Why Manage Better?

Monday, December 9, 2019

Secret Sauce for lasting Change

In the last few weeks I have shared my views on how Technology is helping Operations get better. Much of this is large and complicated Change. Today’s post is about one key aspect of making all that Change happen - Managing people to deliver Change. Anyone who has tried to implement anything new will know that anything worth doing is also hard. It does not work most of the time, it takes longer than planned, and it is more costly than estimated. But it does not have to be.

In my over 20 years in process excellence I have learnt a few things and top of the list is – you don’t get anything done alone. You need a team and people make up a team. Not robots. Not yet. People have emotions and the least we can do is to try and understand them.

I have also learnt that for me to be a leader I have to give people a reason to work for me. And fear and chaos is not a reason. It is a threat. It can work in short term but usually leaves everyone scarred and damaged.

I have had some success with managing people over the years. In my last ten years my teams have topped the people survey scores for engagement and satisfaction each year. While all the credit goes to some fantastic teams I have had I also have learnt some lessons along the way.

Here are some lessons I have learnt that could be useful to you:

1. People process is Organic. You do NOT have templates and formulas that you can apply and expect results. You can't even use MS Excel -:). Yes there can be methods but expect wide variation in implementation and results. I have had one manager who clearly struggled with people – he had no malice but he was just too task focused to even have a conversation. And his relationships with colleagues showed this. He had difficulty energizing people on his team to do more – to go beyond. In one meeting many years ago, one which I clearly remember, as a big NO in people interaction – he started a meeting with me with – so Anshuman, how are you? How is family, everything at home? I was delighted and thought wow there is improvement. But ten seconds into my response his face went cold and he asked – what happened to the report we were to send yesterday. I have had thousands of meetings with my team members and my managers but this one experience stands out in memory. I am sure you know why.

2. To lead people show genuine interest in them. There are many ways to get short term team alignment – some legal and other illegal. But there is only one way to win people for the longer term. It is to demonstrate your genuine interest in them. Demonstration of intent is as important as intent. Leadership is a contact sport. Of course if you are not authentic about this you can’t really fake it. But do try and understand what drives your people, what makes them happy, sad, and angry. There is again no formula or template for this. Many years ago while I was at Infosys I had the good fortune of meeting Nandan Nilekeni the famed founder or Infosys and architect of India’s citizenship identity program – Aadhaar. This was over 10 years ago but I remember every meeting and every conversation clearly. He showed genuine interest in the two minutes you would have with him. I have tried to walk this path. For example, over the last ten years I have tried to send a personalized birthday email to all members of my team. And in some years this has been more than 100. I do this because I know the person receiving it smiles at receiving it and moreover I have to stay true to my method of engaging people and know them well if I have to wish them.

3. Differentiate but be fair. This is a tricky one. Common sense tells us if you are good with people then you should be good with all. But in my view fairness is a bigger virtue than being nice. Management is not a popularity contest. Being nice to all does not work. It will always annoy those who are doing well. While you need to certainly differentiate at the end of the year when salary hike time comes you would do well to differentiate through the year. Do not hesitate to categorize your team on potential and performance and then regularly reward those who excel. I am not saying you abandon those who are not excelling. They need your help. But please don’t be over democratic and give same salary hikes to all. I have had to take several tough decisions on people but have always tried to be fair and never take the dignity of the person away. Differentiate but be fair.

4. Demonstrate the behavior you expect of others. This is a variation of the golden rule of people management – do unto others as you want done to yourself. Managing or leading team is a full time job. You are being watched and clues are being picked up on what you really mean when you say something. The smaller the gap between saying, meaning, and doing the better it is for you. Else you are living a life of deceit and it will all come crumbling down one day. Or the cost of lying and covering up your lies will be immense. Early in my career my Guru and Mentor Suresh Lulla taught me the value of this golden rule. The interesting part is that he never really taught the rule. He demonstrated it with his behavior and how he lived his life. His life was the lesson. And I would do well to be 10% of what he is.

5. Have a teachable point of view and keep improving it. The concept of a teachable point of view comes from Prof. Noel Tichy from his book the Leadership Pipeline. This is perhaps my favorite. It sums it all up. I firmly believe if you can’t teach something you probably don’t know it. Also, if something works you should share it. Teach it. Atleast have a teachable point of view. Can you summarize how you click, how you work, in 3-5 key points? If not, then it is time to take a pause and work on that summary. The more you introspect to develop the more you will be sure of your game. And of course don’t stand still. Sharpen the Saw – keep improving your teachable point of view.

So, those were my top tips for managing your team well. As I said there is no formula, no template, and no set piece. There is only one golden rule – do unto others as you want done to yourself. Be authentic and care for your team and they pay you back with more than what you deserved and invested.

First published on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/secret-sauce-lasting-change-anshuman-tiwari/

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