Developing Expert Managers

Are you busy being busy?

If you, or your managers, aren’t challenged to do anything specific as part of a group you will have no trouble filling your time several times over with incoming requests and problems that need your attention. Before long, you find yourself fully occupied with “busyness” – you are both indispensable and stressed.

In reality, the amount of difference you’re making is limited even though you’re working flat out – and you can’t understand why. Working like this is rewarding for the few who love the cut and thrust of rapid problem solving, but for most it is just draining and it eventually affects your mental and physical health – and possibly your home life. And it’s not actually managing.

The Managers' Contribution Curve

“Every company needs this. Forget MBAs and expensive theoretical programmes for the elite – this is how to learn about management.” (The words of a client)

Let’s start with the premise that a manager’s job first and foremost is not to get the work done, but to enable the people to do the work. The people will get the work done, the manager just has to create and maintain the conditions for that to happen. And a really good manager will do that, and be preparing the conditions needed for the challenges and opportunities of the future.

The Managers’ Contribution Curve is the relationship between how much a manager can contribute and their capacity to contribute. It represents how a manager’s ability to contribute increases as they focus on enabling their team to become more effective, allowing their manager to focus on longer-term and more strategic matters.

The Levelstone Managing Contribution Programme is about managers learning how to increase their working capacity so they can contribute more – we help them work their way up their Managers’ Contribution Curve.

The Five Stepping Stones of Management Contribution

There are five levels of Management Contribution, that we refer to as the Five Stepping Stones of Management Contribution We can describe other levels that relate to dysfunctional and destructive behaviours that are not compatible with these that some managers display that fall within the descriptions of:

  • Being task-focussed
  • Looking after No. 1
  • Not people orientated
  • Lacking courage

The behaviours that come within these headings serve to damage the business and the people who work in it.

The Five Stepping Stones of Management Contribution are summarised as:

The lowest level of contribution in which the manager’s capacity is largely taken up by meeting short-term targets, dealing with immediate problems and addressing quality issues.

Many managers never get beyond contributing at this level, usually because this is what has been established as normal and is what is expected. There are times when managing at this level is necessary but it should be for as short a time as possible and is absolutely not a place to stay – it’s exhausting and frustrating.

The biggest challenge facing most managers is how to get beyond the level of Reacting. By definition you have almost no capacity to change anything.  We will help you identify the opportunities to create some capacity for yourself and how to use them to make some changes that will make an immediate impact.

It’s called Aligning because this is the stage where you have to create a Vision of success for your team that is itself aligned with what the business needs it to do, get the team’s buy-in and together work out how you will make it into reality. It means getting everyone’s heads out of the weeds and making changes together.  It means changing relationships with and within the team, making changes to the team so that it can function effectively and working on relationships with your team’s customers and its suppliers – whether they are internal or external.

It is the steepest part of the Managers’ Contribution CurveTM and it is the hardest, but most transformational even though it takes some time to get through.  Once the team is aligned to a clear Vision and Mission, is itself functional and there are good relationships with its customers and suppliers, life starts getting much easier.

A manager who can successfully Align their team will find they have the capacity to start developing the team through the strengths of its members and hand off more and more responsibility to team members. Done intelligently, this is about Enabling through development, trust and providing opportunities so that individuals can play to their strengths by taking on roles and responsibilities that enhance what the team is collectively capable of. This is more rewarding for them and allows the manager to delegate confidently.

This creates more capacity that allows the manager to start looking at the processes the team uses and how they connect with the wider organisation, and start longer term planning of resources, succession, talent development and so on – all things that will ensure the business’ long term success.

At this level we see peer managers working together to support each other in achieving a shared purpose, making the best of the totality of the resources available to them and making changes that resolve problems for the wider organisation.  This is typically the level at which most managers can make a contribution for a while and then may need to drop back to support changes in the team until they can create the capacity to focus on Collaborating again.

The whole point of Collaborating is that the whole group of peer managers understands and accepts the inevitability that some will have to attend to other things for a while and willingly support and accommodate it.

A manager who has successfully created the capacity to operate consistently at the Collaborating level will have achieved considerable experience and standing within the organisation. Their reputation will carry the weight that allows them to influence their seniors, customers and represent the organisation publicly. They are able to contribute more to the organisation by coaching their peers, coaching upwards and creating new possibilities for customers that will lead to ongoing and increased business.

They also become role models for managers below them and may become mentors for junior managers.

Preparing to succeed

Rarely are managers given any real preparation to do this and few have the knowledge or the capacity to do it. When you start a new management job, there is a progression to go through to create the capacity you need to enable your team to deliver its best with the least input from you. There are more valuable things you can do as a manager than to get involved in anything that your team is perfectly capable of, once they’ve learned to do it.

The alternative is to just battle against a tide of problems and try to keep your head above water, which is as far as many managers get. You cannot avoid making the progression or get round it, even if you are lucky enough to inherit a really well established and well-functioning team.

We have been through this ourselves. It was the experience of finding management so relentlessly challenging that prompted us to ask, “Why is this so hard? – It really shouldn’t be this difficult.”

A capacity to contribute

So in short, a manager can create the capacity to contribute at a higher level by dealing with the things that make most difference to the organisation in the right order and priority. There is never a case for a manager “to get stuck in” with the delivery work unless they have failed to manage their people’s contributions and have their back to the wall with a deadline.

After moving up the Contribution Curve to a higher level, they may need to step back to a lower level for a while when changes in the team demand it, but only until they can rebuild the capacity.

We will help you learn how to do that whilst managing the expectations of others successfully.

Why managing the differences people make – rather than their performance – is critical

Observing a modern management team that is stuck at a low level of contribution you might spot some or all of these:

  • Silo working
  • Conflicting objectives and priorities
  • Indecision
  • Reluctance to accept accountability
  • Poor internal communication
  • Conflict between functions and managers
  • Poor staff engagement and little ownership of work
  • Low morale
  • Minimal innovation
  • Repeated IR problems
  • Poor work quality
  • Late delivery
  • Re-work
  • Inefficiencies and waste
  • Managers compensating for their teams
  • Managers working excessive hours
  • Managers reaching burn-out
  • Key staff members exhibiting stress
  • Dissatisfied customers
  • Health and safety problems
  • High staff turnover
  • Resistance to change
  • Resentment towards management
  • Expressions of frustration from managers and staff
  • Improvement projects that don’t deliver lasting or any improvements

When managers are enabled to think differently about how they manage and start to focus on the differences their people make – rather than addressing incoming problems and hitting targets and KPIs – things start to change and become permanently established for the better.  When they realise that their job is to help make the business successful through their people rather than to fight off the latest problem, they can start learning how to contribute incrementally more. Levelstone’s unique Managing Contribution Programme covers how to integrate the contributions of others and all the possibilities that open up as a consequence.

Levelstone’s management expertise

With that journey in mind, Levelstone’s Contribution Mentors provide the impetus and knowledge the managers need that is relevant to their personal situation by:

  • Building on their existing strengths
  • Helping them learn in the areas they need help with and
  • Providing advice and encouragement to make changes and confront the difficult matters they need to resolve.
If you’re thinking, ‘That sounds like something we need here!’, why not get in touch for a no-obligation chat?

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