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The Classical Managerial Dilemma

When Jessica received the e-mail from Susanne McCord, who is the HR-Business partner for her GBU, for a meeting next week at the HO, she had no idea what-so-ever of what that discussion was going to be about. Neither did the mail provide any details except for the date and time of the meeting while carrying a rather serious tone of urgency. Jessica was a sales manager for a fast-growing company manufacturing and marketing water treatment solutions for domestic use.

Jessica was fast-tracked to be promoted as a sales manager about a year and a half back and it was largely because of her excellent performance in the customer-facing role. While her performance and talent as an individual contributor were well recognized, her capability to handle a team of professionals could never be vetted. Jessica considered herself a high-performing manager as the business results for her team were impressive. She met Susanne on the appointed date at the head office, only to be told about the organisational concern about her capability as an effective and balanced manager. It was kind of a rude shock to her.

Looking back, Jessica didn’t receive any dedicated induction support on her promotion to the leadership role other than some impromptu orientation for her operational function. However, she performed credibly on the business front in the first year of her managerial role, achieving 106% of her team budget while losing 2 senior members of her team. The trend appeared to continue as she cruised through the first 2 quarters of the following year with surplus performance but lost another talented and key team member.

Susanne, who was closely observing the happenings with concern, decided to interview a bright and young team member from Jessica’s team. After some close probing, it became apparent that the managerial style of Jessica, while producing good business results, was driving her team members to the edge and all 3 members who decided to move out of the organisation have left their manager rather than the organisation. This situation in Jessica’s team represents a classical managerial challenge to achieve balance between people focus and production priorities.

While Jessica was shocked by organisational concerns, it will not appear as a surprise to any seasoned HR practitioner as individual excellence may not necessarily translate into leadership capabilities with the designation of a managerial position without proper guiding programs and supportive processes. It has been observed through organised studies that organisations with an absence of structured initiation programs for new managers suffer more in the balancing act of people versus productivity than their counterparts with well-defined induction programs in place.

Way back in 1964, Blake and Mouton first developed a classical grid to plot a manager’s or leader’s degree of task orientation versus their people orientation. This further evolved in the 1970’s and 1980’s. In 1991, Blake with McCanse republished the work as the Leadership Grid. The grid relates to the Ohio and Michigan studies and the work of Likert in this area. In that, it compared the behavioural styles of leaders across two dimensions:

1. Concern for People

Through which the leaders attempt to reduce emotional conflict, harmonise relations among others, and regulate the participation of the team members.

2. Concern for Production

Through which the leaders focus on the task at hand, and the essential focus is for the group members to achieve their objectives.

The findings from their work showed leaders mostly had one dominant leadership style and one back-up leadership style, and while based on the situation, maturity, and adaptability, they can move from one style to the other; – on autopilot mode, the dominant style prevails. The findings further showed dominance of the leadership style is primarily being driven by some important contributing factors like grooming process, personal history, personal beliefs and values, chance or opportunity, the nature of the organisations they serve etc.

The newly promoted managers like Jessica often find it difficult to strike a balance between the task focus and people focus as they feel that achieving the task is the sole essence of their role. They miss out on the essential truth that a task in a true sense can’t be considered accomplished if it gets delivered at the expense of people’s considerations. When people feel left behind, the quality of their work, and even their allegiance to the company, can begin to suffer.

In a recent survey conducted by American Psychological Association, 75 percent of the responders mentioned that interacting with their immediate manager is the most demanding part of their job. In fact, organisations should actively intervene with dedicated programs to develop and support new managers in their crucial roles. To strike a balance between task and people focus, they should try to imbed quality-of-workplace relationships into the development and performance appraisal process for them. However, any process can only become successful when it is further supported by a matching organisational culture, as modelled by the senior leaders in the organisation.

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