Monday, 15 February 2010

Let People Choose their Managers

The role of managers is to help people perform at their best. Their job is to support, coach and challenge. We all know from personal experience that some managers are great at this, and that others aren't.

Bad management undermines morale, creates stress, reduces productivity and causes companies to lose some of their best people. A massive problem but there is a simple solution: Let people choose their managers. If they don't like the one they've got now, let them decide who they want instead.

Check out some of the research: There is the recent study from CMI that found that 47% of respondents left their last role because they were badly managed. There is the recent US survey that found that employees spend 19 hours a week (13 at work, 6 at home) worrying about "what a boss says or does". And there is the CIPD Employee Outlook report that found employee satisfaction in the UK at an all time low.

People see their manager as very important to them. The CMI study found that 49% would be prepared to take a pay cut if it meant working with a better manager.

Choose Your Manager
At some of the best companies to work for, that simply isn't necessary. At Gore (makers of Gore-Tex) staff (or partners as they call themselves) can choose their manager from anybody in the company. At my company, Happy, you can choose your 'co-ordinator' and change them if you would prefer somebody else.

When, at a recent awards ceremony, the host mentioned that at Happy people chose their managers the audience interrupted into a spontaneous round of applause. People know it makes sense. People can see that it would make their lives better, and more productive, if they could choose the right manager for them.

To put this into practice, there may need to be some changes in organisation. Most managers play a dual role. On the one hand they are responsible for strategy and decision-making. On the other they provide the support and challenge to people. Split those two roles (because they need very different skill-sets) and it becomes possible to let people choose their manager.

Please don't read this and forget it. Spread the idea. Let's end the archaic idea that the company knows what's best for you and should decide who manages you. Let people decide for themselves.

Watch this space. I will be blogging with more ideas, more explanations and more examples of this in practice.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Promise less than you can deliver

I was reminded of this important principle as my son was taken into surgery to have his appendix removed this week. I noticed a woman getting annoyed with the hospital staff and chatted to her about what was wrong. She had been told her husband's operaton would only take 30 minutes and it had been 90 minutes now. She was very worried.

We've had four surgeries in our family in the last three years. All have gone well but, in each case, it has been a lot longer than we were told before the person returns from the operation. Every time we've worried that something has gone wrong.

I think two things are happening. First, we are given a best case estimate because the surgeon wants to reassure us now. Second we are given the time from the surgeon's perspective, not that of the customer - we have to wait for the patient to come round from the anaesthetic before we see them.

Make them feel good after the service, not now
We are all tempted to do it: "It will only take 5 minutes", "We will have the report with you by the end of the day". But reassurance now leads to frustration later, if we can't deliver on it. It is always best to under-promise.

If you are in an aeroplane waiting to take off and the pilot tells you it will be a 45 minutes wait, but it turns out to be 35 minutes - you feel pleased, and you feel the pilot has delivered on his promise. But if she says 15 minutes and it turns out to be 25, you feel frustrated and let down.

I changed the local taxi firm we used when I found one that would actually you how long the taxi would be, instead of always saying "Its just round the corner". And I again remind myself to do the same, to make a promise I can take a delight in beating.

My son is doing fine by the way, touch wood (though he was late, of course, back from the operation). And the Royal London (an NHS hospital in East London) is just marvellous - friendly, helpful, responsive, informed.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Recent Press on Happy

The word about our workplace is spreading. Here's some recent articles and blogs:

Forster & Kreuz: Das Geheimnis erfolgriecher Firmen
No idea what this one says. The google translation is weird!

Independent: Even poets have been cited
Roger Trapp was the first journalist to write about Happy, back in 1996

Thinkers 50 Video: Henry Stewart Interview
My best attempt at capturing our beliefs in 15 minutes.

Calcalist Israel: On transparent salaries
Google translate gives a good sense of thsi one, if your Hebrew isn't strong!

Indian Economic Times: Management's motive should be to nurture people
A piece by me on what management can be like if it was people-focused.

MIT Sloan Management Review: What is your management model?
Interesting piece on Happy and others.

Forbes India: Virgin would never hire Branson
Actually my quote says the opposite of the title but never mind.

Enjoy! Thoughts welcome


Thursday, 11 February 2010

The Servant Leadership Approach

At Happy we've worked a lot with the UK Greenleaf Centre for Servant Leadership. The idea of the leader as one who serves others provides a great perspective. This story (moast recently posted by Phil Johnson in LinkedIn) is a great leadership tale:

A legend tells of a French monastery known throughout Europe for the extraordinary leadership of a man known only as Brother Leo. Several monks began a pilgrimage to visit Brother Leo to learn from him. Almost immediately, they began to bicker about who should do various chores.

On the third day they met another monk going to the monastery, and he joined them. This monk never complained or shirked a duty, and whenever the others would fight over a chore, he would gracefully volunteer and do it himself. By the last day, the others were following his example, and from then on they worked together smoothly.

When they reached the monastery and asked to see Brother Leo, the man who greeted them laughed. "But our brother is among you!" And he pointed to the fellow who had joined them.

Today, many people seek leadership positions, not so much for what they can do for others but for what the position can do for them: status, connections, perks, advantages. They do service as an investment, a way to build an impressive resume.

The parable about Brother Leo teaches another model of leadership, where leaders are preoccupied with serving rather than being followed, with giving rather than getting, with doing rather than demanding. Leadership based on example, not command. This is called servant leadership.

Can you imagine how much better things would be if more politicians, educators, and business executives saw themselves as servant leaders?