Thursday, January 31, 2013

Control, Governance, and Management

If you've ever gone through an oddly-structured, ill-timed, poorly-communicated reorganization (and who hasn't?) you are familiar with how screwed up something as simple as roles and responsibilities can become. Over the years, I've developed a simple way of helping clarify things. At least it has worked for me and others I've share it with.

Let's start by clarifying the nature of the oversight being discussed. This starts, as so many things do, with getting the terminology down. Our thoughts always follow our words.  So here is some terminology that I have used. The specific terminology isn't important, call things what you like. What is important is the way providing a definition dissects the differences in how we think.

Two of the critical natures that needs to be isolated are financial and authoritative. Borrowing from industry, these are generally referred to as Controls. There is usually a financial Control in place to authorize incurring a cost or paying a debt. Someone is always looking after the money. They control the finances. For small and medium organizations this is also the role providing the authority or direction. While the specific authorization varies by size of organization, the distinction of control is between the intent and the action.  For example, a corporate board would give intent and parameters of activity to an executive but would not actually oversee the carrying out of the action.  Similarly your boss might ask you to fill out a form but isn't going to stand around watching you do it or shuffle it off to human resources on your behalf.  They express an intent and parameters for action and leave the actual activity to you. Controls are the means we express intent, set parameters for and evaluate the results of actions.

Moving from the abstract down to the most concrete is another industry term referred to as Management. These are the boots on the ground, the supervisory hands and feet of the structure. This the guy in the hard-hat watching as the workers actually dig. It is how contributors get their activity assignments and to whom they report status and completion.  Management brings life by way of action to the intentions of Control.

The middle is where things tend to get complicated but if you've made it this far, you can likely see that we've set things up to address the middle quite cleanly. In translating intent to actions, there is an additional role that provides the decision-making, priority setting, and so forth necessary to ensure that the Management actions are achieving the intentions within the parameters of activity established by Control. This middle structure, which in industry parlance is often referred to as Governance, provides this necessary translation. It absorbs the feedback from failed or variant activity, and provides corrective and deterministic input to the actions as they progress. The provide a means for multiple types of activities with potentially conflicting agendas, skills, and maturity to cohesively fulfill a given intention.

Consider that a single intention ("build website") can have multiple approaches ("hire firm to build" vs "hire employee to build") and diverse activities ("create look and feel" vs "code database"). In even simple cases multiple contributors ("graphic artist" vs "sql developer") can be directed by multiple managers ("creative" vs "development") and they might have conflicting opinions on how to interpret the intention and parameters for the activity ("build website cheaply" vs "build website quickly" vs "build website with lots of bells and whistles").

Management addresses the differences in a specific interpretation ("build website as quickly as possible using our existing graphics and software"). Governance addresses the differences in the interpretation and the parameters of activity for the intention ("build website with this many bells and whistles and without buying new graphics or software"). Control addresses the differences in intention ("build website within this time frame and for this amount of money").

If you use the right terminology you can figure out the kind of conversation people think they are having during the confusing times. If they are trying to exert control, you can express that you believe control belongs somewhere else (or with you). If they are trying to exert management, you can express that you believe management belongs with you (or somewhere else). The point is that you don't have confront the content of their position, only the forum for discussion and resolution. This will often make it evident the different thinking about roles and responsibility. Once that issue is out and you are aligned, typically knocking out disagreements about how to move forward becomes vastly easier. Right or wrong, we might rarely be able to settle our differences on smaller issues ("the what should we do") if we have different ideas on the bigger issues ("the when and how we should do it"), or the large issues ("the why we do it").

Interestingly enough, the inverse of this technique is how we ensure we are able to evaluate the performance at each level.

Clear as mud?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Management vs Leadership

One of those planning conversations that so quickly goes off the rails into parts unknown, recently wandered into a discussion about management styles and corporate culture and odd assortment of other loosely connected things.

Along the way, there were several references to management styles and writings about the same. From time to time, someone speaking about a management style would reference a book or article about leadership and vice versa. The seemingly accepted interchangeability of these two concepts baffled me. To my mind, they are vastly different if loosely connected. Much in the way a wedding planner and a bride can often be interchanged but you wouldn't want to confuse one with the other.

An example of this was a reference to the style known as Management By Walking Around. There was an implication that the more face time managers have, they are not only more productive but more loyal. Which I totally disagree with. In my experience and extremely limited tracking on the subject I do agree that the frequency and depth of personal connection with contributors will increase productivity, provided that connection is about more than productivity. Should there fail to be an exhibition of leadership during these engagements, then a tipping point emerges where the contact becomes an inhibitor to productivity. Especially in areas requiring significant creativity or innovation. Prior to the tipping point for productivity being reached there can be observed a decrease in the attributes signifying loyalty.

The roadmap follows like this: too much face time without leadership makes employees feel over-managed and under-supported. They lose their part of the connection to the business objectives, they cease seeing their contribution being impactful. When they don't feel connected, they care less about their own productivity and eventually the productivity falls away. It's hard to stay productivity when you aren't inspired.

From the other direction, if you exhibit leadership too infrequently and with insufficient management, they might do their best to be productive but not know how to measure or account for what they do. They will then get frustrated at the disconnect between their hard work and successful business outcomes. In this case, business failings which is the summation of productivity, will be the precursor to diminishing loyalty. It's hard to stay loyalty to a leader in the face of failure.

Giving clear instruction and frequent oversight is management. Having actionable metrics and attainable objectives is good management. But these are nothing without inspiration, encouragement, a sense of purpose and a clear, personal connection to business outcomes. Ensuring people understand why they are working hard and have a transparent view of the impact they, specifically and personally, are making, that is leadership.

You can lead to long-term failure, you can manage to short-term success. Without leadership, your management won't have longevity and without management your leadership won't see results.