The ‘Emotional Side’ of Management
At a recent seminar for a business school's executive program, I recounted some stories about workplace transformations. Each resulted from a dramatic increase in the involvement and self esteem of front-line employees. I expressed astonishment at the apparently limitless skills of even older workers in union settings, once they were allowed to "own" (psychologically, that is) their 25 or 250 square feet of the workplace. I fumed at our detached, machine-like models of organization that are hindering such transformations.
Upon conclusion, my dean-host thanked me genuinely for my thorough explication of the "emotional side of management." He might as well have slapped me in the face. I was dumbfounded. But I shouldn't have been, because for decades we have aspired to "professionalize" management. The new-look (circa 1950) manager is no hip-shooter, and management is not to be viewed as a second-class discipline. We applaud detachment and rationality. We aspire to perfectable "administrative science," which its most devout adherents hope will assume a lofty place next to physics and biology.
All of this is wrongheaded. Management is not about administration. It is about emotion. Management requires empowering people on the basketball court or in the meatpacking plant to achieve continuous personal growth. Consider several elements of the business equation.
QUALITY. Effective leadership in quality improvement is moral, not statistical. Statistics, training for everyone, and systems are essential to quality improvement. But more important are care and love of the product or service. Quality is as much about aesthetics (design, for instance) and customers' perception as it is about technical specifications. To achieve matchless quality, management must be emotionally attached to the product and must pass on their enthusiasm to every employee, distributor, and
supplier—as well as customer. I can't imagine unemotional quality-centered management any more than I can imagine an Olympic-level skier who hates snow and skiing.
SERVICE. Service, too, should be measured and quantified; we don't do enough of that. But service is principally about intangible product traits and the painstaking construction of long-term customer relationships. A recent Wall Street Journal story described Pratt & Whitney's loss of leadership in aircraft engines to General Electric. P&W's aircraft engines are about as good as GE's, but, over time, P&W became less attentive to customers' nontechnical needs.
INNOVATION. Fostering innovation depends on the percent of gross revenue devoted to research and development, as well as scientists' educational credentials. But that's about 10 percent of the story. More important, innovation success depends upon listening intently to the needs of innovative customers. It also is a product of the company's ability to nurture committed champions. Innovation, a low probability affair, comes less from a great "technical strategy" than from irrationally dedicated new-product or service teams.
PEOPLE. Thoroughgoing "people programs" include progressive monetary incentives and brilliant training curricula; we are woefully deficient on both scores. However, more important are respect, trust, a sense of partnership between union and management where applicable, a belief in the virtually unlimited potential of every person and a willingness to let go of debilitating controls. Specifically, we must realize, for instance, that superb training is not so much a button-down curriculum delivered in million-dollar classrooms as it is a commitment to lifelong learning by all.
LEADERSHIP. What is leadership? Good strategic planning? Financial wizardry? Both. But more to the point are intensity, involvement, the ability to create and bring to life an inspiring vision, a belief in the product and genuine enthusiasm for the work of the front-line bench scientist or checkout clerk. The chief criterion for managerial promotion should be the degree to which a candidate takes his or her greatest pleasure in helping
others develop and grow.
Across the board, then, it turns out that the essence of management is its emotional side. The legendary general George Patton is purported to have said, "I'd much prefer an OK plan executed with uncommon vigor right now to the 'perfect plan,' executed in a humdrum fashion next week." Likewise, a landmark Harvard Business Review article by consultant Amar Bhide, titled, "Hustle as Strategy," concluded that vigor in execution is more important than excellence in strategic positioning in determining business success.
James Gleick's bestselling book, Chaos, chides hard science for having ignored the "nonlinear," or messy, parts of natural phenomena. It turns out that traditional, linear models explain a surprisingly small part of reality. So too with our misleading pursuit of a linear administrative science. What management now needs, which the practitioners of chaos are starting to provide for the hard sciences, is to attend to the irregularly shaped pieces of the business puzzle—people, emotion, and implementation.
As a practical first step, consider shifting your reading agenda strongly toward fiction. Ironically, most nonfiction ends up preserving the fiction of an emotionless, linear world, while fiction examines the non-linearity of real people who determine real-world course of our organizations.
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