The key dynamic I find in places that are trying to adopt “New Ways of Working”
is that people try to “weaponise the dogma”.
At least, that’s the phrase I use to describe it…
There’s a certain type of Office Worker who lacks any discernible talent, expertise or personality, doesn’t add any value to an End Product or Service, isn’t particularly well-liked (due to the absence of personality), but who somehow believes they have a complete and comprehensive understanding of “what this place needs…”, and a “fool-proof [sic]” plan that will “transform everything”.
Mostly male and over 40, this type can be further sub-divided into two main classes:
i) The class that sits around the office pontificating, highlighting flaws, tut-tutting at the “foolish mistakes” of others…
But who never commits anything to a written form that others can assess and respond to accordingly and professionally.
ii) The type who is constantly searching for the next “Management Fad”, in the hope that it can be used as the basis for a whole new System of Management, that grateful colleagues and employers will forever recognize and reward them for……..
It’s the second type that is the more problematic, from the perspective of my function.
Agile, Lean, PRINCE2, Six-Sigma, Statistical Process Control, Myers-Briggs, Neuro-Linguistic Programming… Is to name but a handful of popular management theories that have been doing the rounds for the past few decades.
But where 2nd Class Management always screws up, is approaching these theories as dogma, as Complete Systems, that require substantial Cultural Overhaul in the workplace.
When in fact they are all just Toolboxes.
With Tools in them.
Some of which tools, when applied correctly, at the right time, on the right objective, can make certain tasks easier than trying to do the same tasks without any tools.
Management has nearly always spoiled the ground I have to work on, with aborted attempts to implement Agile, Lean, Self-Organising Teams &c., as a Top-Down Management Injunction.
Telling someone who has been working away quite happily for the previous 784 years doing the same job that they’ve been working “wrong” and now have to work completely differently, never works out.
The dynamic is as simple as it is observable:
Manager A doesn’t know how Engineer B does her job; he only knows she has been doing it for 20 years, without any complaints about quality or delivery.
But Manager A is on a totalitarian crusade to implement Management Fad C: so Engineer B better shape-up or ship-out!
(Oh how Engineer B and Management Consultant H laugh at such futile behavior..!)
Of course, the Engineers (correctly) perceive this as the Manager admitting they don’t know how to manage, have been making it up as they went along all these years, and are now desperately trying to become High Priest of Agile/Lean/PRINCE2/Whatever…
Or at the least, conflate any productivity gains achieved by New Ways of Working, with their own undoubted but sadly unrecognized Genius.
(Engineers don’t always articulate it this way; but are usually thrilled when I tell them that is how I’m going to be describing their manager’s approach, in my report to the Executive.)
So what’s the “Correct” method of implementing “New Ways of Working”?
It’s the Only Way to get anything done, if you want it to stay done.
Your* Engineers aren’t bad at their jobs, or you would have kicked them out long ago.
(*You guys get that I’m in MC-Mode here, not talking specifically about *YOUR* Engineers/staff, right?)
They are just not being allowed to work as well as they could be… As well as they *WANT* to be working.
And that’s usually because there is a petrified manager immediately above them in the Corporate Food Chain, who is trying to force Engineers to work in a way that doesn’t really suit them.
And that way is:
A single orthodoxy that requires individual Engineers/staff to all use the same methods and processes.
Doesn’t matter whether that’s a paleo-management style from back in the ‘80’s; or the latest, all-singing, all-Agile “Ways of Working”.
One Size (of Management) Fucks All.
Try and create an aggregate methodology and/or processes, that follow a mean line through the curve showing how different people work, and you end up with a way of working that doesn’t suit *ANYONE*…
(Except the manager… Briefly… Until someone points out how his “Great Leap Forward” has more or less completely eliminated Productivity…)
The Correct Approach:
Meet your Engineers/Staff where they are.
What’s important to them? How do they like to work? What parts of their work do they find really interesting? What do they find tedious? And is there anything they are struggling with?
That’s the *MOST* important bit.
No point going through an empty “survey” exercise, just to figure out how much arm-twisting (and how many redundancies) will be required to implement your Dreams of Order…
No. You’ve got to actually listen to your (productive) staff, and then use your Managerial/personal abilities to help them develop (*NOT* “improve”!) their:
In that order.
And you do that by gaining the kind of insight and understanding into your Engineer’s experience of a typical day, that a decent Manager would already possess.
Then, when (and only when) your Engineer is starting to feel like you “get” what his or her job actually involves, will you earn the right to offer and suggest alternative methods of achieving the required outputs.
But even then, you’re not on a Mission to Convert. You are just offering tools and methods that the Engineer *MAY* feel will help them in certain areas of their work.
In my Experience…
Out of 10 Engineers:
1 will become a “New Ways of Working” Evangelist. He or she will embrace NWoW Theories as a breath of fresh air, and will (once suitably inculcated into the Arcane Mysteries of NWoW…) become your Champion.
1 will give you nothing but cynicism, resistance, dismissal &c. (In other words: Fear.) He can be safely ignored. Chances are he’ll run to try and catch-up, once enough others have boarded the NWoW Train and it departs…
The other 8 will follow a typical bell-curve distribution between those two outliers.
And you will focus your energies on developing the median quantile. Your top quartile will take care of themselves, quickly (were probably already trying to do it before you unveiled your “initiative”); and your bottom quartile are only there to illustrate the Law of Diminishing Returns.
So you just coach and mentor (keep “training” minimal or non-existent) your mid-motive resources, until your Champion(s) are up-to-speed…
…And then leave the Team alone to figure out how they can work most effectively, productively and meaningfully.
You just set the Outputs:
1) Required delivery date
2) Required specification.
And leave your Team to work unhindered by your delusions about your status within the Enterprise.
(It’s no wonder I get so many referrals…)