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An Organizational Myth Three Managers and a Work Plan

May 11, 2001
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Once upon a time, there was an organization. It was a big organization. Manypeople worked there. The executives of this organization were smart. They readbooks, attended conferences, and listened closely to wise consultants. And theyhad their own good ideas, too.

    The gurus told them of the future. A future of more profits and moresuccess -- if they would only manage work and people more wisely. The words wereconsistent. "Your people are your biggest asset." And the executivesbelieved.

    Gurus were asked to help, at great expense. They interviewed the executives.A "Mission Statement" was drafted. "Strategic Goals" wereestablished. "Value" statements were created, framed and hung on wallsthroughout the big organization. These statements described the importance of"Customer Focus," "Employee Development," and"Shareholder Value." Managers and employees in the big organizationwere asked to believe, and to help.

    But the executives had questions. Their questions demonstrated great wisdom."How can we engage our people to help us grow profitably, year afteryear?" they asked.

    From the mountaintop they heard the answer from the gurus. The answer wasclear and consistent. It echoed through the valleys below. The answer was, "Develop work plans that hold people accountable," and, "Recognize andreward people for the achievement of their work plans…" And theexecutives believed.

    Much time, effort and expense was spent developing and implementing the"work plan" concept. Gurus were brought down from the mountaintop.They created information packages around the new "work plan"initiatives. Management was trained. Employees were educated. They learned why"work plans" were important. They understood how "work plan"achievements would be recognized and rewarded. And everyone believed.

    Time went on. "Work plans" became part of the big organization'sculture. It was different, and it helped focus what work was getting done. Trueto their word, the executives recognized and rewarded people who achieved theirwork plans. The process seemed to be working. Productivity and profitabilityimproved, for a while. Then it slowed down.

From the mountaintop they heard the answer from the gurus. Theanswer was clear and consistent. It echoed through the valleysbelow.

    The executives became concerned. Employee morale sank. Staff turnover rose.The executives turned to the gurus with more questions. "What ishappening?" they asked. And the gurus came down from the mountaintop again.They conducted compensation surveys. They consulted with other gurus. Theyinterviewed management personnel and employees. They offered their answers. "Retaining staff is an industry wide problem … you need to re-structure… you need to pay more money for some people because of their 'in-demand'skills." The executives believed, and they acted.

    Morale did not greatly improve. Turnover was still too high. Frustration andconfusion reigned. "We need more and better measures of what is goingon," said the executives. More gurus were brought in to help. More moneywas spent. Employee attitude surveys were conducted. Gurus analyzed the results.Recommendations were made and implemented. They coached, and they trained.Still, things were not good at the big organization.

    During this time there were three managers. They knew each other byreputation only. All three were effective managers, and all believed in the"work plan." But they did their jobs quite differently.

    One manager, Sam, was politically astute. He made sure that his work plan wasachieved every year. He made sure that the work plans of his subordinates wereachieved, too. Sometimes it was necessary to discipline people for not achievingtheir work plan. Sometimes he even let good employees go when they "underperformed." This made him feel bad for a while. So, he learned how to makea work plan just a little less challenging to ensure its successful achievement.

    Sam spent time getting to know and be known by senior management. Life wasgood. His team looked good. They achieved their work plans, and they wererewarded well.

    The second manager, Sally, was intensely focused on work plans. Her workplans were very challenging. She made sure that her work plan was achieved everyyear, at any cost. Sally made sure that the aggressive work plans of hersubordinates were achieved, too. She encouraged them to do so at any cost.Sometimes she needed to coach other people on how to build and manage effectivework plans.

    Sally and her team were very well recognized and rewarded by the executive.Life was very good. Sally got promotions and bigger management responsibilities.She didn't stay very long in any particular job. Her staff did very well too.They spread out and moved up in the big organization, and Sally's style wascloned -- because that was a successful style.

    The third manager, Sue, was smart too. But her style was quite different thanSam's or Sally's. Sue knew work plans were important to measure what got done.But for her, it was just as important to recognize how the job got done. Shebelieved in the mission statement. She believed in the strategic goals. And, shebelieved the values that hung on the walls throughout the big organization. Sheheld her employees accountable for believing them, too.

Sue showed fairness, appreciation, respect and recognition for thethings that didn't always show up in an employee's work plan.

    Sue also developed and evaluated job descriptions with these values in mind.She believed in hiring and promoting with experience and skills and withdemonstrated abilities that related to the goals and values of the organization.She managed people according to their assigned work plan and the behaviors theydemonstrated on the job. Sue sponsored training opportunities for her staff--butonly if the training was job specific and relevant to values and goals. Sue alsoasked others to participate in performance appraisals, both from inside andoutside the organization. For both her, and her staff.

    Sue wanted to make sure that in everything she did, sincere respect wasconsistently demonstrated. Towards the big organization, her boss, her peers,her customers and her staff. Sue recognized that lasting and true change towardsproductivity and profitability did not have a time line. And, that it would notbe driven by the "work plan" alone.

    Well, Sue attracted and retained staff better than any other managers. Infact, people asked to work for her. She had staff who were motivated by theirwork. They believed in her leadership, because she had first demonstrated beliefin them. Sue showed fairness, appreciation, respect and recognition for thethings that didn't always show up in an employee's work plan. That was unusual.Sue proved that there was truth in the saying that money is not the only reasonthat people stay with an organization.

    Some days, it was hard for Sue to keep true to her convictions about what wasreally important. It was particularly hard on those days when Sam and Sally hada very high profile with the executives. But she knew she was right, and shestayed the course.

    Over time, it was recognized that reward and recognition programs based onachieving the work plan only had mixed results. Sometimes people from Sam'sgroup, who completed less-than-challenging work plans, were promoted. Thisstarted to show up in less-than-impressive financial results. Someone asked,"Who is ensuring that all work plans, across all organizational areas, areappropriate for the skill and pay level of all employees?" There was noanswer to the question. Then a better question was asked, "Who isinterested in trying to do that job successfully?" There was no response tothat question, either.

    Over time, it was also noticed that sometimes people were promoted becausethey completed work plans at any cost. The executives had begun to recognize theValues and Goals on the walls didn't matter. It seemed that being "justlike Sally" was what really counted.

    The executives took the time to find out what Sue was doing. They decidedthat respect, integrity and values towards employees, as well as customers, wascritical to long term productivity and profitability.

    So the gurus were sent away. Executives and managers drew on their ownknowledge and management skill. They looked at not only how they were managingwork plans, but also how they were managing people.

    They built the organization's values into every human resource managementactivity. They included values in how jobs were described and paid. Theyincluded values in the recruiting process. They ensured that Values were a bigpart of the reason why people got promoted. They recognized and rewardedmanagers for demonstrating values in their management style. They managedemployee performance according to both the skills and the values demonstrated onthe job. They asked their customers to participate in performance feedback. Theytrained employees whenever "gaps" between expectations and performancewere noticed.

    And the management noticed. And the employees noticed. And the customersnoticed. Productivity and profitability returned. And they returned to stay. Andthe big organization became known far and wide as a great place to work. Andthat how the job was done was just as important as what was done.

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