Our managers are preventing change

Our managers are preventing change

Are your managers preventing change?

Many companies are trying to release agility and create a more streamlined approach to delivering customer value. This crosses functions; Dev, Customer Support, HR or any other function. They all need to release value as quickly and easily as they can – and removing the friction on that journey is what agility basically is.

One of the realisations from releasing agility (helping teams move quickly and easily towards their goal) in many teams is that the structure of the organisation often needs to change as you remove friction – as you release agility. A lot of the friction preventing organisations from achieving their purpose is due to organisation structure and the handoffs, tradeoffs and silos that exist around it.

To remove friction towards achieving your company purpose you often have to evolve or change a business so that it revolves around the value you add to your customer. A business that flows valuable work rather than one based around traditional departments – where work gets broken down and rebuilt to be passed along.

When you flow work (and value) through a company the customer (and company) usually wins. The customer gets great service. The company often sees a reduction in cost because their customers are happier. Work no longer bumps along between departments that often don’t talk to each other. It flows – of course, not always perfectly. There will always be friction.

Yet, many managers and executives won’t change the structure of the organisation even though they know it’s the thing they want and need.

They want agility (which comes from removing friction). Yet they won’t change the structure. Yet they want agility. Yet they won’t change the structure. Yet they want agility. Yet they won’t change the structure. Yet they want agility. You get it.

You may not always need to change the structure, but in my experience you probably will (sometimes by just a few tweaks here and there, sometimes whole departments need to merge). Some managers and execs are all over it. Look at DevOps – a classic tale of breaking down barriers and flowing work and value. Yet some companies have a DevOps function that still consists of separate Dev, Testing and Operations team where work stumbles through the pipeline to each other. It’s not DevOps.

There are plenty of reasons for not wanting to change the structure of the organisation. I get it. And when a company gets really large, it’s really hard to make even a small amount of change.

But one of the most common reasons I hear for not wanting to, or being able to, make change, is because of weak management.

Long-time readers of this blog will know I’m not a fan of weak management. Management that avoids tough discussions about process, protects turf at all cost, doesn’t look at the bigger picture, cannot work with people very well, controls with cost, commands and controls, micromanages (at all times), uses humiliation to get what they want, hires poor quality candidates, retains under-performers because that conversation is too tricky and does very little to improve the world of work.

But to not change the structure of an organisation (where you know it will lead to value for your customers) because of weak management is… Weak?

“Those two managers won’t get along, so we cannot make them work together. We have to keep them separated.”

Really? You don’t have to like the people you work with, but you do have to co-operate. You can’t ask two people work together? Sounds like those two people need some coaching, and feedback. Change the structure and ask them how they’ll support it.

“I can’t let a Dev Manager line-manage Testers, so we’ll keep the departments separate.”

Is that Dev manager even doing a good job of line-managing Developers? Why can’t they line-manage Testers? Good Engineering managers can work with anyone (you don’t manage people – you work with them).

“We could never let HR work with Development – they need to be a separate team and they are wired differently.”

Nonsense. Every individual is different which is why you work with individuals – not teams. But to say Developers are different to HR who are different to Sales – I don’t believe it. From my own experience every single person is different, but they’re not that different in the grand scheme of things.

“We could never have those two teams merge together. How would we know who to pay more money, reward or punish when it goes wrong? How would management know what to do?”

The individual will rarely achieve anything on their own in the modern workplace. And if you have a team of individual heroes you have a big problem to fix already. People cooperating around a common goal will likely be more successful. How do you reward the best performers? You don’t. You reward everyone in the team. And good, effective and talented managers will take care of any performance issues.

Weak management is preventing companies from achieving greatness, from releasing agility and from delivering even better value to their customers. It’s madness.

Management is a hard job, it’s a dirty word and it’s got a bad rep. But it’s often the very role that can lead to success or failure of new initiatives. Management isn’t something you can promote high performers in to and expect them to succeed. Management is a skill and an effective manager will add plenty of value. Weak ones won’t.

Don’t let management stop you implementing the very structure your company or team requires. Fix the problem with management. Find managers who will help you succeed. Pull levers of cooperation. Train managers. Coach managers. Talk to them about their performance. Your managers should support the business goals and evolve with them, not the other way around. I know it’s not easy, but it’s surely easier to talk to managers about performance than it is to continue building teams and organisations that can no longer keep up with customer demands?

Go forth and release agility and find managers who will help you do it.