Best practice, or just another fad?

New and innovative management thinking that stands the test of time tends to become the new ‘baseline’ to which all organisations must comply sooner or later in order to remain in the game. Customer service, for example, was once a genuine differentiator of companies but is now expected, and what was once considered ‘great’ customer service is now the baseline. Other new approaches that have significantly effected the way we run organisations and manage people include management by objectives (MBO) and total quality management (TQM). Using ‘big data’ and offering smart, connected products are soon to join such ground-breaking practices.

But wait: in some organisations, MBO, TQM, and other initiatives such as Six Sigma, re-engineering and supply-chain analysis that became successfully embedded in many organisations, were mere ‘flavours of the month’ in others.  How can that be? The answer is clear: Initiatives that are potentially valuable and ground breaking don’t work in organisations that ‘dabble’. Dabblers:

  • don’t bother to train employees properly in the initiative
  • don’t win the commitment of the organisation’s leaders
  • don’t persevere with an initiative long enough to make it part of its culture
  • make them an add-on to peoples’ probably already-demanding workload, so they’re just another ‘chore’
  • don’t allow the initiative to create deep, genuine change to its culture or operations
  • don’t take the initiative seriously enough to measure properly or reward people for coming ‘on board’ with it.

Some best practices work and organisations move on. Once an organisation has re-engineered its operations from ‘go’ to ‘whoa’, for example, it needs to find another ground-breaking way to retain a competitive advantage. Once every organisation is doing it (customer service and TQM, for example) the next iteration of it must be found.

Other initiatives are just plain fads and always will be. Upside-down organisation charts and calling employees ‘associates’ spring to mind here. Oh yes, and ‘There’s no I in Team’. You can recognise fads because they’re simplistic and prescriptive: Do this one thing and watch the magic happen–whatever your industry, the size of your organisation, the nature of your business–no need to adapt it to suit your needs! Fads peddle a one-size-fits-all Answer. They’re filled with big words, jargon, overblown phrases and bumper sticker exhortations and slogans. They do nothing to change the core of an organisation, the way it really operates, interacts with its customers, suppliers and stakeholders.

Fads like these are easy to spot. Leave them alone. When you want to adopt a best practice initiative and ensure it works, don’t dabble.

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Beginning a long-haul project

This week, I start work on the next edition, number 6, of Management Theory and Practice. Its new publishers have already started work on it, doing the mysterious preliminary work that publishers do. My bit starts today, in about an hour’s time, in fact, although I’ve already done my pre-planning (more on that below).

The entire project will be completed in 21 months, which is when you’ll see the final result. If that sounds like a long time, it isn’t; that’s how long big text books take to write, so nothing has changed in that regard from earlier editions! A project of this length can seem pretty daunting, to say the least. I thought I’d share how I’ve planned my contribution to it.

In a way, I started work on this next edition the day the current edition was finished, when I began researching, collecting and filing information, facts and figures for the upcoming edition that I’m about to start working on today. That is an endless task, a bit like Sisyphus pushing his boulder, but thankfully, far from a thankless task, although rather tedious at times.

A few of weeks ago, with the arrival of my 2014 calendar, I wrote in when I am to begin revising each chapter and when each chapter is to be completed. While I was in planning mode, I went through my file of ideas for the next edition, tossed some, fleshed out others, and filed them in the appropriate places.

Top of today’s To Do list is to go through the pile of Competencies for the Certificate, Diploma and Advanced Diploma of Management with a fine-tooth comb. There are some very big changes and lots of little ones and armed with these details, I can map out the book so that it captures all the Units and Elements.

Then the writing starts. Once the chapters are written, a copy editor goes through them—yes, folks, chapter by chapter, word by word—and fixes up grammar, spelling, punctuation, incorrect facts, silly statements and absolute balderdash. Then I get it all back again, read through it, make any more changes. It’s all very time-consuming, as you can see.

During this time, our illustrious illustrator does his thing, with faxes and scans flying backwards and forwards between us to get everything exactly right.

Meanwhile, just like in the Gantt and PERT charts in Chapter 17, the publishers will be designing the book, literally from cover to cover. Colours, fonts, layout, everything you can imagine. Technical wizards work on the website to support the text and other technical wizards work on the e-text, all very tricky technically, never mind the actual content.

Early-ish in 2015, I’ll receive the ‘page proofs’ to check over and a copy editor at the publisher will check over the publisher’s page proofs; these are exactly what the pages of the text itself will look like. The object is to spot typos and other errors and have one last chance to update statistics; the errors we spot are then fixed and updates added, while an indexer reads the page proofs to prepare the index. Then the text can actually go to the printer.

That’s when I get back to work on the next big chunk of the project, this time on the portions I provide for the website, for the general section and the teachers’ and readers’ sections.

By the time the text is out, many brains and many pairs of eyes and hands have worked on it, all pulled together by the acquisitions editor. Teachers should start seeing the 6th edition towards the end of September 2015 and everyone else will see it in early October, when it hits the shops. At that point, I think I’ll have a Becks and a lie down. And start researching for the 7th edition.

Discussion questions

How do you go about tackling long-term projects?

Healthy leaders lead better

Do you need to make an important decision? Get a good night’s rest. Do some aerobic exercise and eat a ‘good square meal’, as my mother would say.

Your brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for solving problems and making decisions (as well as other executive functions like abstract thinking, managing your emotions, planning, and regulating your behaviour) needs to be exercised, fed, rested and watered to work properly.

Located just behind your forehead, your prefrontal cortex also helps you learn, adjust and react to changing situations, and concentrate on your goals. So don’t make any important plans or decisions or hold any difficult conversations when you’re feeling hungry, thirsty, tired or stressed.

As a leader, you need to make calm and well-reasoned decisions and control your emotions and to do that, you need to take care of yourself with proper rest, aerobic exercise and nutrition.

Discussion questions

When are you at your freshest? That’s probably when you’ll be most creative, able to deal effectively with challenging situations and make sound decisions.

Managing is good for your brain

The next time you think your brain hurts from studying, don’t worry about it. It turns out that the longer you are a manager, the larger your hippocampus becomes and the better it works. (The hippocampus is the area of the brain responsible for learning and memory, so that’s a good thing.)

Researchers led by Michael Valenzuela of the University of New South Wales School of Psychiatry’s Regenerative Neuroscience Group found that managing other people protects your memory and ability to learn well into old age. They found that the hippocampus shrunk much less in the brains of people who had challenging management careers. They speculated that the unique mental demands of managing people require continuous problem solving, short-term memory and a lot of emotional intelligence.

The brain-enhancing effect of managing others was particularly strong in people who supervised more than 10 people.

So if you want a healthy brain and to ward off neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimers, keep studying to become a great manager.

See the UNSW article here