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Bruce Holland

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Is your life dominated with reports, coordination meetings and preparing for the Board (or Minister)?

Is your life dominated with reports, coordination meetings and preparing for the Board (or Minister)?

Research in a recent Harvard Business Review (Sept/Oct 2011) showed that in the 20% of organisations that are most complicated, managers spend 40% of their time writing reports and 30% to 60% of it in coordination meetings; also, many of my clients complain to me about preparing for the Board (or Minister). As a result, there's not much time left to do the things that really add value to an organisation. Things like organisational strategy, culture, systems thinking and people development. Because there's no time left, leadership is limited and people feel abandoned and unappreciated. It's no wonder that, according to Gallup, only 17% of people in New Zealand are "engaged" - down from 23% in 2002!

Managers make their organisations complicated

It's managers who create these complicated organisations; and mostly it's due to their most basic management assumptions.

  • They assume they are managing a machine rather than a self-organising living system. They jump to organisational structure solutions when they should be developing culture and individual beliefs. They add processes and layers when they should be simplifying processes and layers. They divide to conquer when they should be integrating to set-free. We spend unbelievable amounts of time and money restructuring when we should be destructuring or "silo-busting" as I call it.

  • They assume tasks need to be assigned rather than chosen. As a result they take away the ownership and reduce individual genius that people will willingly give if they have the power to choose their own destiny. It's called freedom, but in many organisations it's more like dictatorship.

  • They assume decisions need to be made close to the top whereas my experience shows that most decisions can be pushed right down to the person who has to do the work. Recently I was working in a highly successful and well-run butter manufacturer . Like many of my clients, it was a top-drawer outfit that had won several awards and had good managers; however, even here we found that managers made the great bulk of decisions. After reconsidering their base assumptions nearly all these decisions were transferred to front-line people in gum-boots and overalls.

  • They assume processes should be centred within a department rather than organisation-wide and customer centred. As a result silos are reinforced, people are controlled in sub-systems and customers are shut out.

  • They assume resources are scarce when today the most important resources are plentiful; things like ideas, information, relationships, trust and communication. They report on their land and building and fixed assets when all the research shows that most of the market value is associated with information, relationships, confidence, culture and time.

  • They assume people are separate when science for the last 100 years has consistently shown we are far more connected than most managers believe. As a result they manage individuals rather than the "space" between individuals. Managers should be bringing people together, mixing people up, developing people and finding ways to connect; what they do is put people in boxes, divide them into divisions that create unnecessary separation.

  • Finally we get to the father of all assumptions: they assume they need to be on top of everything. I have yet to find a manager who would own up to it, but their actions show they have not identified the three or four things (strategies) that really matter and must be managed, otherwise, no matter how hard they try, the organisation will not succeed. The best definition I know for strategy is "to be strongest at the decisive point." In other words to know what matters and to put your horsepower behind it. Why else would I so often see managers involved in urgent but unimportant things?

The way out

When managers think about it, nearly every one agrees that their assumptions are the cause of the problem. The trouble is they don't think about it. Partly it's because they are too close to it. Partly it's because they are too busy with meetings and reports and preparing for Boards.

One of the great joys of my work is to see the relief and happiness when managers start to see how to regain their lives while also adding far more value to their organisation and customers.

But don't be fooled into thinking that it's easy. The way out is a Program of silo-busting, strategy, culture, systems thinking and people development. It takes about 5 days over 5 months. This fourth dimension of time is essential because we need to fundamentally change the way managers think of their role and their organisation. This is a big issue. Gallup estimated that poor engagement is costing New Zealand $3.67 billion a year. What is it costing your organisation?

I hope this gives you some inspiration to get cracking.

Warmest wishes
Phone +6421620456 or Skype Bruce.Holland\\
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Key words: Leadership, leadership development, leadership management, leadership training, leadership program, leadership skills

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