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1. Managing Beyond the Ordinary: A Matter of PerspectiveMore than anything else, excellent management-managing beyond the ordinary-is a matter of perspective. And clearly, some managers are more effective than others. The effective ones don't work any harder than those who aren't; they just see the task of managing in a different way. They recognize when a problem is complex and their information inadequate and recognize when they need to know more than they do and reach out to their people for help. As a result, they end up learning things they didn't know and doing things other managers do not, and they avoid doing a lot of things that less effective managers do. They don't waste time. They go to the heart of the matter and find out and do the right things from the beginning.
That doesn't mean they know all the answers, what caused the problem situation and what to do about it. It does mean that they know what they will have to do to find all the answers. They know where they are going in terms of problem-resolving procedures. They know that if they ask the right questions of the right people, the answers they need will appear. They identify the important dimensions of the situation and don't waste time around its edges.
Some look at the job of managing as a narrow activity, just "selling the product" and "getting the iron out the door." This leads them into short-term, highly specific decisions as they deal with problems they have defined in a narrow and specific way. The more-effective managers look at the job broadly and in greater depth. They see problems as series of related issues that others may know more about than they do. They consider their long-term goals and pay attention to human relationships. They draw on the experience and judgment of their best-informed coworkers to help them determine what is truly important. Then they make short- and long-term decisions and create a more stable and prosperous business environment for everyone as a result.
THE DANGERS OF A NARROW FOCUS
Sam Bartell was both chief executive officer and chairman of Bartell Computer Services, which supplied computer and financial training, systems, and services to a wide range of clients. Bartell Computer was considered a leader in its field and was known for the quality of its work, but in time it found its service getting harder to sell.
The company's field representatives complained that their service was no longer seen by the public as superior, as it once had been. Other organizations were offering similar services at lower cost, with added new features. Yet Bartell Computer hadn't changed or improved its product much in years. The vice president of sales, Marie Davis, and the VP of research and development, Joe Crawford, were painfully aware of this.
At one board meeting, where Sam Bartell was complaining about failure to meet projected revenues, Crawford said, "Our service is becoming obsolete. We've got to make improvements to meet the modern needs of our clients." Davis strongly agreed, as did a third VP. Changes and improvements had to be made, no question about it.
Bartell was furious at this and attacked the three VPs personally. "Our product is not obsolete! There's nothing wrong with it! You just aren't selling hard enough!" He said that there was no need for a "panic to change" and argued that "what we have to do is make our numbers." After ranting for a few minutes more, Bartell ordered some cosmetic changes for the sales organization, and nothing was done to improve the service offered their clients.
Davis and Crawford were seated at the table across from each other. Their eyes went up to the blank walls of the conference room, and Davis was silent for the rest of the meeting. The outside board members agreed with Bartell. The third VP quickly dropped the idea of making any changes and also agreed with Bartell.
The immediate, narrow problem was "making the numbers," meeting the monthly revenue targets. Nothing else mattered. There were no other problems or issues to be dealt with. That was it. Bartell was "number-driven," rather than motivated by concern for the clients or for the long-term health of the organization. If the horse didn't run fast enough, the answer was to beat it harder! The fact that the horse hadn't been fed well and was getting old was beside the point. The solution was to hire a jockey with more muscle!
This is in fact what happened. The next week Marie Davis, a good person who had done everything possible to increase revenue to little avail, resigned. The issues of obsolescence were not being addressed, and she knew she couldn't achieve a turnaround without a better product. Two years later, after exhausting its full line of credit, borrowing on the life insurance policies of its officers, and going through a succession of new sales VPs, the organization began to improve its product. In time, it became profitable again. But it was years before it recovered the ground it had lost. Sam Bartell blamed it all on unfortunate circumstances and a weak economy.
Sam Bartell managed in an ordinary, uninspired way. He believed, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." As long as anybody bought the service at all, it must be all right. He also believed that nobody could understand the product and the needs of the organization as well as he could. Wasn't he the CEO and chairman? He listened to the people who told him what he wanted to hear, and there were plenty of those around. He cut off anyone who had different views. So sell harder! Have more sales meetings! Beat that horse, and he'll run like a deer again! Bartell worked long hours and spent a lot of energy doing things that didn't help resolve the problem of low revenues. Turnover in his organization climbed higher. Sam Bartell was not a much-loved chief executive.
Bartell's style cannot in any way be seen as effective management. Had Bartell looked beyond the end of his nose, he could not have helped questioning whether there was a problem with the product. Had he asked, he could have gotten the honest, best ideas of his field representatives, those who knew the product and the client needs best. He could have gotten the same information from his customers. He could have seen the big picture clearly, had he not assumed that he already knew everything. He would not, could not have jumped to the conclusions that he did without finding out what was really going on. He had opportunities to find out what he needed to know, but he passed them up. And he probably would have worked less hard doing a good job than he did doing a lousy one.
As far as Bartell was concerned, there were no other issues involved with the shortfalls in revenue. Why should he ask questions of anyone? He knew the answers: People were lazy and needed to sell harder. And there wasn't anything wrong with his organization. Everything was all right except for the lack of effort the people in sales were putting out. He didn't consider the long-term strategies or purpose of his organization beyond "meeting the numbers." He focused his attention solely on the problem of meeting the unrealistic targets he had set, and he let the rest go.
Sam often talked about goals, long-term strategy, and the importance of thinking ahead. Every year he had a session with his top managers at which statements of corporate purpose were drawn up in detail, but he never referred to these statements in day-to-day decision making. Instead, he ignored all the information that was readily available to him and acted alone on the basis of his own narrow, incomplete perception of the problem at hand. The ultimate irony in this, of course, is that Bartell Computer Services sold and installed networks for its clients so that people could communicate and share ideas. He ignored the opportunities he had for collaboration and almost ruined his organization. By expanding his understanding of the problem and asking others to contribute what they knew, Bartell could have saved millions of dollars. But since the wheels had not yet fallen off his organization, he decided there was no sense fixing anything.
Bartell was supported in this folly by the sycophants around him who were more interested in keeping him happy than in the good of the company. After the crisis had been weathered, his do-nothing board voted him a six-figure special bonus for having "saved" the company. Joe Crawford quit in disgust...
Table of Contents
1. Managing Beyond the Ordinary: A Matter of Perspective
2. Collaboration and Management Thinking
3. A Checklist for Managing Beyond the Ordinary
4. Barriers to Managing Beyond the Ordinary
5. Benefits of Managing Beyond the Ordinary
6. Task 1: Understanding the Situation vs. Leaping Directly Into Action
7. Task 2: Clarifying Your Real Purpose vs. Doing the Same Old Thing
8. Task 3: Determining What You Need to Know and Who Knows It vs. Doing It Yourself
9. Getting the Complete Story About the Problem vs. Settling for a General Account
10. Task 5: Knowing the Cause vs. Simply Hoping You Are Right
11. Task 6: Setting the Requirements for Improvement vs. Jumping Directly to Alternatives
12. Task 7: Finding the Best Possible Actions vs. Accepting the First That Come Along
13. Task 8: Creating a Balanced and Workable Program of Actions vs. Just Doing It
14. Task 9: Fine-Tuning the Plan vs. "It's Good Enough"
15. Task 10: Communicating for Acceptance vs. Just Telling About It
16. How to Motivate for Collaboration
17. How to Install and Maintain Collaboration
18. You Can Do It