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The Manager’s role in Result Assurance

Management in dramatic Change 

The fast development of information and communication technology has changed the world and also the managers role. Going from analog to digital communication, development of the Internet and not the least the use of social media have forever changed the premises for the manager role.

In traditional management managers had most knowledge and competence. Today the situation is quite different – with a few touches on the keyboard everybody can easily obtain the knowledge they seek. As knowledge and information are available to everybody, the role of the manager is dramatically changed. Competitive advantages will belong to the managers who are able to transform the organization’s knowledge and information into practical action1. Today emphasis is increasingly put on the human factor – the capabilities of managers and their employees and their ability to be accessible, creative and value adding
when they meet customers, users, clients, patients, etc.

The Manager’s Role is about creating Results
What makes the manager role so special, is its complicated and relative dependency and relationship to other people, to personal initiative, and to the results they achieve together. The content of the manager role is not clearly defined, and the responsibility for developing the role lies with the manager alone. The role develops through interaction between manager and employees, other colleagues, customers, suppliers and superiors. Managers and employees create results together! It is this interaction that makes the manager role a practical role primarily learned through a trial and error process, and results in this role are
obtained through practice and reflection.

Result Assurance as a Tool
The manager role involves creating results by effectively using available resources. Resources can be capital, technology, machines, equipment etc., but people will always control the use of resources! In Considium we have developed Result Assurance as a tool for managers and employees who want to use goals to prioritize resources and steer the business towards wanted results.

Result Assurance2 builds on a simple and practical concept everyone can understand and use in their daily work. Important means to assure results are goals and values; goals to describe wanted results and values to describe the framework to work within. Result Assurance means to change from traditional activity steering to result steering and manage based on firmness on goals and freedom on activities. Firmness on goals means to have a steady aim – a goal – to work towards. This is the easy part, the passive part! The difficult part, the active part, is the freedom on activities requiring that the individual must take responsibility and
make decisions – something that will demand both will and courage to take action. Action must of course, be taken within the frames of values agreed upon.

Going forward, managers must give their employees freedom to take action and at the same time help them build management competence and self-confidence to handle the consequences of what they do. Action will always demand flexibility – and action will involve taking risks, giving priority, overcoming obstacles and taking advantage of possibilities. Actions will always have consequences. When employees commit themselves and take necessary actions, they must be cheered upon and supported by their manager. With goals as targets to aim at, Result Assurance means a continuous priority process of how to use resources and implementing actions. To prioritize means giving preference, not especially difficult in theory but in practice it is often one of management’s greater
challenges. And it is their own experience in setting priorities they learn from, not the priorities others make for them to reach their goals!

The Manager Role is improved through good Result Assurance

Clear Result Expectations
The manager role is a lifelong learning process! Managers need continuous training and development to realize their potential. Our experience is that managers and management teams only utilize 50-60% of their potential. One of the challenges of the manager role is therefore to define the actual potential of management groups and individual managers and express this potential in specific goals.

The tendency today is that the managers have clear contracts about wages, pension, company car, management bonuses etc. but what is expected of them as far as results are concerned seems often less important. Traditionally managers have not been committed to results, but to an action plan. However, an action plan is not a contract about results – it is a contract about activities!

As managers are evaluated based on results achieved, a specific contract of result expectations is an absolute prerequisite. Therefore a clarification of result expectations should be carried out regularly with everybody having a result responsibility.

Team Work creates Results!
It is important that managers invite to teamwork where mutual goals, budgets and strategies are agreed upon for the team. Each member’s contribution to the overall goals are made clear and visible through personal result contracts approved by the team and the team manager. At the same time they also agree on mutual values and practical rules for the team work.

A good team process strengthens the self confidence and trust among the participants, and the team becomes an effective arena for learning and decision making through exchange of knowledge, points of view and constructive discussions. In a binding team cooperation with clear goals it is easy to identify the individual team member’s contribution to mutual results. Do we take the right decisions and actions to be on track towards results wanted?

The Manager Role requires Power of Implementation
The individual manager is expected to take initiative and implement required actions to achieve both individual and common goals. A prerequisite for implementing difficult and often conflicting actions is that the manager has developed enough implementation skills and clearly understands the goals and sees the meaning of the actions taken. By participating in good management processes, managers will have a better understanding of the actions taken and they will see the need for good cooperation internally and externally.

In result assurance the manager’s role is developed through active involvement in management processes based on a solid value platform. The challenge is to strengthen the manager’s ability to make decisions and implement whatever actions are necessary to obtain the wanted results. Setting goals should be the least difficult element in result assurance. However, managers often create problems for themselves by being mainly preoccupied with what has already happened and obviously cannot be changed. Another problem is the practice of calculating or analysing the way to relevant goals. To set good goals managers must be creative, think forward and envision a desired goal for the business and describe this as a specific target to aim at.

Cooperation between different Manager Roles
With the introduction of a so-called goal council3 Considium has created a breakthrough by involving managers in a process that will strengthen their power of implementation. In the goal council the top management team invites management teams on the next two levels into a process to harmonize their goals with the strategic goals of the business and to make necessary decisions in a mutually binding process. By participation in the goal council managers may improve their understanding of goals and meaning in their management work. Managers are often dependent on other managers on various levels to implement important decisions, and this dependency will be discussed and clarified in the goal council.

The procedure in the goal council meeting is in principle the following: The participants present their goal proposals (result sheet) and these are further developed based on ideas and feedback. Dependencies between departments are then clarified and agreement on goals are coordinated across department lines. The goals of the managers in the management teams are agreed upon specifically and agendas are decided for further result assurance meetings on all levels.

The Manager Role in the Result Assurance Meeting
The result assurance meeting is established as a decision making forum for a management team to secure involvement and meaning. The meeting is primarily a steering arena with a clear purpose: To show deviations from goals and make decisions to get back on track. Showing deviations from goals and values are premises for good steering and should be seen as something positive – even if some managers try to avoid showing their goal deviations.

In the meeting the management group can agree on reordering priorities and decide if something should be stopped or replaced by new measures. The meeting will demand honesty, openness and emphasis on keeping agreements. Relevant ethical and moral topics will naturally be set on the agenda.

Here is a summary of essential elements of a result assurance meeting:

  • The meeting starts with the proposed goals – as documented in a simple one page result contract (result sheet) 4. The result sheet is primarily to assist in steering towards the few goals given priority for the period. The sheet shall not compete with accounting systems and information systems summing up what has been achieved or already happened.
  • Our experience is that the concept of one question and two answers is sufficient to show deviations in an open process. Based on the result sheet, the correct question to ask is: Are you on track? To which there are two answers: Yes or No! If the answer is No, it is important to think forward and quickly go on to the next question: What does it take to get back on track? Now the solidarity of the team will be tested: Will the team be able to join forces (resources) and help each other to obtain the wanted results?
  • The importance of a well planned and executed meeting properly managed cannot be overrated. Our experience is that too many management meetings lacks a clear purpose and agenda without a clearly defined purpose as well as meetings starting with a random and miscellaneous agenda item.

Two special Management Roles
The roles as Chairman of the Board and CEO both have some special challenges we shall look closer into.

For the Chairman of the Board two conditions stand out as specially important: Clear and realistic strategic goals for the business solidly embedded and accepted throughout the ranks and a CEO who fills the role and delivers results as agreed.

An American board chairman became famous for an interview where he described his role as follows: When I enter the board room I have only two questions: Are business results satisfactory? Is the CEO filling the role in a satisfactory way and delivering results as expected? If I get positive answers to these questions, I have only one thing to do – I cheer on the CEO!

The CEO role is also responsible for securing a well functioning top management team. Generally this also applies to team managers responsible to the CEO for strategically important teams on all lower levels. The challenge for all team managers is to make sure that their team is composed of competent managers as well as having the difficult responsibility of removing or replacing persons unable to fill their role or deliver results. In such cases result assurance will clearly contribute to identify who delivers as agreed and who does not.

The Manager Role and Feedback
Managers cannot decide how they are perceived by others, so they need to find out how other people see them to be able to further improve their performance. The easiest way, unfortunately not much practiced, is to ask for feedback from colleagues and employees about the effect of their manager role. Managers must learn to ask questions about how they are seen as managers. The questions may be: What do I do right – and what do I do wrong? Most positive? Most negative? What happens to people being supervised by me? Are there any suggestions for improvement? These are simple questions, but often hard to get much response to unless the manager openly asks for feedback.

A team can also ask for feedback, primarily from members of other team but also from other relevant persons who are dependent on functioning of the team and who may have suggestions for improvement.

The Manager Role is strengthened in a Result Assurance Culture
In a result assurance culture the correlation between result planning, use of resources and results obtained will be easier to understand. The potential of learning in the manager role increases dramatically in this kind of culture – in contrast to just working harder and doing the job as best you can. The manager role will be more focused on helping employees and obtain results in cooperation with them. The manager is there for the employees – not the opposite!

The most important values in a result assurance culture are:

– Will to accept responsibility and commit to goals and values agreed upon
– Openly show deviations – not conceal or explain away etc.
– Be honest and open – not lie or present wrong information, ”fix” accounting reports, blaming others etc.
– Show concern and respect for each other by participation and involvement

Sustainable result assurance demands that goal steering and value steering are integrated5 and that result assurance is firmly based on a value concept emphasizing the following: Everyone concerned must agree on the results (goals) they want and the framework of values to work within. They must also accept a personal commitment to show the initiative and action necessary to reach the goals they have mutually agreed upon.

To make the concept “firmness on goals” and “freedom of action” work well the manager role must be based on a mutual value foundation defining the framework for action. At the same time freedom of action must not be prevented or hampered by unnecessary rules, routines or other limitations.

The Manager Role and Competitive Advantages
In today’s management world with rapid changes and a high level of insecurity, the two concepts ”manager role” and ”competitive advantage” are dramatically changed. Both these concepts were seen as something relatively permanent in the past, but the situation is now completely different.

The manager role was traditionally a role which generated power and influence to the manager by merely holding the position. Today the manager’s power and influence will more and more depend on the results achieved. The manager role represents what you do – not what you are!

Competitive advantage6 now must be built on more short-term premises than we are used to, and we must look for competitive advantage in new arenas. Experience shows that it is possible to replace permanent competitive advantages by continually creating short-term temporary competitive advantages adjusted to today’s needs for change. Right here result assurance combined with proper execution of the manager role, can in a natural way create new competitive advantages.

Managers can meet the challenges of rapid changes by utilizing the strong sides of result assurance in creating valuable, temporary competitive advantages. We have earlier described the simple concept behind result assurance where a stable work procedure is combined with the dynamics of the result assurance meeting. With relevant goals to aim at, change and learning will become continuous processes and fast implementation is made possible by shorter decision processes.

Every result assurance meeting is mainly a decision meeting! With firmness on goals and freedom on activities human resources are stimulated and good cooperation created, which will make it easier to deliver good results under quite changing conditions.

Results shall in principle, always be achieved in an uncertain future! No one knows for sure what the result will be before it is achieved. The challenge for managers is to learn from own actions in their role and year by year utilize the skills achieved as best they can. Good results one year does not mean that results the next year will be equally good.

In the manager role it is easy to recognize the result requirements from other action and team disciplines like football, baseball, basketball etc where each game or each season must be won on its own premises. Managers must learn their management skills in the same way – through management actions in a continuous learning process. This can be difficult to accept for managers with a rational academic background and who believes that management can be taught in a classroom.

Another challenge is that managers cannot expect the same results as obtained in previous management roles when they change jobs. As pointed out earlier, management is a discipline of action, and success in a new management role with new relations, new cultures, new resources and competence will most likely demand actions on new and different premises.

 

  1. Pfeffer, J & Sutton, R. The Knowing-Doing Gap. Harvard B. S. Press. Boston 2000
  2. Stenberg, John-Erik: Managing – A never-ending Learning Process. Considium Consulting Group AS 2013
  3. Lae, Sigurd: From Words to Action – when results matter! Considium Consulting Group AS 2013
  4. Folge, Terje: Result Assurance – from strategic goals and ambitions to obtaining results. Considium Consulting Group AS 2009.
  5. Lorsch, Jay W. & McTague, Emily. Culture is Not the Culprit. Harvard Business Review, April 2016
  6. McGrath, Rita G. The End of Competitive Advantage. Harvard Business Press, Boston 2013