Free Managers To Manage
Is your company paying management money for non-management work?
Flatter organizational structures have led to the emergence of the “working manager.” Managers can no longer call upon other employees to help with correspondence, presentations, schedules, reports, statutory returns, premises, ordering supplies, and so on. These jobs have been eliminated. Managers must devote more of their own time to these non-management tasks, and spend less time managing their departments.
The end result is an organizational application of Gresham’s Law.
Gresham’s Law states that bad money drives good money out of circulation. Nations would sometimes decrease the amount of precious metal contained in the coins that they minted. This practice became known as “debasing the coinage”, and, as a result of it, coins with the same face values had different intrinsic values for the purposes of trade and exchange. Over time, coins with less gold or silver supplanted those which had more because people hoarded the “good” ones and circulated the “bad” ones.
Something similar happens to management work when there are fewer and fewer people performing non-management tasks. Doing the work often assumes a higher priority than managing it, so it isn’t unusual for management responsibilities to get pushed aside. Accordingly, the management component of a manager’s job becomes, as it were, “debased,” or driven out by other non-management components.
As this phenomenon persists it creates its own logic. A manager of mine once said: “If I have to choose between working on the HR strategic plan and getting out the payroll, I guess I’ll get out the payroll.” This, however, begs a question: Which of these two functions – the payroll or the strategic plan – is a management function?
Indeed, the manager is responsible for both tasks, but only the manager can author the strategic plan. The non-management work supplants the management work until the latter is all but driven out of the picture.
While executive-level managers understand this phenomenon as well as anyone, it’s nevertheless common to all management levels. And it’s been around long enough to be thoroughly embedded in an organizational “culture of busy-ness,” where busy-ness, or the veil of looking busy, is valued and tacitly rewarded for its own sake.
Do you work in a culture like that? Consider this vignette:
Two managers meet on an elevator. The first one says to the other: “So, are you busy?” The second manager replies, “Well, yes, I’m pretty busy. We’re all supposed to be busy. But I’m pretty organized, and I delegate when I can. And I’m careful about how I allocate my time. I don’t mind saying ‘no’ if I have to. I don’t want to be so busy that I have no time for my staff and other priorities”.
The first manager thinks the second manager is (pick one):
If your organization has a culture of busy-ness, the correct answer is b., of course. The second manager is “from another planet” because he’s a manager who manages and doesn’t fit in a culture of busy-ness.
Today, busy-ness has replaced managing.
To pursue the Gresham’s Law analogy, the management component of the manager’s job is like the gold or silver quotient of the coin. It’s what gives the job its value. It’s why managers are paid more than other employees. But productivity is reduced when an organization pays a manager’s salary for non-management work. It’s like paying someone to put together a strategic plan but insisting that they work on payroll. It’s like debasing the coinage and driving out value.
There’s an old tale about a manager who, as an experiment, spent five consecutive days walking around in the plant where he worked carrying a clipboard. That’s all he did for five days in a row. And not once did anybody stop to ask what he was doing.
His busy-ness costume consisted of nothing but a clipboard, but it was enough to pass the busy-ness test.
Was he busy? He looked busy, but in fact he was 100 per cent unproductive for five straight days.
I don’t have a silver bullet solution for this state of affairs. Organizations need to drive out cost to remain competitive. But remember Gresham’s Law: As we continue to reduce payroll costs, at what point are we no longer driving out cost but rather, driving out value?
Copyright Mattanie Press 2006