In a previous post, I wrote about how much of what is being pointed to as the causes of some of our economic woes being grounded in weaknesses in the ‘conventional wisdom’ of management which had been questioned by Quality Management thinkers and which were described by Deming in particular as being “Deadly Diseases”. Â I argued that, as part of any long term recovery, we would need to look to proven Quality Management principles for guidance and that the lessons of Quality Management (in particular where it is applied to information products and processes) need to be learned now as part of the necessary change.
In this post, I thought I’d turn my attention to just one of Deming’s 14 Points for Transformation, specifically Deming’s Point 7.
Institute Leadership with the aim of supervising people to help them to do a better job
You’re a manager… manage
All too often recently I’ve heard stories of people in organisations being presented with near impossible tasks, invariably featuring openly conflicting objectives and rigid constraints, being told from on high that “you’re a manager, manage”.Â
But more management is, I would argue, one thing we definitely don’t need in organisations which are struggling with the challenges raised by poor quality information and data. What we actually need is leadership.
Leadership is a wonderful thing. In its purest form it doesn’t respect hierarchy and can flow from the top down and from the bottom up. Â It can either be the inspirational CEO who rallies the troops around a clear vision and call to action (one thinks of Winston Churchill), or the inspired visionary in the trenches who sees a better way of doing things and just goes for it, triggering a transformation (Tim Berners-Lee springs to mind here, or Linus Torvalds)
Top-down leadership is relatively easy as it is based, in part, on authority. But relying solelyÂ on authority does not make you a leader. Relying solelyÂ on your authority makes you a manager. Leaders do something extra. They bring a “theory of knowledge” (to borrow Deming’s phrase) to the table, along with a clearly defined set of expectations and purpose which those of us lower on the ‘food chain’ can get behind (or disagree with). Furthermore, they are able to explain that purpose, those expectations, and their way of thinking in a manner that gets people motivated and directed towards clear action.Â
Top-down leadership isn’t about slogans and grand visions. It is about having a plan for change which can be communicated. Joseph Juran has been oft quoted as criticising management for acting like saying the right magic words will bring about change when, in fact, what is required is leadership.
Magic words and slogans are just so much hocus-pocus. Real leadership lets you perform organisational alchemy.
Top-down leaders who get it right usually (but not always) create environments where bottom-up leaders can flourish, taking pride in their work and being proactive in finding ways to hold gains or bring about further improvements. However, Bottom-up leaders can spring into being in just about any organisation, and often from unlikely places.
Bottom-up leaders bring passion and in-depth knowledge of their area of influence to the table. As they lack authority, they rely even more on effectiveness of communication and a clear definition of a plan of action and a prediction of the results. Deming put it very well when he said:
Acceptance and action on a great idea depend on simplicity and brevity in presentation
But what is the difference between managing and leading?
Managing, ultimately, is about controlling risk towards the delivery of an objective based (primarily) on your actual or perceived authority in an organisation. Risk is bad. It is about juggling constraints within the parameters of your authority, remit, or political box.
Leadership is about feeling the fear and doing it anyway. It’s about having a plan or a vision of what should beÂ based on a “theory of knowledge” and being able to persuade people to work towards that goal and find ways around the risks and implement change. It is about being able to either direct from the top (top down), or influence upwards (bottom up) so that constraints become irrelevant as you are actually transforming the environment to suit your vision.
Management is, essentially, playing safe. Leadership is putting your head (or other parts of your anatomy) on the block because you believe your cause is worth fighting for.
Leadership in Action in Information Quality
Jill Dyche recently wrote a great post on her blog about how the leader of a Business Intelligence team (BI) rose to the challenge of changing his organisation’s perception of the role of and importance of BI. He wrote a letter to the CEO outlining the critical role of business intelligence and information played in the organisation, both as fuel in internal processes and strategic initiatives, and also as products that were actually sold. This leader spelled out clearly the need for further investment, and spelled out the vision of these investments as part of a transformation to an Information-driven business.
He put his head on the block. He chose not to manage in the box he was being put in. He chose to try to bring about a transformation, to change the constraints . In his own words, the approach he was taking could be “career limiting”.
The end result? Jill describes it thus:
Â At lunch afterwards, we celebrated the fact that the CEO had a new appreciation forÂ the overall value of BI, and a new level of commitment. And that Paul, flush with his own success and looking forward to a new way of working, had increased his teamâ€™s budget by 30 percent.
Wouldn’t it be nice to be managing a 30% larger budget in the current economy?