The Management Paradox: When It’s Time to Stop Managing People
Managing people does not lead to improvements in your delivery performance. This is due to one simple reason – time spent at a desk doesn’t necessarily translate into productive time. Productivity should, first and foremost, be assessed in terms of achievements and outcomes, rather than the number of work hours logged on your time tracking system.
Tony was one of the back-end developers in the integration department of a company that I was working for back in the day. He was a very experienced programmer. He was also a great team player who was really passionate about coming up with the most feasible options. However, he could never completely cooperate with the rules of the traditional workplace – the Monday to Friday 9 to 5 grind just wasn’t for him.
I’ll never forget the last time that he was called out for being late at work. He showed up one morning at 9:15, casually strolling in with his favorite hot cappuccino and chocolate croissant. It was a tradition of his to fully enjoy his breakfast before diving into the lines of source code.
This morning was different. His boss was standing beside his desk tapping his watch in disapproval: “Tony, this is unacceptable! I can’t remember the last time you were here before 9”. Tony wasn’t really the kind of guy who would allow himself to be sacrificed at the altar of office discipline, especially if the rule didn’t make sense to him.
“Well, good morning to you too, sir. Did I miss anything?”. Of course, he knew that he hadn’t. He was still connected to his work in a dozen different ways. He had checked his calendar the night before, he had been in his emails all morning and all internal messaging notifications were turned on. If anyone wanted to get in touch, they would have already done so.
At this moment his boss called him out in front of the entire department: “Tony, the working day started 15 minutes ago. You being late is bad for morale. It looks like you aren’t pulling your weight around here!”. That one hurt. The assumption that he wasn’t producing just because he wasn’t physically stuck to his desk was too much for his pride. The next day, Tony filed his resignation.
Tony’s boss had failed as a leader. He mistakenly assumed that keeping everyone in their working places would ultimately bring success to his team. What he didn’t realize was that managing people leads to a dead end.
The Motivation Behind Managing People
Nowadays, how we work and why we work is fundamentally out of sync with the expectations of the traditional workplace. The old command-and-control mindset simply does not work anymore. Instead, there is a need to modify the traditional management strategies and approaches in order to deliver in a consistent predictable manner.
So why do we keep managing people? Do we believe that monitoring and diligently filling every second of our workers’ time is the best way to make the most of our investment? Even though managers are often obsessed with optimizing an individual’s time, this practice actually inhibits the end goal of optimizing our overall delivery speed.
Let me ask you something. Do you assume that your employees are lazy? Do you believe that they avoid work or that they actually dislike work? Will they try to escape the office at the first possible moment and so the only way to make them do their job is through micromanagement? If that’s the case, you have a very serious problem to solve.
The fact that they are part of your team means something. It means that there is something special about these people. We, as leaders, should hold the exact opposite beliefs – we should assume that our employees are ambitious, self-motivated, exercise self-discipline and that they enjoy their jobs.
The Ultimate Prerequisite of Achieving Sustainable Predictability
Let me tell you more about how I manage my teams that ultimately enables us to maintain predictable delivery workflows.
Start from a place of one hundred percent trust. Stop managing the workers and start managing the flow of work. Your teams have their explicit policies, they have their goals, they have their deadlines and assume, by default, that they’re here for the right reason.
My sole responsibility is to manage the work effectively and build a decision-making framework that suits the needs of my business. The explicit policies that come with the framework enable self-managed teams who have the autonomy to make decisions on their own.
I encourage acts of leadership at all levels which ultimately helps us continuously improve our decision-making processes. Everyone knows what to do in every scenario, especially in emergency situations. This approach helps us deliver results to our customers in a consistent predictable manner.
If you’d like to explore our proven roadmap to optimize your delivery systems for predictability, I’d be thrilled to welcome you to our Sustainable Predictability program.
What Matters at the End of the Day
It doesn’t matter whether my teammates are at their desks from 9 to 5. It doesn’t matter whether they work from the office, from home, or in Tenerife in their shorts. All I care about is sustaining the predictability of our delivery system. My focus is on the workflow, resolving bottlenecks, blockers or dependencies along the way, and enabling my team to do what I’ve hired them to do. It’s not the amount of time we work that makes our customers stay with us, it’s the level of predictability we provide to them.
As long as the work is getting done on time and to a high degree of quality, my team have achieved their goals. There is no need to track hours. The practice of tracking time is dehumanizing and degrading.
I believe in promoting a supportive organizational culture. I believe that people want to show up to a workplace that feels more like a community, a workplace where they can be among friends, where they can bring their whole selves.
I don’t want to manage my people, I want to inspire them. I don’t stand behind my team and say “go”. I stand in front of them and say “let’s go”. I believe that you, as a leader, have to champion your team no matter what. They need to know that they’re working with somebody that has their back. That’s the strongest motivational booster out there
If you’re interested in learning how to switch the focus during your Standups from managing people to managing the work itself, check out our 3 Principles to Effective Daily Standup Meetings.
Now, let’s revisit the management paradox one more time. Growing organizations requires management. What is the role of management for the next generation? Management exists to provide a complete and meaningful experience not only for their customers but for their people as well.
I challenge each and every one of you who is privileged enough to be leading the next generation – stop managing people and start managing the flow of work. That’s the ultimate prerequisite to achieving sustainable predictability.
Meet the Author
Sonya Siderova is a passionate product manager and a driving force behind Nave, a Kanban analytics suite that helps teams improve their delivery speed through data-driven decision making. When she's not catering to her two little ones, you might find Sonya absorbed in a good heavyweight boxing match or behind a screen crafting a new blog post.