Hired a lot of clowns?

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2018

When I first started working with this client he was sceptical about the quality of his managers.

Like many business owners who have become the bottleneck in their business he was desperate to get out from under all the things that, apparently, only he could do and the decisions that, apparently, only he could make.  He didn’t see his managers as part of the solution but as part of the problem.

Our initial discussion started out along the lines of where and how he would find some “big hitters” from larger businesses who would help him achieve his ambitious growth targets..

I asked him how he knew that his managers weren’t up to the task.  As is usual in these cases the answer was a series of anecdotes about failures to do x or inability to understand the importance of y.  A little probing however showed that he had never really explained to them where the business was going, what their role in this was and what success in the role looked like.

Every time someone came to him with a problem he solved it for them – whether that was an angry customer or a blocked sink.  He was training his managers to be helpless.

At this point I suggested that perhaps some or all of them might indeed be incapable of managing but he hadn’t really given them the chance to prove it one way or the other.  Furthermore, replacing them with strangers on twice the salary was, to put it mildly, a risk – particularly when they would be hired into the same disfunctional setup.

We put in place a framework (following the Systemisation Roadmap) that allowed my client to develop his managers and quickly establish whether he had indeed been desperately unlucky in hiring nothing but clowns or whether some other common factor was in play.  He involved them in his thinking about the future of the business, got them to create their own job descriptions focused on responsibilities, devised with them simple performance measurements and discussed these in regular management meetings.  He also stopped giving them answers, instead taking every question as a chance to coach them to a solution and reinforce their responsibility.

At our last couple of meetings my client has said some interesting things.  Firstly, he is finding he has much more time to focus on the long term (we are now working on his five-year plan).  Secondly, after a recent crisis (in which he did have to intervene), the managers concerned have, of their own accord, developed a protocol and checklist to prevent re-occurrence.  This is what Agyris calls double-loop learning, or organisational learning, and is pretty sophisticated for an inexperienced management team.  Thirdly, the business is well ahead of his growth targets.

He is giving his managers the clarity, structure and support to succeed – and they are all succeeding.  In spades.  He will still have to hire some more managers but not to learn from them.  He will be teaching them how to do more of what is already working.

If you’d like to learn more about how systemisation can help you get out from underneath your business then you should attend this event.

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