Tag Archives: empowerment

The one with the police action

Recently I had a brush with the police. Not the ello, ello, ello police but the corporate equivalent – the auditors. The subject of the audit was the competence of the individuals within the organisation.

Having worked in several organisations that attempted to introduce a myriad competencies which mapped in some fashion to individual roles I am sceptical of the value of such systems to actual performance of role – they have always felt to me like another process HR introduce to justify their existence.

It was therefore with a skipped heart beat and a spring in my step that I was delighted when last year it was agreed to have set of 5 core competencies that everyone had to demonstrate some competence against with the remainder being articulated through individual role job descriptions. Felt like a fine balance of the need to demonstrate competence and a system that would actually achieve what it set out to do.

The other recommendation that was supported was that assessment of competence would align with the performance management cycle. Performance review, objective setting, competence review and personal development planning would all be managed at the same point in the year and through the same system. It almost felt elegant…

So now we reach summer of 2013 and the first contact all of this work has with any form of auditor. I talked through the strategy, how it had been executed, what levels of competence alignment we had achieved (very good) and the resultant summary of the personal development plan.

Was the auditor dazzled with our achievement? Were they overjoyed to actually see a system that had achieved what it set out to do? Did they marvel at how we actually empowering managers to assess their teams and manage their performance?

Of course not!

The questions that ensued were all about process policing, how we verified the results, how we checked that the competence levels assessed were in fact correct and challenged the core notion that managers manage people. The auditor’s questions weren’t interested in systems that empower managers, business partnership and the idea that managers are far better placed to manage performance that HR.

Was I surprised by any of this? Not at all. It’s the hallmark of the checkers checking the checkers but had I not been so resolute that I wasn’t going to concede ground, capitulate to an increase in policing and remove the freedom of our management teams to actually manage their people I could have genuinely given the shop away in this meeting.

The exchange that probably sums up this encounter was:

Auditor: What happens if you subsequently find out that someone isn’t at the competence level they were assessed at?

Me: That will manifest in poor performance which will be managed through our performance management process

Auditor: OK but what if someone doesn’t undertake the training they’ve committed to increase their necessary competence?

Me: That will manifest in poor performance which will be managed through our performance management process

Auditor: Right, right… So what if a manager isn’t assessing competence correctly how do you check that in an individual team and ensure it is addressed?

Me: That will manifest in poor performance which will be managed through our performance management process

Auditor: (With a small grin on his face as if this one will be his winner) OK, but as a manager how will I know this?

Me: You have to attend a workshop before you can be authorised to use the system

Auditor: (still smiling) and what if that training was 10 months earlier and they don’t remember what is required of me

Me: It’s all summarised in a guide entitled “Managing performance, development and competence”

Auditor: And where would I find that?

Me: (Pointing at screen the auditor has been scrutinising) it’s linked there

Auditor: Yes, well, that’s all good then.

Why share all of this? Firstly, because I am now reflecting on it with a wry smile and I believe opportunities for wry smiles shouldn’t be taken for granted but secondly and more specifically to illustrate what I believe is the thin end of the wedge that gets us so loved loathed by our colleagues.

Hold the line, fight the good fight and rail against any system or process you believe won’t achieve anything and will reduce a manager’s right to manage.

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The one with the grocery shopping

At some point in the last few months I heard a great quote. I have no idea where I heard it but if anyone has any suggestions then I’d appreciate it… The quote comes from a veteran of American Football management Bill Parcells. He managed several teams and has an impressive record including 2 Superbowl wins.

The quote goes:

“They want you to cook the dinner; at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries. Okay?” and according to Wikipedia refers to conflict Parcells experienced with the team’s owners and the impact it had on player selection.

On hearing the quote my mind immediately went to recruitment and how much of ‘a say’ HR should have in those being recruited by the organisation. The challenge I think arises in the overlap between the accountability placed on the HR team to deliver recruits and the accountability of the line manager to actually manage the employee to deliver once they’ve been recruited.

There’s a post all of it’s own probably on where the accountability/responsibility of a recruiting function ends and whether HR is try to enforce control or support the line manager in hiring the right person for their role. I’ve worked with managers who had an instinctive gift for spotting talent and likewise I’ve worked with managers who were overly focused on getting a pair hands to think through if they were the right pair of hands. As I said probably a whole post in itself…

However, on reflecting on the quote a little longer my thoughts switched to autonomy and how empowering managers and leaders in organisations actually are?

The balance between operational trust and task control is a fine line at times and I know from personal experience when the pressure’s on I can slide at varying rates towards control. I know there are people I’ve worked with who appreciate the clarity when the stakes are high but also colleagues who could have gladly punched me in the nose (god bless the disciplinary procedure) in order to get me to but out.

Where does supporting your team meet being a control megalomaniac? Where does the need to manage your own anxiety and need to feel in control neuter your team to the point they are merely carrying out instructions? Most importantly, how effective can you be at doing your own role if you spend all your time doing your team’s jobs for them?

It’s a challenge I admit – and in the spirit of openness, one I fail at as often as I succeed but as with many of these things the wonders of self awareness can of course help. Also giving your team permission or actually outright challenge to push you back when you are being a control freak and unempowering them to the point of inertia.

I remember running a workshop a few years ago and one of the topics covered was delegation. I had written a slide entitled something like “The Four Challenges of Delegation” (grandiose I admit) and asked the participants what they needed to do with each of the following: Responsibility,  Authority, Control and Accountability. Much debate ensued.

Where we landed (as planned) was to give responsibility, to give authority, to retain control and share accountability (the individual was accountable to you whilst you remained accountable to the wider ‘them’). One of the participants asked quite earnestly “how can you retain control whilst giving any responsibility?” and they won the $64,000 question award…

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The one to fail

How many times have you stood and heard a leader utter the immortal words “ask for forgiveness, not for permission”. They are great words, very empowering but the tricky thing about them is if they are spoken but not enacted they are very empty words. Now of course none of you work in organisations with blame cultures, corridors littered with the bodies of shot messengers and those who dared to take accountability for a mistake. Easy words to utter but requiring of commitment and purpose.

I’ve been re-watching “The West Wing” recently (and it may creep up with regularity given we are on season 2 of 7) but there’s a great episode in the first season called “Let Barlet be Barlet” in which the President’s job approval rating drops by 9 points. When the senior staff discuss the drop they come to realisation that the decrease is not because they’ve done something wrong but actually because they’ve done nothing. The fear of getting something wrong has driven inactivity that lead to a perception of less effective leadership.

Given this is TV of course resolution is swift and through a cracking interchange between the President and his Chief of Staff a new plan is hatched. When briefing the senior staff Leo McGarry (Chief of Staff) says this:

“Our ground game isn’t working; we’re gonna put the ball in the air. If we’re gonna walk into walls, I want us running into them full-speed.”

When I was a youth I played in the local youth symphony orchestra. For some reason a particular rehearsal sticks in my mind. We were rehearsing Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Capriccio Espagnol’. If you happen to know the piece of music there is a passage where the string and woodwind sections are parading their wares melodically speaking and as if from nowhere the brass section (of which I was a member) arrive with some force.

Given it was a Friday night and our focus was elsewhere when the conductor called for the orchestra to “take it from 20” we misheard and arrived in force having (as a section) gone instead from 21. A cacophony ensued and when he stopped the orchestra we wholly expected to be bollocked for not paying attention. We were therefore surprised when it was the string and woodwind sections that received said bollocking for “despite being in right, playing with the passion and commitment of people in the wrong. They (he pointed at the brass section) made me believe they were right. They were wrong with commitment”

All this by way of saying whilst safety may seem like the best option sometimes doing nothing or attempting something half heartedly may lead to an outcome that isn’t satisfying either for you or those around you. If you are in a position where you do hold people to account think about the impact of chewing them out and realise that if you want decisive empowered people working with you, how you deal with failure needs to be as important as how you celebrate success.

Have a good day all, I’m off to fail…..in style!

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