#156 from R&D
Innovator Volume 4, Number 5
Managerial Effectiveness is Influenced by How You See Your Role
Imparato is professor of business, University of San Francisco,
and consults on management. With
Oren Harari, he published Jumping
the Curve: Innovation
and Strategic Choice in an Age of Transition (Jossey-Bass, San
Francisco, 1994), from which this article was adapted.
Phone (415) 666-6771.
performance has been viewed as a function of ability and
motivation. I think
something’s missing from this neat equation: an accurate idea of
the manager’s true role. Increasingly,
the failure to boost performance reflects not a lack of motivation
or ability, but an inaccurate reading of the manager's role, which
has change significantly from what was needed yesterday,
especially in our fast-paced, information-limited, and highly
competitive technology-based organizations.
with colleagues Oren Harari and Linda Mukai in conducting research
involving hundreds of managers in diverse industries.
From this research, we found correlations that clearly
differentiate highly- and less-effective managers.
As you read, consider how you rate yourself, and how others
may rate you, on these attributes.
managers dislike change, and prefer predictability, order and
believe that turbulence in their firms is temporary or blame it on
senior management, and prefer to wait until "things settle
down" before tackling big problems.
highly effective managers recognize turbulence, flux, and
ambiguity as facts of life. They
know the environment will never "settle down." Many of these managers are energized by turbulence, because
it creates opportunities. Some
said they would soon be bored by a predictable, stable work
to external realities. Less-effective managers focus their
time and attention on the routines of the internal organization.
Their memos and meetings revolve around budget variances,
paper flow, procedures, and personnel, and they are hypersensitive
to company politics.
In contrast, to
the extent that the highly effective managers attend to the
organization, they are trying to accelerate it and cut the
addition, much of their attention, in and out of meetings and
memos, focuses on external issues, such as changes in markets and
technology. Many take
it upon themselves to regularly meet with customers, suppliers,
power. Less-effective managers consider their power to get
things done severely limited, since they believe that real power
resides with top management.
They say, "It doesn't pay to try to get things done
until senior management gets its act together."
They also believe that power comes from job titles and
positions on organizational charts.
managers distinguish formal authority and power.
Although they recognize that top management has more formal
authority, they believe that power, like respect, is earned, not
given out. Since
these managers view power as the ability to influence people and
get things done, anyone
can have power.
a coaching style. Less-effective
managers spend relatively little time coaching their people, and
they see coaching in terms of delegation: assigning well-defined
tasks and carefully following up.
managers want people to devise new ways to do things and encourage
them to "challenge the system" with an eye to improving
efficiency, containing costs, and enhancing revenue.
Once they outline the fundamental do's and don'ts, these
managers get out of the way.
Less-effective managers see their primary responsibility as
meeting the demands of bosses, job descriptions, and annual goals.
They assume that it’s up to the boss to expand their job
responsibilities and goals and often complain of being in dead-end
positions. Yet when
responsibilities are increased, they often complain about feeling
highly effective managers envision opportunities and
accomplishments and thus seek out and grab new responsibilities. They constantly think about how they can make things better.
In effect, they’re continually reshaping their jobs.
managers recognize the importance of expertise but are "too
busy" to grow (or hire) it; often, they see developing
expertise as someone else's job.
They tend to discourage curiosity (under the guise of
"keeping people focused") and discourage efforts to keep
abreast of developments in the technical field, the company, and
the industry. In
dealing with lower levels and other departments, they see their
role as moderating and filtering information flow, assuming that
this will give people what they need to know to do "most
managers, however, see their roles as developing experts and
expertise throughout the organization.
They promote specific skills and "deep talent" in
everything from computers to business literacy.
They encourage subordinates to find applications for new
technologies, and promote mentoring and education programs to
ensure professional vitality.
They concentrate on helping people understand the business
and emphasize the importance of widening information flow and
building internal systems to pump more knowledge through the
out fear. Less-effective
managers work from a primitive philosophy of fear (how often have
you been told, in effect, "these are times that separate the
men from the boys?"). They
think fear is (with the possible exception of greed) the best
motivator in business. They
also use— as a matter of style—intimidation, rudeness,
abruptness, broken promises, a rush to judgment, and a general
tone of "the workplace is a jungle."
Ironically, even as they use fear to "motivate"
others, these managers often demonstrate their own fears by
dampening other's ideas--especially when they differ from the
manager's preferences, or from standard operating procedures.
managers acknowledge the corrosive effect of fear.
While they keep high standards and exhibit a sense of
urgency, they see their top priority as making it safer to
challenge the process so long as it’ll benefit organizational
goals. They’re also
comfortable working with individuals with heterogeneous ideas and
values. They see their role as defusing personal fears about
confrontation, loss of influence, and being left behind by changes
in technology and organizational structure.
They use a variety of techniques, including open-door
policies, supportive feedback, and training programs; but most
important is their belief that the leader must reduce fear and
prevent it from enervating the workplace and thwarting change.
readiness for an entrepreneurial environment.
This factor cut through all others we found.
Less-effective and highly effective managers alike want
initiative and creativity from their work associates.
They all speak of their employees' need to "think and
act like businesspeople."
Yet less-effective managers typically refuse to share
financial details with other levels and departments.
They guard the processes for allocating resources.
They don’t share decisions about alliance opportunities
and results of marketing or competitive analysis studies before
thoroughly scrubbing them.
managers see their role as developing a culture in which everyone
has the information to make decisions and take risks, and are
compensated for getting the information and acting on it.
These managers know this approach flies in the face of
traditional compensation schemes.
They also organize projects to encourage ownership and
accountability by the group doing the work--for example, in
self-directed work teams. They constantly seek to find and strengthen ways to enable
and motivate everyone in the group to act as an owner.
managers seldom distinguish consequential changes from
insignificant ones. Often
they “play it safe” while appearing busy.
For example, one director saw switching to a different
vendor as a high-impact change even as he stayed with the same
unresponsive distribution channel.
In general, less-effective managers fiddle around the edges
of a problem, psychologically "hanging out in familiar
managers distinguish high- and low-impact interventions.
They recognize that high-impact change often involves a
restructuring of operations, not just manipulation of superficial
forms. For example,
they’re reluctant to layer new technology on an old system, at
least until the process is overhauled.
a sense of continuity. Less-effective
managers operate in the here and now.
They demonstrate no appreciation of how the past affects
the present, for the way prior conditions (markets, corporate
culture, strategic decisions, leadership styles) influence
today’s organizational processes.
managers try to connect past circumstances to the current
situation, yet while they appreciate the past, they don’t cling
to it. Finally, they
explain prior circumstances without rationalizing and justifying
errors or missed opportunities; in other words, they don’t allow
a “victim” mentality.
emotional maturity. There
were two components to this factor. First, less-effective managers have difficulty maintaining
their composure under stress, and allow their immediate personal
needs to distort the way they see themselves as managers.
Second, they’re also turf- and status-conscious.
They see little value in mingling with people in
“lower” levels, or in pitching in to perform menial or
nontraditional tasks during a crunch.
managers project a combination of urgency, passion, composure, and
confidence during tough times. They’re not afraid to work
collegially with anyone (regardless of department or level), or
doing whatever is needed to get the job done.
the long view. Less-effective
managers, even those who talk about “vision,” seem unable to
draw a coherent, practical “big picture” context for
themselves or their colleagues.
They doubt the value of providing shape and overview to
managers also talk about vision, but their approach is to make and
share best bets about where the world is going, where the
organization ought to go, and how all that might affect daily
managers are concerned to help others avoid terminal vision and
managerial myopia. Accordingly,
they invite discussion of changes in technology, markets, and the
for an idea. Less-effective
managers are unaware of what values they represent, short of
“making plans” or “meeting budget.”
There’s little coherence in the pattern of their
decisions. On one
hand, they seem to favor everything—cost-reduction, quality,
innovation, service—but their decisions lack consistency and
they often take contradictory positions, depending on the
political circumstances, and are susceptible to fads and
managers stand for one or two ideas—self-management or speed,
for example—and are tough, persistent, and consistent in how
they express those ideas. They’re
also eager to enroll others in the same point of view.
They go to great lengths to avoid acting expediently or
In summary, the
tumultuous changes around us demand new behaviors and actions.
It’s much more critical that we understand how our
management style influences our effectiveness.
accurate perception of our roles, all the advice and how-to’s in
the world are worthless. Inaccurate
role perception explains why so many mangers--no matter how many
seminars they attend and management tapes they audit--can’t
translate their knowledge into higher job performance.
And if they don't understand their role, managers won't be
able to accumulate the skills and capacities they need to channel
their motivation in the right direction, let alone to motivate
others toward the proper goals.