Fail. Forbes. [On-line:]

Sunday, June 1, 2014

How Do You Turn Technologists into Leaders?

Charles Skipper and Lansford Bell wrote back in 2008 that “there is a realization that the leadership development process takes years to produce results (Rubin et al.2002). In too many cases good technical people have been promoted to senior positions requiring people-oriented leadership and management skills that they were ill prepared to provide. Rubin reported on a survey that indicated only 18 percent of the construction industry executives surveyed had any formal personnel management or leadership training,” (p.77).
Now many may argue that a survey in the construction industry isn’t a fair representation of the leadership development that technologists get within other industry groups. But one thing that appears true over the decades, maybe even centuries is that technologists do their jobs because they enjoy working with ‘widgets’ and aren’t naturally keen to be working with other people – i.e. the main traits of effective leadership aren’t behaviours or tasks they actually relish.
Robert Fulmer and Bryon Hanson wrote in the Wall Street Journal in 2010 that "helping tech professionals see the value in leadership can be difficult. Technologically oriented people often get more personal satisfaction out of designing and building new products and services than they do out of managing people. As a result, they may be reluctant to give up hands-on involvement in day-to-day projects. To fix this, tech companies need to create a corporate culture in which leadership is rewarded and respected as much as technical expertise.
Self-image also plays a role in a leader's effectiveness. Managers who see themselves primarily as technical experts are less likely to spend time developing subordinates than those who see leadership as their main role. In addition, most people will listen differently to feedback from a person they view as a team leader as opposed to someone they view as a technical colleague.”
Many smart organisations have two development streams for their technical staff; one that allows technological experts to develop into leadership roles should that be their career aspiration (or at least a development and succession planning that gives them the opportunity); and a second stream that allows technical experts to stay in their technical roles, but without losing out on the respective grading and salary increases that they deserve.
Because technical employees are analytical by nature Robert Fulmer and Byron Hanson mention that “our research suggests that one of the best ways to compel tech leaders to improve their leadership skills is to measure things such as the thoroughness with which they try to advance the careers of their subordinates. Measurement may be as simple as calculating the percentage of a manager's direct reports with completed performance reviews or succession plans. Or it may include more sophisticated analysis of employee surveys aimed at comparing the environments created by various leaders in a firm.”
Developing technologists into leaders involves employee engagement from the day they join your organisation and in some respect starts before that during the interview process when you ideally get a grasp for their career aspirations (both in the short and long term) and the elements of business that excite them.
Then it’s a matter of engaging with your techie audience and one way to do that is to ensure you already have well-grounded technologists who have become highly effective leaders in your organisation and who can coach and mentor selected techies as they have the respect of the employees throughout the organisation.
Not everyone wants to lead – but in the technology sphere, leadership and what it entails can be really badly misunderstood – where leadership is perceived as a hands-off, administrative role rather than a dynamic, strategic and innovative role that can give any self-respecting techie all the excitement they crave – and help take the organisation and its employees to new heights in respect of innovation and growth.
Fulmer, R.M. and Hanson, B. (2010). Do Techies Make Good Leaders? They can, but developing their skills definitely poses challenges. [On-line:]
Skipper, C.O. and Bell, L. (2008). Leadership Development and Succession Planning. Leadership & Management in Engineering. Vol. 8 Issue 2, p.77-84.