The 6 New Management Imperatives by Bruce Temkin – comments

Bruce Temkin has published a free book on his blog((1)), The 6 New Management six management imperatives bruce tempkinImperatives – Leadership Skills for a Radically Changed Business Environment. Mr. Temkin sets out to define a “new set of skills” for managers. These are the 6 new imperatives:

  1. Invest in culture as a corporate asset
  2. Make listening an enterprisewide (sic) skill
  3. Turn innovation into a continuous process
  4. Provide a clear and compelling purpose
  5. Extend and enhance the digital fabric
  6. Practice good social citizenship

Lists like this one are very popular. I have been known to make lists of key practices and the like. But for the practicing manager lists are frequently tough to integrate into day-to-day work. Mr. Temkin’s six imperatives falls into this problem category. Overall, the six imperatives are reasonable enough as they stand. But I want to take a closer look at each and then suggest a more global approach.

Practice good social citizenship

Lets start with the sixth, “Practice good social citizenship”. This defies the laws of capitalism. Capitalism has never been about doing anyone other than the firm good. In fact, there are enormous built-in penalties for firms that attempt to do anything significant in this realm. One only needs to review the history of the last year or so to see that companies act in their own (management not necessarily stockholder) best interests.

Even today we are being treated a new episode in this  debacle in Europe with the near collapse of the common Euro currency under the weight of Greek financial malfeasance. Would not good social citizenship lead Goldman Sachs and the other big banks not enable the bad habits of the Greek government?

One of the primary rules of capitalism is that every individual firm seeks to externalize any and every cost that it can. You can see this all around in day-to-day life. Why do we have environmental laws that attempt to restrict how companies deal with the waste from their processes? Why do we have Workers’ Compensation Laws? How is it that the largest financial institutions in the country drove themselves into insolvency only because they knew that they would be shielded by the American government from failure? You can add you own examples to this list.

The forces of externalizing whatever a firm can and the desire to make profits wherever possible under any conditions, even outright illegal ones, has always overwhelmed calls for “good social citizenship”. Nothing in Mr. Temkin’s recommendations will change this. This imperative is just window dressing.

Invest in culture as a corporate asset

Every manager knows that company culture is important. Mostly, this awareness has grown through learning to manage in environments that are toxic or moderately negative at best. So this imperative makes some intuitive sense. A central problem emerges when you try to develop a strategy and tactics to carry out this imperative. Without an actionable definition of what corporate culture is, it feels like pushing the proverbial string towards an unknown objective.

So, lets step back a moment and ask, “What does ‘corporate culture’ mean?”

Wikipedia suggests some of the complexities in its definition of “organizational culture” in the following quotation from the beginning of its discussion:

This definition continues to explain organizational values also known as “beliefs and ideas about what kinds of goals members of an organization should pursue and ideas about the appropriate kinds or standards of behavior organizational members should use to achieve these goals. From organizational values develop organizational norms, guidelines or expectations that prescribe appropriate kinds of behavior by employees in particular situations and control the behavior of organizational members towards one another.”

Organizational culture is not the same as corporate culture. It is wider and deeper concepts, something that an organization ‘is’ rather than what it ‘has’.

Corporate culture is the total sum of the values, customs, traditions and meanings that make a company unique. Corporate culture is often called “the character of an organization” since it embodies the vision of the company’s founders. The values of a corporate culture influence the ethical standards within a corporation, as well as managerial behavior.

Mr. Temkin suggests tactics for managers to use to “manage their corporate assets”: ((2))

  1. Track employee goodwill
  2. Develop a Voice of the Employee Program
  3. Establish a vocabulary around culture
  4. Actively manage it.

There is merit in each of these but without a useful understanding of the existing culture and a definition of the corporate culture you are trying to build. These programs will lead nowhere.

Here are a few references to statements by companies about their culture:

As you have discovered there is considerable variability in what is, and is not, included in the actual day-to-day usage of the term “culture”. Nevertheless, there are lots of common threads here. The question then becomes how do you define the culture of your organization, and how do you make changes that respond to the gaps between the future states and the present state? More on how I might respond to this below.

Make Listening An Enterprisewide Skill

Listening as an active skill is required at the personal and organizational level. Every good and great manager is, by definition, a great listener. So, this imperative fits into the obvious category. The Web has opened new avenues to practice listening and made it possible for listening to the outside world, to customers, competitors, technologists, and so on, accessible far inside every organization. And, in parallel, the Web has made it possible for employees and managers to listen to each other in ways not possible earlier. Tempkin’s suggestions for how managers can cultivate listening are good:

  • Listen in a variety of ways
  • Listen by example (senior managers need to demonstrate active listening)
  • Listen to employees
  • Listen for soft voices
  • Listen to online communities
  • Actively encourage listening

But, Tempkin’s claim, “The bottom line: enterprise listening allows firms to embrace change”, is not satisfying. Listening is a way of engaging with those around you. It is a methodology for discovering what is going on and why. Listening supports real engagement by employees and stakeholders. Listening opens the social space to the creation of new ideas and connections. Listening provides moments when the brain of listener is taking information in instead of thinking about the next point they want to make. But, the connection between listening and embracing change is not causal nor even necessarily suggestive of a significant link. Embracing change requires an understanding of either the opportunities to be gained or disasters avoided. Listening is simply one of the many activities that might go on while change is considered, put off, avoided, or rushed towards.

Turn Innovation into a Continuous Process

Here is an imperative chock full of key words, innovation, continuous, and process. These are bread and butter for every high performance organization. There have been, and continue to be, significant experimentation worldwide in how to foster and drive innovation. Many of these encompass far more than individual companies. Whole countries are trying to foster innovation through combinations of academic, government, and private sector assets. But, to focus on the company level, there are numerous models of innovation. One thing they all share is a view of innovation as a process, a continuous process. Despite the use of the words “continuous process” in Mr. Temkin’s imperative, there is only a hint that a company has to define its own innovation process((3)).

As with other of Mr. Temkin’s imperatives the suggested tactics are good, just lacking a strategic and process based context. And this is why most companies that are serious about innovation answer Temkin’s closing challenge, “The Bottom Line: innovation is too important to leave to chance.”, by building a continuous innovation process into their overall company architecture.

Provide a Clear and Compelling Purpose

Temkin hits squarely on the central issue with Mission, Vision and Strategic Plans and Statements of all varieties.  “Just about every large organization has vision and mission statements floating around their hallways. But when it comes to making decisions on a day-to-day basis, these documents are no where to be found. They play NO Role in how the company is actually run.” Unfortunately. Temkin offers us a less then compelling set of recommendations.

  • Rediscover your brand
  • Look for alignment
  • Market to employees
  • Make decisions purposefully

The corporate world has been filled with experiments on how to solve the problem of putting strategy to work. It is clear that bridging the gap between vision and planning and day-to-day tactics requires a structured business process and  a lot of management energy to assure that the process is working continuously. Speaking of decisions, Peter Drucker pointed out in his 1967 book, The Effective Executive((4)) “”Unless a decision has ‘degenerated into work’ it is not a decision; it is at best a good intention.” This is still true and points to the fact that visioning and planning are the easy part, the tough work is putting the plans into action and having them become the day-to-day work of the company.

Here are a few names and phrases that you can investigate to learn more about current business processes that address this issue:

  • MBO (Management by Objective – one of the original concepts)
  • Hoshin Planning
  • Balanced Scorecard

“Market to employees” is an unfortunate phrase. The very word ‘marketing’ inspires nothing but cynicism from every person on the face of the planet who has ever been exposed to the dreadnought of corporate pr, advertising, and general corporate manipulation. Management needs to communicate transparently and honestly with its employees and simultaneously try to be honest about the limits of its transparency and honesty. Almost 30 years ago, one of the original high-performance systems management gurus, W. Edwards Deming, in his 14 key management principles wrote:

Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.

Now, you may object that marketing is not “slogans, exhortations, and targets”. However, there are very few, if any, managements that do not descend to exactly this when addressing their employees. And focusing on this part of Deming’s principle is to miss the perhaps more powerful idea, fact perhaps, that the “causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.” Management controls the design and deployment of the company’s systems. They set the rules of work, provide training (or not) and guidance to getting the work done. Until management accepts its true responsibilities for the success and failure of the company, marketing to employees will always be seen as the manipulative cynical act it is.

Extend and Enhance the Digital Fabric

There can be no arguing with the momentum of the pervasive Web. The visible opportunities here are so numerous and the ones yet to be discovered likely to be just as numerous, so the imperative for every organization to engage is obvious. Temkin states four ideas for executives to keep in mind:

  • Understand digital economics
  • Assume increasing adoption
  • Improve usability, a lot
  • Connect online with offline

One point concerning Temkin’s view of digital economics is that business model making should never be left to finance people. Managers must take the initiative here because no finance team will reliably understand customer interactions and operations. Without the input from those directly involved at the front lines, finance driven business models almost invariably look good, even very sophisticated, but are usually disconnected from the realities of the business.

Temkin’s comments about connecting online with offline bring to mind again a guiding principle, one that is at the heart of his work. Every effort to design systems must begin with the requirements of customers, whether these are end customers or intermediary internal customers. Only by beginning with the customer view can you sort out the correct balance of system functions and user interfaces, whether online or offline. This process starts with customers, and only then involves others who play a role in creating and refining a company’s operational systems.

Epilogue: It’s Time To Reinvent Management

There is much that could be said about this call for reinvention. One thought stands out. Real change in management comes from two sources, the external realities that impinge on companies and senior management’s attention and approach to how to respond to the external realities. The first, the external realities, are uncontrollable, though at times unknowable, facts. The only controllable factor is senior management’s approaches to their work. Only when senior management brings new, more powerful models of management to bear on their work do matters like what MBAs learn, or how, and to what extent, the company trains staff have meaning to the results.

I have argued for years that the best systematic models of management are to be found in the arena of high-performance business systems. These are now widely known and globally deployed through models like Toyota Production System((5)), Baldrige Criteria, EFQM Excellence Model, and ISO9001-2008 Quality Management System. Though they differ in many siginficant ways, there is also substantial overlap, particularly at the top level of guiding principles and practices, All of them are widely used and under continuous improvement by users and experts.

If you would like to begin the journey towards high performance management consider these 14 management principles from The Toyota Way((6)) :

I. Having a long-term philosophy that drives a long-term approach to building a learning organization

  1. Base your management decisions on a long-term philosophy, even at the expense of short-term financial goals

II. The right process will produce the right results

  1. Create a continuous process flow to bring problems to the surface
  2. Use “pull” systems to avoid overproduction
  3. Level out the workload (heijunka). (Work like the tortoise, not the hare)
  4. Build a culture of stopping to fix problems, to get quality right the first time
  5. Standardized tasks and processes are the foundation for continuous improvement andemployee empowerment
  6. Use visual control so no problems are hidden
  7. Use only reliable, thoroughly tested technology that serves your people and processes

III. Add value to the organization by developing its people and partners

  1. Grow leaders who thoroughly understand the work, live the philosophy, and teach it to others
  2. Develop exceptional people and teams who follow your company’s philosophy
  3. Respect your extended network of partners and suppliers by challenging them and helping them improve

IV. Continuously solving root problems to drive organizational learning

  1. Go and see for yourself to thoroughly understand the situation (Genchi Genbutsu).
  2. Make decisions slowly by consensus, thoroughly considering all options; implement decisions rapidly (Nemawashi).
  3. Become a learning organization through relentless reflection (hansei) and continuous improvement (Kaizen).
Footnotes:
  1. experiencematters.wordpress.com []
  2. I will not provide citations for mentions from Mr. Temkin’s book. It is only 15 pages long and so you can figure out the citations by just downloading and reading it. []
  3. the hint is in his last suggestion, ‘manage an innovation pipeline’ []
  4. Peter Drucker, The Effective Executive – the definitive guide to getting the right things done, (Harper Collins, NY,  2006) p. 114 []
  5. TPS and further expanded in scope in the Toyota Management System []
  6. adapted from Liker, Jeffrey. The Toyota Way. 1st ed. McGraw-Hill, 2003. []