Getting managers to lead

Previously, I was explaining how I’d been working with MedTech Engineers Ltd (not the company’s real name), to solve a problem with their senior managers and their leadership behaviours, or rather the absence thereof.  The company is registered to both ISO 9001: 2008 and ISO 13485: 2012, and are looking to register to ISO 9001: 2015 in 2016.  With the changes that have been made to ISO 9001, they asked for Flintloque’s help with improving the competence of their senior managers, so that they could provide the required leadership.

We’ll take a quick detour here into definitions, just so that we are clear on the meanings of the words that I’ll be using.  There are many ways to define “management” and “leadership”, but for our purposes here we’ll just say that “management” is about processes and “leadership” is about behaviours.  I could go on at length about why those definitions are right, incomplete and/or wrong, but they’ll do for this example.  If you are interested in such, just look up a few articles on these topics and you’ll see how those two words are used individually and interchangeably by a variety of people.

From Flintloque’s perspective, as it concerns the implementation of a management system that meets the requirements of an international standard, the primary function of “management” is to make decisions, and “good management” results in the making of “informed decisions”.  In order to make an informed decision, you must have information, the acquisition of which is primarily, though not exclusively, a process-based activity.  Once the information has been used to make a decision, the communication of that decision to the people who are to do the implementation is primarily, though not exclusively, a behaviour-based activity.  Again, this could be argued over all day, but that won’t get the work done, so we’ll go with it just now for the Medtech Engineers story.

As I discussed with the senior managers at Medtech Engineers, you can view management as process-based and leadership as behaviour-based, but they are both really positions at either end of a continuum.  The company has senior managers who have worked their way up through the company and are still primarily focussed on processes, with a little bit of leadership behaviour thrown in.  Conversely, there are also managers who are focussed on influencing and motivating their people to get the processes done, without themselves engaging in anything that looks from the outside like work.  This can cause the “workers” who produce things to look at the managers who organise things and say that the latter are doing nothing.

I see this “management disconnect” often enough and it comes about because of lack of information regarding what the various parties “do”, which leads to the various sides having different value measures for the quantity “do”!  The workers can point to a pallet full of goods for shipment as a measure of what they “do”, whereas the senior manager points at a nice tidy desk and a single page spreadsheet.  You can see how differences of opinion and appreciation can arise.  Anyway, back to Medtech engineers.

Flintloque spent a couple of months engaged with the senior management team, helping to align their behaviours, so that they were spending more time organising and motivating their teams.  Crucially, we also spent considerable time with the middle managers and team leaders to ensure that they understood why the behaviours of some of the senior managers were changing (had to change).  This part is essential when implementing a management system, otherwise it can look to the “workers” as if “leadership” means “making me do all the work”.

And at Medtech Engineers, all this change was triggered by requiring the organisation to tighten-up the responsibilities and authorities associated with particular positions within the company.  Everyone within the company is happier now as they know what they are supposed to be doing and what is expected of them.  Well, almost everyone.  Changing people’s behaviours is difficult (“There’s now’t as comfy as a rut!”), but now Medtech Engineers has an approximate ratio of happier to unhappier of 80:20 rather than the other way round.  It isn’t perfect, but then what ever is in business?

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