Leading At A Higher Level
Prentice Hall, 359 pages, $29.99
Management expert Ken Blanchard had been avoiding his local Department of Motor Vehicles office in Escondido, California like the plague. The line-ups were always long, confusion reigned and when he finally edged to the front of the line he would often be told he was in the wrong queue. It was to his mind the epitome of a badly run government organization where you were treated like a number rather than a person.
So when he lost his driver’s licence a few weeks before a European trip, and knew he needed to obtain a new one to back up his passport, he asked his executive assistant to block off three hours at some point in his schedule, the time it usually took for him to get the process completed.
When he arrived, a woman charged over to him and said, “Welcome to the Department of Motor Vehicles! Do you speak English or Spanish?”
“English,” he replied.
She directed him over to a counter, where a man greeted him warmly: “Welcome to the Department of Motor Vehicles! How may I help you?” In nine minutes, he had his license renewed, complete with a new picture.
Blanchard was astonished, and shared his surprise with the woman who was taking his photograph. She asked him if he had met the new director of the facility, and when he replied no, pointed him to a man in a desk behind the counters, out in the open, with no privacy. The director was positioned in the middle of the action.
Blanchard introduced himself, and after years of working with businesses around the world, heard his best definition of management from that government executive: “My job is to reorganize the department on a moment-to-moment basis, depending on citizen need.”
To accomplish that, the director cross-trained everybody in every job. Everyone could handle the front desk. Everyone could take photos. Everyone could do any job, including those working in the back, who normally weren’t in front. After all, if a flood of citizens washed in, why have staff in the back doing bookkeeping and secretarial work when customers needed help? As well, nobody was allowed to take lunch between 11:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., when the office was at its busiest. The manager had created an efficient operation, with staff motivated to help others, by encouraging them to bring their brains to work and adopting a philosophy of servant leadership.
Ken Blanchard has written many best-selling business fables. But that’s a true story. After a string of short, peppy books covering a variety of management issues, he recently brought his ideas and those of his many associates together in a non-fiction compendium, Leading At A Higher Level, which includes that story. It’s a treasure of practical ideas for managers, a handy refresher for those who have read his other offerings and an excellent management primer for those who haven’t.
Often, he falls back on acronyms to crystallize the model he is outlining. After his associates conducted research to determine the characteristics of a high-performing organization, the approach they recommended was SCORES, for the six elements of every high performing organization:
· Shared information and open communication: Information needed to make informed decisions is readily available to people and openly communicated. That builds trust and, since information is power, encourages staff to act like owners of the organization.
· Compelling vision: The organization has a memorable vision that answers the question, “What is the point of our effort?” It energizes and inspires staff, who dedicate themselves to its achievement.
· Ongoing learning: High-performing organizations constantly focus on improving their capabilities and learning. Everyone is always striving to get better, both individually and as an organization.
· Relentless focus on customer results: The organization understands who its customer is and measures results accordingly. “However, what is unique is the way in which they focus on those results: from the viewpoint of the customer,” he stresses. And that focus is relentless.
· Energizing systems and structures: The systems, structures, processes and practices are aligned with the organizational vision, making it easier to get things done. “The bottom line test of whether the system and structures are energizing is to look at whether they help people accomplish their jobs more easily or make them more difficult,” he points out.
· Shared power and high involvement: Just as information is shared, power and decision-making are shared and distributed throughout the organization rather than being guarded at the top of the hierarchy. Participation, collaboration and teamwork are a way of life.
“High-performing organizations use the best of what people have to offer for the common end. Centralized power and authority are balanced with participation and do not become obstacles to agility and responsiveness. When people are clear about goals and standards and have clear boundaries of autonomy, they act with commitment toward accomplishing results,” he notes.
The director of that reinvigorated motor licence bureau exemplified another aspect of leadership: serving others, rather than one’s own ego or the perceived needs of an insular department. In The Secret: What Great Leaders Know – And Do, Blanchard and co-author Mark Miller, vice-president of training for Chick-fil-A, outlined a formula for servant leadership that is repeated in this book. Again there’s an acronym, SERVE:
· See the future: Leadership is about taking people from one place to another, as that government executive did. You need a compelling vision of the future.
· Engage and develop people: The ideas of Situational Leadership II blend well with this requirement, since they make you more sensitive to your staff’s developmental needs. Blanchard and associates ask you to consider to what extent you have successfully engaged every member of your team? What are ten specific things you could do to engage individuals more effectively in the work of your team and the organization?
· Reinvent continuously: Great leaders reinvent continuously on a personal level, enhancing their own skills. Whether it’s reading, listening to books on tape, or spending time with mentors, the best leaders are learning. “If you stop learning, you stop leading,” Blanchard warns. But you also have to continuously reinvent the systems and processes around you, and the organizational structure. Football coach Don Shula said the great teams are “audible-ready,” able to change a play when they come to the line of scrimmage and see the play they had planned won’t work or there is an aspect of the other team’s set-up they can exploit. You have to be similarly flexible when it’s clear your systems, processes, and structures aren’t serving your staff and your customers.
· Value results and relationships: For too long leaders have thought they had to choose between results and relationships. But by creating a motivating enviro