A Systems Approach

The lack of a unifying management leadership system is one of the biggest challenges facing most organisations today. A unified system links management’s goals and strategies with its external environment, and aligns its internal organisation to enable execution. Failure to execute within a unified system is a key reason organisations are not re-adjusting to the demands of working with reduced workforces, meeting the demands for quick return on investments, staying competitive, keeping up with rapid technological change, or competing effectively for the workforces’ most valued employees.

To compete management leaders need to:

• Manage from a systems perspective

• Continuously link real external needs to their organisational goals

• Assume responsibility for managing beyond the boundaries of their areas of responsibility

• Consistently apply the universal functions of planning, organising, leading and controlling

Management is often misunderstood and under appreciated simply as the supervision of other people. Management is much more than supervising others. One of the promises of the new economy was that self-management work teams would replace the need for management. That flatter organisations meant that people would manage themselves and leadership would be everyone’s responsibility. Though seductive, this was merely wishful thinking. The need for direct supervision may have disappeared somewhat, but the need for management and leadership hasn’t.

The need for management leadership (applied as a system, not a role) is greater today than ever before. As the world economy becomes more global based more and more on knowledge based industries, work will continue to grow more specialised and complex, not less. Management Leadership will need to play a larger role in organisations, not a smaller one. Management Leader’s business is building organisations that work. And, failure to see this simple reality leads to failure.

In many organisations, management systems are not in place that assure its strategies are inline with its external customers’ (or for internal departments, their external stakeholders) needs. And, many organisations do not have the management discipline to execute strategies in a unified manner.

In order to manage effectively, management leaders must be better aligned and have the skills necessary to meet the market’s increasing demand for speed. All of these reasons can be traced to the inability to focus on the needs of the external environment, the inability to chart a course that would help meet these needs, and the inability to execute that course.

Organisations are being held to new standards by their investors, customers, and employees as they need to produce the results each of these stakeholders want. Yet most organisations are not set-up effectively… they do not have the management leadership systems… to move quickly enough to satisfy those, often diverging, demands.

Most management leaders recognise the need to move their organisations faster. Yet most find them:

• Implementing the mandate from the last annual/board meeting.

• Working without a clear idea of how to support the company’s strategy.

• Unclear about just how the environment has changed; or what they need to do as a result of this change.

• Not taking into account key stakeholders when making decisions – – or worse, not making decisions at all.

• Not building commitment to the organisation’s purpose… assuming there is a purpose.

• Sticking with an out-of-date structure — even though there are clear signals it’s not in sync with its environment and achieving the results.

There is a need for a unifying structure of management leadership that provides a system that enables disciplined management leadership. This unifying structure is made up of management leadership principles, functions, and activities of an effective management system. This is the basis for the Allen Management System. These fundamentals include having plans linked to real external needs, meaningful metrics that measure both purpose and progress and enable employees to “sign- up”, five-way communication, employees are selected and developed with critical goals in mind, and plans that are coordinated across department boundaries.

Surrounded as we are in this whirlpool of change, there has never been a greater need for management leadership discipline. There have been powerful advances in management and leadership theory including quality, systems thinking, information engineering, reengineering, performance competencies, inspirational, transformational and the learning organisation. All good and all adding value, these advances do not have the breadth necessary to act as a unifying structure or a context for the management leader to implement their ideas. Applying reengineering without the full context of a management leadership system is a little like applying a break through in heart surgery to without a full understanding of the complex workings of the human body.

What is missing is the context. We need a unifying structure that examines critically the logic on which management leadership is based. These are the fundamentals of management leadership and the universal principles, functions, and activities of an effective management leadership system.

The fundamentals of management leadership are real. Many management leaders use them, perhaps intuitively, when they work with other people in any kind of enterprise — from chairing a local charity organisation to leading a work team to building a complex industrial organisation. Just as an individual learns the basics of golf or engineering and then refines them over time, so he or she can also master the fundamentals of management leadership to apply them in any situation.

What are the fundamentals necessary for management leadership success? In short, management leaders must…

  • Believe in and follow a few select principles that, when implemented, truly add value to their organisation.
  • Assure all actions add value by producing real results which in turn, are linked with identifiable needs; these needs should be identified in concrete fashion and should be external to the management leader’s area of responsibility.
  • Communicate effectively, not merely two-way, but what Louis Allen calls five-way communication.
  • Develop plans that include metrics or measures that reflect desired outcomes; assuring that these plans and measures are aligned and communicated throughout the organisation.
  • Assure that these measures or metrics exists to serve both as a guide and to build alignment and commitment throughout the organisation.
  • Assure that people at all levels of the organisation have the skills necessary to solve the problems that prevent them from serving their customers.
  • See to it that plans are coordinated across internal organisational boundaries; that employees at all levels are aware of the value chain, their place in it, and how they contribute to its success.
  • Assure that people are skilled at developing and measuring the metrics they need to do their jobs.
  • Inspire, encourage and impel people to take required action.

It’s easier to understand and apply management leadership concepts if management leadership is thought of as a system. All activities of management leadership are interrelated. This means changing one activity will impact others. Example: changing how people are rewarded may change training activities, selection processes, decision-making and communication activities.

Management leadership is a system because management leaders take input (information, money, resources, time, material) and transform that input into output (product, service, profits, etc.).

A system is an entity with two or more parts and no part has an independent effect on the whole. And, all parts affect the whole. As a result of the interrelationship of its parts, the whole system is greater than the sum of these parts.

Since all activities a management leader performs are interdependent, management leadership cannot be understood or mastered by looking at each activity separately (the way most training programs approach management). Each part of a system must be analysed in relationship to the other parts. It is the fit of the parts that makes the system effective.

A system also interacts with its environment by obtaining inputs from the environment, transforming these inputs to outputs, and delivering the outputs to the environment. Thus, for any system, we can identify inputs, a transformation process, and outputs.

For example, a motor gets energy as an input, transforms that energy to power, and outputs motion. In business, typical input are people, capital, materials, time, and machines, and the outputs are the products and services delivered to the users. The transformation process can consist of the activities of production by the organisation’s members and the organisation’s interaction with its environment.