Can your People Act Independently?
Leaders and managers need to help their subordinates to grow and develop into people who can use their thinking abilities. As I hinted in the posting on using your brain cells to think, this is not a natural tendency.
I want to start in the military domain. People mistakenly use the military world as an example of an industry where you are not required to think, but to shut up and do what you are told. No doubt there are militaries where this is the case. However, we have very good examples where it is not the case.
Helmut von Moltke, the creator of the German General Staff, is known to have said the following to an officer: “His Majesty made you a major because he thought you would have the good sense to know when to not follow orders!” This was in the mid-19th century.
The Germans developed a philosophy known as “auftragstaktik,” or mission-oriented tactics. This enabled the junior officers and enlisted men to act independently when their senior officers were killed. It also enabled them to deal with the situation on the ground as it presented itself to them.
Given the uncertainty associated with war, one could never plan in detail to the end of the envisaged battle or campaign. One needed, at some point, to be able to trust that your officers and men would be able to deal with whatever situation presented it after first contact had been made.
In order to thrive on this system, they needed to appoint officers who developed their people to implement this system, and then train their people in this philosophy. In using this system, the commander’s intent was sacrosanct. His orders could be adjusted, but never his intention. Constant communication to head office also enabled the senior commanders to know what the situation was. Control was therefore still important.
The fact that the German military system was very effective cannot be disputed. Amongst others its success could be attributed to the effective utilisation of the philosophy of mission-oriented tactics. In the world of today, the USA also uses this approach. Using this approach enabled one to deal with the paradox of control whilst providing autonomy.
In the world of business, this approach is equally important. You want your managers to deal with the environment and the stakeholders in it (customers, suppliers, competitors, shareholders, etc.) without having to run back to a senior manager every time a decision had to be made. The latter situation does not create a good impression of the organisation. One could forgive a customer/client should they rather ask to deal with the decision maker instead of the person they were dealing with. The obvious question that goes with this is what happens to the organisation when this decision maker is no longer there. Does a light shine upon the remaining managers to empower them? Or does the organisation go the route of self-destruction?
Getting your people to take decisions at the level where the solution was required, does require a similar approach as in the case of the military. You need to employ the right kind of people. As Jim Collins says, “It’s first who, then what!” The following issues also come to mind:
• You need the right kind of people.
• You need to train and educate them constantly.
• You need a climate of trust, where subordinates feel themselves safe to make decisions without fearing for their jobs should they make a wrong decision.
• You need a learning culture, where people do learn from their mistakes, which in its turn, again requires a certain kind of leader that can provide direction and keep the people on board.
• It requires control measures that liberate and not constrain the people.
• It needs a vision and mission that will complement the control measures, and actually minimise such measures to the essentials.
Such people would require the following:
• The requisite cognitive competencies. You do need some degree of IQ! Mental agility always remains important.
• However, you also need oodles of EQ and SQ. IQ gives you the right to be taken into consideration. Do you have the required brain cells and are they aligned? It they do, let’s see to what extent you exhibit EQ and SQ. They tend to be the true explanatory factors of successful managerial performance.
Although the experts tell us that IQ is more or less fixed, EQ and SQ, the important factors, can be developed, should you have the required IQ.
What’s the bottom line? Developing an employee force that can adjust to the circumstances in the field, is not an easy task. It can and should, however, be an important objective of senior management. This is what Level 5 leaders do, as Jim Collins tells us. This is what the War for Talent is about.