What we need, are better managers

There has been a lot said about the problems within Ambulance Victoria, and it would appear that similar problems exist in other Ambulance Services particularly along the east coast of Australia.

In my reading I came across this article in that left wing pro union Murdoch paper, “The Australian.”

Originally written by one of their journos a Pia Ackerman.

It certainly resonated with me, and I hope you will take the time.

Original Article can be found here, emphases shown below are my own.

Great managers, like great sushi, are hard to find. Mediocrity abounds, despite the plethora of tips, techniques and training available these days to help improve the skills of those who oversee their colleagues in the frenetic, geographically disparate modern workplace.

Performance reviews offer one way for a manager’s own skills to be assessed, but what does a good manager look like? Are good management skills a product of nature or nurture? And how good a manager are you?

These are the questions Malcolm Johnson, the Australian Institute of Management’s head of research and thought leadership, grapples with every day.

“The key thing I think is that leaders and managers have values that esteem authenticity, they build trust, they are compassionate,” Dr Johnson said.

“If those things work really well, they release potential in everybody.”

He has summarised the qualities of a good manager through the “four C’s”:

1. The collective. Good managers recognise and use the collective leadership skills available within the workplace. “Everyone can serve as a leader, it doesn’t just have to be the person with that role. There are people who have some magnificent skills and experience who aren’t necessarily adopted as leaders but can exercise management and leadership.”

2. Compassion and respect for others.

3. Concurrent leadership. “People in a team can serve as leaders at the same time. Really effective managers and leaders demonstrate that leadership almost from behind…like shepherds with a flock. A good leader is someone who lets people go forward with their own enthusiasm and insights.”

4. Collaboration. All members pitch in and maintain a mutual dialogue.

While leadership skills appear to come naturally to some, the intricacies of today’s workplace have forced managers to abandon old methods of “command and control” and adapt to employees’ diverse needs and skills while meeting the demand for greater flexibility from customers and workers.

Aaron McEwan, director of advisory services at professional consulting firm CEB, said companies had become more geographically dispersed and interconnected since the global finance crisis, forcing employees to work with and through a wide array of colleagues.

Managers in such positions consequently needed to adopt a more flexible mindset which relinquishes some of their old oversight and control over employees.

“The day of managing people to a defined set of tasks and measuring their performance based on how well they execute those tasks has really come and gone,” he said.

“The answer is in fact to loosen that grasp and empower employees to make decisions.”

He outlined 10 key imperatives for managers in the modern workplace.

1. Provide fair and accurate informal feedback, as this can improve enterprise contribution.

2. Emphasise employee strengths and positive contributions during formal reviews while grounding discussion of weaknesses in suggestions for improvement.

3. Clarify performance expectations by providing specific, outcome-focused objectives.

4. Provide feedback not just on employees’ past accomplishments but on required capabilities for the future.

5. “Crowdsource” peer feedback from employees with clear knowledge of their peers’ work, recognizing that employees on the same team may not be the best sources of feedback.

6. Contextualise organisational decisions to help employees navigate increasingly complex roles.

7. Give employees with clarity on opportunities for broader impact, not just individual tasks and responsibilities.

8. Help employees navigate relationships with peers and stakeholders at all levels to broaden employees’ impact.

9. Help employees boost their enterprise contribution by encouraging them to extend their networks outside the organisation.

10. Demonstrate a credible commitment to employee development, with resources and support necessary to support that commitment.

“When we look at employee data, one of the things that really attracts employees to a company but also makes them leave is the availability of development and career opportunity,” Mr McEwan said.

“Those managers that aren’t demonstrating that credible commitment to an employee’s development will very quickly find themselves without the talent that they need.”

Mr McEwan said CEB’s global data rated Australian managers as average compared to their global counterparts, with possibility for significant improvement in giving workers greater flexibility to ensure they were satisfied with their work-life balance.

Research also shows one in eight middle managers displayed risky management traits, such as poor decision-making and weak communication.

“Often that stuff is hard to change,” Mr McEwan said. “It’s certainly teachable and you can improve it but it is a hard road to change those types of things.”

Dr Johnson said managers needed to abandon “toxic” leadership practices such as undermining and marginalising employees, open themselves to new ideas and be prepared to force change on negative workplace cultures.

“Continuous learning is one of the attributes that good leaders display,” he said. “In some ways they have to manage themselves first to be able to lead others.

“You can highlight the principles of good management, but it can fall on fallow ground if the culture is toxic.”

He warned that a North American model of management was infiltrating Australian workplaces as many managers undertook Masters of Business Administration courses heavily influenced by foreign forces.

“Some of the toxicity and lack of compassion is coming through from North American models,” he said. “We should honour and encourage an Australian way of managing, which is flatter and more respectful of individuals’ contributions.”

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