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Changing Your Organisational Mindset by Focusing on People

by Ben Linders on Nov 08, 2012 |

In his recent blog Bob Marshall suggests that heroic managers must overcome the traditional analytic mindset in order to transition to a more effective organizational mindset. To do that part of their focus must be on people.

Bob Marshall is a specialist in organisational therapy who describes himself as “the flowchainsensei who sees things differently and has no fondness for rules, and no respect for the status quo”. His blog ”How to be a Great Software Development Manager” covers:

  • Expectations of organizations, do they expect a good or a great manager?
  • Results, and deferred results, the benefits that great manager brings now and in the future
  • Heroic management and communication, how to understand what your folks need, and get them really involved
  • Alienation and making friends, focusing on working relationships
  • Courage and the challenges that a manager faces
  • The role of a manager, and working yourself out

Bob makes clear that a software development manager should be focused on effectiveness:

The very fact that an organisation labels your role as “Software Development Manager” is a strong signal that they remain mired in the Analytic mindset. But hey, they may want to change that – even without explicitly understanding the core issues, such as how the effectiveness of the entire organisation is a function of the prevailing organisational mindset. As a great Software Development Manager, it’s your job to bring that to folks’ attention, up and down the company. And to champion the necessary transition to a more effective organisational mindset.

Managing is not about processes and tools, as Bob states:

You may be tempted to spend time fixing a “broken” software development organisation. On working on tools, methods, processes and technology issues. Don’t. Every day you spend on that is a day lost in accomplishing the real work of transition. No one inside the development function will have much thanks for you poking your nose into things they’re quite capable of fixing themselves.

Instead managers should work with their employees, what they need to do their work properly and what they are doing good already:

Find out what folks want and need – for themselves, for their colleague – for the wider organisation. Go look at what their jobs entail ... And find out what’s been going well so far. Build on achievements, and folks’ individual and collective needs, and work together to find a common cause, a common purpose, that everyone can buy into at an emotional – as opposed to rational – level.

According to Bob, you can never communicate enough. He asks for over communication:

Talk with anyone and everyone – up and down the business, inside and out – about their view of the world of work. Listen to folks who have anything to say about the subject. Empathise with their point of view – even if it seems unhelpful or outmoded. What they say will help you understand their needs. If their needs are not met, then don’t be surprised by a lack of cooperation.

Is management becoming obsolete? It might well be so:

In highly effective organisations, the very job of “manager” fades away. If you do a truly great job for the organisation, you can expect your job to fade away too.

Several people reacted on this blog, like James O'Sullivan who has a question about friendship.

You make a distinction between friends and allies. Would you mind elaborating? I consider a good friend to also be a good ally, but a good friend also challenges you when you need to be challenged.

Bob reacts to explain that it is about bringing people together.

Yes, I make a distinction between friends and allies. The latter brings with it, for me, connotations of “sides” or “factions” – not a helpful dynamic when attempting to bring the whole organisation along on the journey. There’s way too much “us vs them” in most organisations already. I consider it part of the challenge to bring folks together, rather than drive them apart.

A similar view on the focus of managers on people and working relationships can be found in An Agile Talent Development and Adaptive Career Framework by Pat Reed:

It’s time to invest in our people and implement an adaptive framework and supporting infrastructure to create an organizational culture that optimizes engagement and a continuous, sustainable, flow of innovative talent.

Pat continues to make some clear statements what he expects that leaders should do:

Leaders need to ask the tough, incisive questions, focus on the right problems and remove organizational blockers to make sure the team has what they need to solve them. Leaders also need to be intimately and intensely involved with supporting their teams and passionate about results, as well as demonstrate the courage to fully empower their teams to self organize, adapt, fail quickly and recover (creating the safe to fail environment) and learn.

In “The difference between management and leadership”, Seth Godin (author of the book “Linchpin”) takes a slightly different view. He states the difference between leaders and managers is how they work with their people.

Managers work to get their employees to do what they did yesterday, but a little faster and a little cheaper ... Leaders, on the other hand, know where they'd like to go, but understand that they can't get there without their tribe, without giving those they lead the tools to make something happen.

An investigation by Dr. André de Waal.on High Performance Organizations (HPO) shows in “The 5 Success Factors That Really Make Organizations High Performance” that both management quality and employee quality are success factors:

Quality of management
The management of an HPO is of high quality, builds relationships based on trust by combining integrity and coaching leadership with highly exemplary behavior, is quick to make decisions (also regarding non-performers), is result-oriented and committed to a long-term vision.

Quality of employees
The employees of an HPO are diverse, complementary and well able to work together. They are flexible and resilient when it comes to achieving results. This are busy every day answering the question: “How can I make our organisation more successful?”.

Previously Bob Marshall wrote about How to prioritize tasks based on their value and he was also a selected author for The State of Agile.

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