Saturday, March 7, 2009

Beware The Busy Manager

Weekend reading yielded this mildly interesting and somewhat insightful though not all together surprising article from the Harvard Business Review, written by the late Sumantra Ghoshal and Heike Bruch.
Plotting managers on the two axes of focus and energy, the authors come up with a two-by-two matrix, where managers are slotted into one of four types based on where they are placed on these attributes (of focus and energy). Their contention is that busyness is not necessarily a good thing, because it may leave managers with little time for introspection and the thinking that is needed to plan ahead on a strategic level.

Energy: Low Procrastinators Disengaged
: High Distracted Purposeful

The authors contend that many managers tend to confuse activity with work.
In short, you'll see an astonishing amount of fast-moving activity that allows almost no time for reflection.
They think they're attending to pressing matters, but they're really just spinning their wheels.

Procrastinators: 30% People often procrastinate when they feel insecure or fear failure.
Other procrastinators coast along in the chronically passive state that psychologist Martin Seligman called "leamed helplessness."
The biggest waste for a company, in my opinion, is to have any employees who fall into the 'Disengaged' category, because these are people with high focus but are not motivated enough to put any meaningful sort of energy into achieving their own professional and corporate goals.
Disengaged: 20% Many managers in this group practice a form of denial we call "defensive avoidance": Rather than acknowledging a problem and taking steps to correct it, they convince themselves that the problem doesn't exist
Disengaged managers tend to be extremely tense. That's hardly surprising, for they are often plagued by feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, anger, frustration, and alienation. They deal with those emotions by withdrawing and doing the bare minimum, which make the situations worse. Despite their low levels of energy, these managers suffer from bumout far more frequently than their colleagues do.
It should come as no surprise that those with low focus but high energy, or the ones I would call the 'active clueless', are the largest in number, at 40%. Roughly half of all managers fall into this category. Not only do we all know such managers, it won't be difficult to look in the mirror and recognize that we, at some point or the other, also have fallen victim to this behavior. A crisis looms, and a frenzy of activity ensues. "Do something, anything". An angry missive from the boss, and everyone snaps to attention and then panic. "If I am seen doing something **now** I won't be seen as having done nothing when it really would have mattered."
Distracted: 40% When they're under pressure, distracted managers feel a desperate need to do something-anything. That makes them as dangerous as the proverbial bull in a china shop.
One in ten really know what to do and do it with diligence.
Purposeful: 10%
One reason that purposeful managers are so effective is that they are adept at husbanding energy. Aware of the value of time, they manage it carefully. Some refuse to respond to e-mails, phone calls, or visitors outside certain periods of the day. Others build "think time" into their schedules.

Sumantra Ghoshal (1948-2004) was a management guru and an academic par excellence. His best known book is 'Managing Across Borders', which the Financial Times called one of the best 50 management books of all time.