People spend most of their time putting out fires and solving problems that their subordinates ought to be solving!
I’ve been working with senior managers in all sorts of organisations for near enough 30 years now. And in pretty much every organisation, and at all levels, I consistently find that people spend most of their time putting out fires and solving problems that their subordinates ought to be solving!
Why is that? Well one of the reasons is that most managers progress up and through organisations having demonstrated a reasonable level of competency and knowledge at the job or role that they are now required to manage others in. So, when issues arise they are often able to quickly solve those problems. And because they are already, in most cases, good at solving those problems they readily step back down to do so. When they do they immediately create an expectation that the problem is theirs to solve and so they quickly find themselves working at the next level down! To compound the problem, they take a lot of satisfaction at demonstrating their expertise and knowledge, get lots of recognition from the organisation and direct reports for their skills and are then more likely to perpetuate the problem; creating a slippery slope that is difficult to escape from!
That’s one of the reasons! Another (in my experience) is that managers frequently don’t really know what “the right level” of work looks like for their new job/role. When we promote people in our organisations to new roles we rarely sit them down and invest in making sure they know what work needs to look like at the new level. We congratulate them and figure they’ll quickly work it out for themselves! So, with this lack of clarity and understanding most managers will, in the first instance, resort to doing the work that they best understand and where they’ve previously added value.
It’s an easy option; it worked before and it will work again. Except it doesn’t!
We all realize at some point, or have read somewhere, that what made us successful in the previous role is probably not what will make us successful in the new one! But how do we know what it is we’re supposed to do? How do we know if we’re working “at the right level”?
When I work with management teams I look to getting everyone in the organisation focused (largely) at one of four distinct levels:
- CEOs need to be predominantly focused on understanding market and industry trends, thinking about how to position the organisation to compete, articulating vision, formulating strategy and building strong relationships with customers, staff and other stakeholders.
- Other C-suite officers and directors need to largely be focused on executing strategy - through owning and delivering the key strategic projects that will fundamentally increase the ability of the organisation to compete.
- Management should be focused on driving continuous operational improvements in five key areas: quality, productivity, efficiency, customer satisfaction and employee engagement.
- And the rest of the organisation should predominantly be concentrating on delivering the customer promise; producing great products and delivering outstanding service!
Now, of course my explanation above is somewhat tidy and simplistic, and it’s also true that there will (and should) be overlaps in the work delivered at each level. But I have found that whenever I have had the chance to discuss this with the managers (in the many organisations) that I’ve worked with, the clarity that the structure above sets out is always helpful in recalibrating how they need to contribute to their organisations. Certainly, it has stimulated the right conversations and initiated a critical examination of the work that they have to date been doing. That in turn has precipitated shifts in focus that have often significantly improved their contribution to the business, as well as everyone else in their teams. And when you get everyone working at the right level - the impact is noticeable!
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