A counter-intuitive perspective on a manager’s role
A manager’s job is *not* to ensure the task is done, the task is done on time, the task is done with quality! Then what the heck is a manager’s job?
In June 2020 i signed up for an 8-month business excellence course led by one of India’s top-rated business coach — Rahul Jain. He coaches large groups of 200+ business leaders in each of such programs. Bizarre, right?
The purpose of this post, however, is not to discuss how he pulls it off but rather to discuss an equally bizarre insight that i gained during the program which has changed the way i look at a managers’ role forever.
A manager’s job is not to ensure the task is done!
A manager’s job is not to ensure the task is done on time!
A manager’s job is not to ensure the task is done with quality!
Then what is left for manager to do? What is a manager’s role?
To answer this, first let us understand our typical behaviour in organisation design.
Layer Over Layer of Managers
- We get a doer to do the job.
- Then we get a manager to ensure that the doer is doing the job, doing it on time, and doing it well.
- The manager often does not find much respect from the doer anyway as the manager cannot do the doers jobs as well as s/he can.
- If the job is still not done well, we blame the manager, the manager blames the doer.
- One or the other would be warned and if behaviour does not change, then one of them loses his/her job.
- Often we would replace the manager with a higher paid manager, assuming ‘higher pay = higher skill’, which would solve the problem.
- When even this does not work, we create a layer of an even more senior manager over that manager. And sometimes in the process have to ‘create work’ to ensure managers are busy and productive.
Well this is exactly the pit-hole i used to be in as well. This has not changed entirely but i am more conscious of when and what to hire managers for.
Here are the insights i gained at the program to break out of this mess.
Build ‘systems’ for the ‘doer’ to do his/her job well
A system could be a well-documented checklist with a clear definition of time when a task needs to be done.
A system could be a series of tasks to be completed one after another programmed after a well-written ‘Flowchart’.
The big breakthrough i got is that such systems can be easily built in Google Spreadsheets.
The onus of success or failure shifts to Management
The onus of success or failure of ‘doers’ shifts to the top-management — the business leaders of the firm.
It becomes incumbent upon managers to ‘think and design systems’ — to document the ask, to make checklists, to turn these checklists into error-resistant simple systems to ensure doers are clear what they have to do.
“Doers fail not because they do not want to do the job well; they fail because they don’t know exactly what it takes to do the job well and on time.
You as a business owner have never taken the trouble to document it well and make a system out of it.
You are to blame, not them!”
~ Rahul Jain
In doing this the job of a manager shifts to becoming an enabler for doers to succeed at their job. And to become problem solvers. And to continuously improve the systems when one sees something breaking.
Whenever i now see something breaking in any organisation i run, or, an excellent hard-working doer failing at his/her job, instead of finding the easy path of blaming the doer, i now ask myself:
- what could be a ‘system’ that could be put in place here?
- what is a process that is going undocumented?
- what is a workflow that could be automated to enable the doer to do better?
- what tools could be used to enable the doer to do better?