Tales from the Pyramid – Head first

Imagine a bold general in front of his troops, commanding the assault against the enemy.
Spurring his horse to assault he dashed.
Alone.
His troops didn’t move.

It’s more or less how some top executives must feel, when confident about the tactical moves and their overall strategy, they order the decisive manoeuvre but the bulk of the forces does not follow.

In organizations and companies, giving orders and dictating rules and procedures doesn’t guarantee they will be carried out, applied and followed.

Employees nowadays are less obedient than the previous generations were. Today employees want to be associates in every meaning of the word, not only pawns on the big chessboard.

Management turned employees into intrapreneurs, rewarded individual performance, turned many of them into bounty hunters and mercenaries.
The latter go to battle heartily when success is easy and reward alluring, but may stay put or even run away otherwise.

Other internal forces may play against the big plan, like labor unions for example or some influential managers not sharing the chiefs’ beliefs.

Another factor for the mass to move or not is the speed the instructions, explanations or invitation cascade down the pyramid. The larger the organization, the slower usually the diffusion and the greater the risk of distortion as the messages are passed along.

Or it looks like another flavor-of-the-month idea/program/project. Disillusioned staff just waits for the next big idea and goes on like usual, unimpressed by the top fuss.

There are many reasons the mass will not move on, top managers like generals better check about all possible hindrances before throwing themselves head first into the big fight.

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Tales from the Pyramid – What versus how

Newly promoted team leaders or even managers do not always know how to behave in their new role, especially those climbing up the ladder from operations and technical backgrounds.

What these new managers do not always understand is the sudden switch from orders to carry out to empowerment with more autonomy and decisions to take.

What versus how

The lower the position in the hierarchical pyramid, the more job execution is dictated. Procedures, instructions, work guides, worksheets detail the “how” to do, in what order, with what means and so on, letting little freedom to do differently.
This is particularly true in industry with high standardization.

Lego_018aWhat can appear as fearsome alienation is often a cozy non-commitment execution role, depleted from any responsibility and further stress. As long as you stick to the instructions, as stupid as they may be, you are safe from reproaches.

Conversely, the higher to the top of the hierarchical pyramid, the more autonomy is granted, with increasing demand about engagement and self-management. higher positions are given goals and objectives, the “what” to achieve, without specifying how. The choice of “how” is left to the discretion of the subordinates.

Thus the former line leaders, technicians or skilled workers, used to receive and to execute instructions are often somewhat confused when making their leap onto managerial functions.

They are now in charge and must learn to translate the “what” they are assigned into “how” to their own subordinates. Of course, most of the time the transition is sharp-edged, there is seldom training or coaching to help the newly promoted to find ways into their new role.

Digging the hole into the pyramid

Some find their way by trial-and-error, a long and sometimes painful process with former pals being the less forgiving in case of error.

Some may regret their former comfort of mindless execution and some never really embrace their new role. The latter fill the ranks of the “good workers gone poor managers”.

Among them, many will fill their positions without delivering expecting results nor behaviors. They create what I call the hole in the pyramid.

But this is the next story.

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