Today I’m going to contribute to an eternal debate about what a manager is and what he is for.
Manager leader, benevolent manager, “Servant Leader”…. everyone has their own ideas on the subject and it’s not a question of fashion. We have been talking about the same thing since the 60’s and if the names change, the underlying issues remain the same.
Managers must learn to take care of people
What this translates into is a deep and justified conviction that managers should be more concerned with people. Which means everything and nothing.
Everything because in the contemporary economy where the human being is an essential production factor, a management style inherited from industrial Taylorism does not work. Not that Taylor was wrong, he was right in his context, but because the human being is not a machine and does not work the same way. It is not a matter of a switch that can be turned on or off.
Nothing because once you say that, you don’t say much more. Where is the line between legitimate “care” and the world of care bears? And then because taking care of people can be double-edged when it becomes too exclusive: if they are a key success factor, they are not the only one. Seeing the success of the business only through them means putting too much pressure on them.
The human being, the number one factor of fragility
I would be more inclined to say that the human being is not the exclusive factor of success but the main factor of fragility. It doesn’t matter if your business relies exclusively on the action of humans or if you are in a capital-intensive sector where their place in the productive activity is only marginal, when they disengage, are not involved or just don’t have the skills or tools to succeed, the whole organization is at risk.
But dealing only with people is not everything. As I like to repeat, when things go wrong in business, it is 94% because of the “system”, 6% because of the people.
Believing that people are responsible for everything is giving them all our attention, a necessary and deserved attention. But it is neglecting 94% of the levers of improvement, which can lead to totally ubiquitous situations.
Indeed, depending on the context or the personality of the manager, we can quickly switch from a model where “we do everything for people” to a model where “they are the cause of all the problems” and where we put them under ever increasing pressure. Indeed, when we give all our attention and all our energy to someone, we inevitably have a level of expectations that increases. But only acting on people rarely allows them to achieve this level of expectations.
When you only have a hammer you want all your problems to look like nails. When you only look at people they end up becoming the solution to everything and therefore the cause of all problems if the situation does not improve.
Putting people back at the center
We have been hearing a lot about “putting people back in the center” for many years. But at the center of what? At the center of words yes, at the center of attention often, at the center of action rarely.
Putting people back at the center means putting them back at the center of the system and therefore of the way we build the business’s operating modes.
The problem is that many “people-oriented” managers have a commensurate disregard for anything related to operations, processes, the “system.
So we end up with managers who do a lot for people, with expectations that logically go up and up, while the people in question are fighting against a system that slows them down, penalizes them. But a system about which nothing is done.
You don’t solve a systemic problem with listening, reassurance and motivation. It helps with acceptance of the problems but does not remove the cause.
Hence my deep conviction that to help people succeed it is not always necessary to be behind them all the time but rather to build a framework that will allow them to blossom, “perfom” and unleash their potential without restraint. And it’s the only scalable way to help others succeed.
A manager is an ambidextrous problem solver
But let’s get back to the definition of the manager’s role. I won’t get bogged down in restrictive debates on, for example, the difference between manager and leader, or the art of “care” without overdoing it.
On a more macro level, I would say that the manager’s objective is to make things happen. To do this, he has several strings to his bow, including people, the system and the organization.
It’s not one or the other, it’s both.
To understand people’s problems you have to be interested in them. But to solve their problems, you must sometimes dare to venture into other areas, otherwise, once again, you will be putting too much weight on the people in question, out of all proportion to what the organization is doing to make them succeed or even to prevent them from succeeding.
Because, in the end, listening, empathy, are essential qualities. But these are only means: the real role of the manager is more thankless, it is to solve people’s problems in a reactive way at the beginning and then in a proactive way in the long term. Forgetting this second part and the levers it implies is to end up with nanny managers who in the end achieve very little.
We can argue about posture for centuries, but that doesn’t change the nature of the role.