“High Output Management” – Part 4

Management is a team activity. We learned that we also interact with a team of teams. But no matter how well a team is put together, no matter how well it is directed, the team will perform only as well as the individuals on it. In other words, everything we’ve considered so far is useless unless the members of our team will continually try to offer the best they can do.

When a person is not doing his job, there can only be two reasons for it. The person either can’t do it or won’t do it; he is either not capable or not motivated.

💡A manager has two ways to improve performance: training and motivation.💡

Because better motivation means better performance, not a change of attitude or feeling, a subordinate’s saying “I feel motivated” means nothing. What matters is if he performs better or worse because his environment changed. An attitude may constitute an indicator, a “window into the black box” of human motivation, but it is not the desired result or output. Better performance at a given skill level is.

For most of Western history, including the early days of the Industrial Revolution, motivation was based mostly on fear of punishment. In Dickens’ time, the threat of loss of life got people to work, because if people did not work, they were not paid and could not buy food, and if they stole food and got caught, they were hanged. The fear of punishment indirectly caused them to produce more than they might have otherwise.

Over the past decades, a number of new approaches have begun to replace older practices keyed to fear. Perhaps the emergence of the new, humanistic approaches to motivation can be traced to the decline in the relative importance of manual labor and the corresponding rise in the importance of so-called knowledge workers. New approaches to motivation are needed.

Conversely, misery loves not just any company, but the company of other miserable people. Nobody who is miserable wants to be around someone happy. Social needs are quite powerful.

We now come to the question of how money motivates people. At the lower levels of the motivation hierarchy, money is obviously important, needed to buy the necessities of life. Once there is enough money to bring a person up to a level he expects of himself/herself, more money will not motivate. Consider people who work at our assembly plant in the Caribbean.

In general, in the upper levels of motivation, fear is not something coming from the outside. It is instead fear of not satisfying yourself that causes you to back off. You cannot stay in the self-actualized mode if you’re always worried about failure.

💡Task-relevant maturity (TRM)

Previously people were told what to do, and if they did it, they were paid; if they did not, they were fired. The corresponding leadership style was crisp and hierarchical: there were those who gave orders and those who took orders and executed them without question. In the 1950’s, management theory shifted toward a humanistic set of beliefs that held that there was a nicer way to get people to work. The favored leadership style changed accordingly. Finally, as university behavioral science departments developed and grew, the theories of motivation and leadership became subjects of carefully controlled experiments. Surprisingly, none of the early intuitive presumptions could be born out: the hard findings simple would not show that one style of leadership was better than another. It was hard to escape the conclusion that no optimal management style existed.

Some researchers in this field argue that there is a fundamental variable that tells you what the best management style is in a particular situation. That variable is the task-relevant maturity (TRM) of the subordinates, which is a combination of the degree of their achievement orientation and readiness to take responsibility, as well as their education, training, and experience. Moreover, all this is very specific to the task at hand, and it is entirely possible for a person or a group of people to have a TRM that is high in the on job but low in another.

The conclusion is that varying management styles are needed as task-relevant maturity varies. Specifically, when the TRM is low, the most effective approach is one that offers very precise and detailed instructions, wherein the supervisor tells the subordinate what needs to be done, when and how: in other words, a highly structured approach. As the TRM of the subordinate grows, the most effective style moves from the structured to one more given to communication, emotional support, and encouragement, in which the manager pays more attention to the subordinate as an individual than to the task at hand. As the TRM becomes even greater, the effective management style changes again. Here the manager’s involvement should be kept to a minimum, and should primarily consist of making sure that the objectives toward which the subordinate is working are mutually agreed upon. But regardless of what the TRM may be, the manager should always monitor a subordinate’s work closely enough to avoid surprises.

A word of caution is in order: do not make a value judgment and consider a structured management style less worthy than a communication-oriented one. What is “nice” or “not nice” should have no place in how you think or what you do. Remember, we are after what is most effective. The theory here parallels the development of the relationship between a parent and a child. As the child matures, the most effective parental style changes, varying with the “life-relevant maturity” – or age of the child.

TASK-RELEVANT MATURITY OF SUBORDINATECHARACTERISTICS OF THE EFFECTIE MANAGEMENT STYLE
lowstructured; task-oriented; tell “what”, “when”, “how”
mediumindividual-oriented; emphasis on two-way communication, support, mutual reasoning
highinvolvement by manager minimal: establishing objectives and monitoring
The fundamental variable that determines the effective management style is the task-relevant maturity of the subordinate

💡Management style and managerial leverage

It’s not easy to be a good manager: deciding the TRM of your subordinates is not easy. Moreover, even if a manager knows what the TRM is, his/her personal preferences tend to override the logical and proper choice of management style. For instance, even if a manager sees that his subordinate’s TRM is “medium” (see the table from above), in the real world the manager will likely opt for either “structured” or “minimal” style. In other words, we want either to be fully immersed in the work of our subordinates, makin their decisions, or to leave them completely alone, not wanting to be bothered.

Another problem here is a manger’s perception of himself/herself. We tend to see ourselves more as communicators and delegators than we really are, certainly much more than do our subordinates.

Everyone must decide for himself/herself what is professional and appropriate. A test might be to imagine yourself delivering a tough performance review to your friend. Do you cringe at the though? If so, don’t make friends at work. If your stomach remains unaffected, you are likely to be someone whose personal relationships will strengthen work relationships.

💡Performance appraisal: manager as judge and jury

The fact is that giving such reviews is the single most important form of task relevant feedback we as supervisors can provide. It is how we assess our subordinates’ level of performance and how we deliver that assessment to them individually. It is also how we allocate the rewards – promotions, dollars, stock options, or whatever we may use.

Two aspects of the review – assessing performance and delivering the assessment – are equally difficult. Let’s look at each in a little more detail.

Assessing performance: a decision to promote is often linked, as it should be, to the performance review. We must recognize that no action communicates a manager’s values to an organization more clearly and loudly than his choice of whom he promotes. By elevating someone, we are, in effect, creating role models for others in our organization. The old saying has it that when we promote our best salesman and make him a manager, we ruin a good salesman and get a bad manager. But if we think about it, we see we have no choice but to promote the good salesman. Should worst salesman get the job? When we promote our best, we are saying to our subordinates that performance is what counts.

Delivering the assessment: there are three L’s to keep in mind when delivering a review: level, listen, and leave yourself out. Let us consider the 3 types of performance reviews:

  1. “On the one hand… on the other hand…” – most reviews probably fall into this category, containing both positive and negative assessments. Common problems here include superficiality, clichés, and laundry lists of unrelated observations. All of these will leave your subordinate bewildered and will hardly improve his/her future performance, the review’s basic purpose.
  2. The blast – a poor performer has a strong tendency to ignore his/her problem. Here a manager needs facts and examples so that he/she can demonstrate the reality. Progress of some sort is made when the subordinate actively denies the existence of a problem rather than ignoring it passively, as before. Evidence can overcome resistance here as well, and we enter the third stage, when the subordinate admits that there is a problem, but maintains it is not his/her problem. Instead he/she will blame others, a standard defense mechanism. Using this defense, he/she can continue to avoid the responsibility and burden of remedying the situation. These three steps usually follow one another in fairly rapid succession. But things tend to get stuck at the blame-others stage.

3. Reviewing the Ace: we must keep in mind, however, that no matter how stellar a person’s performance level is, there is always room for improvement. Don’t hesitate to use the 20/20 hindsight provided by the review to show anyone, even an ace, how he might have done better.

💡Two difficult tasks: hiring and exit interview

There are two other emotionally charged tasks a manager must perform. They are interviewing a potential employee and trying to talk a valued employee out of quitting.

The purpose of the interview is to:
* select a good performer
* educate him/her as to who you and the company are
* determine if a mutual match exists
* sell him/her on the job
Interview questions fit into 4 categories:
Technical/Skills
* describe some projects
* what are your weaknesses
What he/she did with knowledge
* past achievements
* past failures
Discrepancies
* what did you learn from failures
* problems in current position
Operational Values
* why are you ready for new job
* why should my company hire you
* why should engineer be chosen for marketing
* most important (college) course/project

💡Compensation as task-relevant feedback

There are two pure forms of salary administration; most companies use a compromise.

If we are going to consider promotions, we have to consider the Peter Principle, which says that when someone is good at his job, he/she is promoted; he/she keeps getting promoted until he/she reaches his/her level of incompetence and then stays there. Like all good illustrations, this one captures at least some of what really happens in a merit-based promotion system.

There are times when a person is promoted into a position so much over his head that he/she performs in a below-average fashion for too long a time. The solution is to recycle him/her: to put him back into the job he/she did well before he/she was promoted. Unfortunately, this is a very difficult thing to do in our society. People tend to view it as a personal failure. In fact, management was at fault for misjudging the employee’s readiness for more responsibility. Usually the person who was promoted beyond his capability is forced to leave the company rather than encouraged to take a step back. If recycling is done openly, all will be pleasantly surprised how short-lived that embarrassment will be. And the result will be a person doing work we know from a past experience he/she can perform well. From experience, such people, once they regain their confidence, will be excellent candidates for another promotion at a later time – and the second time they are likely to succeed.

In sum, we managers must be responsible and provide our subordinates with honest performance rating and honest merit-based compensation. If we do, the eventual result will be performance valued for its own sake throughout our organization.

💡Why training is the boss’s job

A manager’s own productivity depends on eliciting more output from his team.
A manager generally has two ways to raise the level of individual performance of his subordinates: by increasing motivation, the desire of each person to do his job well, and by increasing individual capability, which is where training comes in. It is generally accepted that motivating employees is a key task to all manager, one that can’t be delegated to someone else. Why shouldn’t the same be true for the other principal means at a manager’s disposal for increasing output?
Training is, quite simply, one of the highest-leverage activities a manager can perform.


This is the 5th article built as a summary from the book “High Output Management” by Andrew Grove. Enjoy it and feel free to leave a comment if you have questions or any kind of observations. And if you like it please share! Thank you for reading! 😊

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