Manage Systems, Not People.

While working with a client on the clarification of a job description, the conversation turned to expectations of outcomes. "How much of what by when" type of outcomes along with the systems used to generate them. I observed that since we were actually in the midst of an all encompassing organization development project of which this task was just one element, now would be a good time to examine my client's expectations of her management people.

As is generally true, discussions about managers and management are based on the assumption that managers are supposed to manage the people who report to them as described in the organization structure/chart. In my experience of over 35 years in this field of OD consulting, this has been the conventional wisdom. Let's look more closely at how and why this is a norm that is fraught with landslides and potholes.

Individuals are just that, unique. Each of us is motivated by our own needs and desires. A manager is hard pressed to satisfy the needs of myriad individuals and "manage" them like a herd of cattle. The manager can, however, manage the systems that the people use to accomplish the goals of the organization. He/she can ensure the availability of required resources, provide training, education and development opportunities to help the people discover and develop their untapped potential. He or she can clearly communicate organizational requirements and expectations of performance, enabling the individuals to live up to their commitments in their domains of responsibility.

If the people in the organization have been effectively matched to their jobs, and the execution systems are designed appropriately, then the outcomes expected will be realized if the manager focuses on his or her obligation of managing the systems.

My client got it! The job description now points to another document that clearly defines the organizational goals and the various systems and components that enable measurable criteria to be used in evaluating the effectiveness of the systems and the people who use them.

Managing the complexity of organizational systems while developing people's potential for improved performance is a daunting task. Let's not add the burden of expecting one person to manage another. That unrealistic expectation is a predetermined resentment.

Written by Richard Lewine


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