Managing the functional parameters within the SSI eco system
starts with understanding SSI Managers are, first and foremost, SSI staff
members. They meet all of the above criteria and operate with the same degree
of autonomy and flexibility extended to other staff members. As they interact
with other staff members, they model those criteria and consistently treat
other staff members as they themselves expect to be treated.
SSI managers are held to a higher standard, however. Proehl
(2001), in a useful discussion and literature review related to change and
leadership (p. 102-115), distinguishes between heroic and instrumental
leadership. The former’s expertise is with envisioning the future, motivating
others to fulfill the vision, and enabling others to perform their work (also
see Mosley, Megginson, & Pietri, 2007, p. 231). The latter’s
expertise is with implementing the processes and procedures needed to
accomplish the work and assuring people get the work done. Proehl (2001) points
out, “ it is important that heroic leaders and managers or instrumental
leaders work in tandem to insure the change is not only initiated but
implemented as well.” (p. 107) She cites a set of criteria defining such leaders:
articulating one’s vision, managing complexity, having industry (human
services) insight, a manager perspective, a drive for success, personal
integrity, being flexible, being an active learner, influencing without
authority, able to develop talent, fostering team work, being open to change,
and respecting followers (p. 107-108).
SSI managers are expected to reflect these leadership qualities and
talents as they function within the SSI environment. They have both heroic and
instrumental leadership responsibilities as part of their day to day management
opportunities. Given these expectations, the following behavior and approaches
are seen in all SSI Managers as they work with staff members to fulfill SSIs
mission and manage related functional parameters.
Managers make sure a job can be done before holding anyone responsible for
it. SSI staff members are certainly expected to try, to give it their
best. However, they are not held responsible for an assignment not working
out unless the SSI Manager can objectively confirm the assignment was
Managers are clear with people about what they expect. This starts
with being clear about whether they actually expect the job to be done.
They may only expect the staff member to give it a try, work on it if there
is time, or to do as much as interest and resources allow. Alternatively,
they may expect the job to be done and done on time. SSI Managers know
being clear about expectations is a touchstone of SSI management. They are
clear about what they expect. Staff members do not wonder or have doubts
about what is expected.
Managers take time to be sure staff members understand how their
responsibilities fit in with other peoples duties and activities. They
always understand how what they do fits into the plan for the agency
to achieve its mission. They know why they do what they do. Although they
may not see every connection, knowing why their job is important is
essential to their success and to the success of SSI. Staff members do not
doubt the value of their contribution to SSIs success.
Managers give people clear reasons and explanations whenever they ask for
them. Why? is a question for which people want an answer that
makes sense to them. If they do not get it, they fill in their own
answers. Having filled in the blank, they have a do-it-yourself
explanation for everything. People make sense of their environments,
whether it has any relationship to reality or not. What is the result?
There are many and usually conflicting explanations for anything happening
and nearly as many for things not happening and that are not going to
happen. This is unlikely to occur within the SSI internal eco system,
though. If SSI staff members bring their questions to an SSI Manager, they
get the honesty and respect they deserve. Not to give them reasons and
explanations when they ask for them is unacceptable.
Managers delegate often and well. Delegation is, for them, a critical
key to their success. They follow
three rules when delegating. First, they appropriately delegate tasks and
duties. Delegation is not a whoever happens to be around process.
SSI Managers are careful to only delegate to people who have the skills
and know-how to get the job done. Second, they do not delegate a job to
someone and then try to manage it themselves. They give staff members the
freedom they need to do what they need to do. Third, SSI Managers always
delegate enough authority so the staff member can get the job done. This
does not mean they give staff members unlimited, free rein. What each
staff member does must fit with everyone else’s activities. At the same
time, each staff member has the freedom and authority to do what needs to
Managers access the resources needed to get the job done. A Manager’s
responsibility is to facilitate other staff members’ success. Being sure
available resources are sufficient for success is, in turn, the Manager’s
responsibility. There may be other staff members who have tasks and
assignments related to resource development; but if the resources are not
there when they are needed, the Manager has not gotten the job done. SSI
Managers know not having enough of the right resources when they are
needed is a certain route to failure.
Managers are skilled at using informal strategies to get things done.
There are formal policies, procedures, and ways things are to be done. It
is also true they sometimes do not work and situations come up where there
is no formalized approach to get from here to there in the time available
to get there. Now and then people take this to mean they can ignore the
rules, not pay attention to the formal processes. This is not SSI
Managers’ perspective. The informal approach supplements formal procedures
and is not a substitute for them. For SSI Managers, the informal approach
is simply one more strategy available to them within the formal context.
They want SSI staff members to use informal strategies, to talk with each
other, to informally innovate when they need to, to avoid being too rigid
about the rules when something unusual comes up not quite fitting into the
established procedures. Staff members are responsible people who can and
are expected to use their good judgments and common sense.
Being skilled at using
informal strategies includes knowing when
to use them and when formal is better.
If informal strategies are used too much or inappropriately, things become
disorganized, chaotic, and quality suffers. If they are used too little, SSI’s
internal eco system becomes rigid and inflexible, creativity and innovation
disappear, and the agency loses its cutting edge. The real skill in using
informal strategies is in finding and maintaining the balance.
Managers understand and tap the knowledge, skills, and resources of
everyone. They are successful with identifying the specific know-how,
particular skill, or best resource for the immediate purpose, whatever the
need happens to be.
Managers distribute work and responsibilities fairly. They do not take
advantage of anyone. There are obvious and not so obvious ways people are
taken advantage of, e.g., when a
staff member has more and more work piled on top of work piled on
yesterday. Another version of the same kind of abuse happens when work is
given to someone just because the Manager is not going to get any hassle
or flack. Some people have especially positive attitudes and just do not
say No when asked to do
Two other areas of
unfairness and abuse warrant a special note here. First, tolerating anyone’s
not doing what is expected or doing less than is expected is unfair to others.
Letting shirkers get away with it does nothing but shift the burden unfairly
onto other staff members. Second, assuming everyone is equally efficient is
wrong. This is particularly unfair to those who are unusually efficient. The
exceptional few can routinely do a two-hour job in an hour and a half. Do we
then expect them to do more work in the extra half hour? I do not think so. We
discuss options with these staff members but the choice is theirs. We do not
increase the load just because someone is especially efficient and hard
Managers defer to others when they are more knowledgeable, skilled, or
competent. They do not ignore or overlook expertise in others and
especially not in people whose knowledge, skills, and resources may
increase SSI’s chances for success. Their reason for deferring to the
expertise of others goes a little farther, though. They truly value
differing styles and opinions. Each staff member has know-how, skills, and
resources unlike those of anyone else. Each has his (or her) special area
of expertise. He also has his individual approaches, ways of thinking, and
perspectives. Not to fully access these talents and knowledge is
Managers deal with problems before they become emergencies. They take
care of all issues as soon as they become aware of them. It is part of
their Do today’s work today,
approach to everything.
Managers do not react to people or problems impulsively. They resist
the temptation to just do something, do anything to make the person or
problem go away. An important benefit of their more considered approach is
they have an opportunity to fit their reactions to the situation or
Managers are hard on problems and soft on people. They know people
deserve consideration; problems do not. They want good people to stay,
annoying problems to go away. Problems need solutions; people need
support. People are not the problem, problems are the problem. For these
reasons, SSI Managers are ordinarily flexible and willing to compromise. A
few things are not negotiable, but most are.
Managers remember and own what they say, agree to, and do. They know
people think they said what they think they said, agreed to what they
think they agreed to, and did what they think they did. Therein lies SSI
Managers’ opportunity. On the one hand, Managers could automatically say I never said that. Or I certainly did not agree to that. Or I did not do it. As option one,
these responses have the advantage of simplicity. On the other hand, the
Manager could capitulate. Although I
do not remember saying that, you are undoubtedly right. Or If you think I agreed to it, then we
have a deal. Or If you say I did
it, then I did it. As option two, this has the advantage of avoiding conflict.
For SSI Managers, if they said it, agreed to it, or did it, they
acknowledge the fact. If they believe they did not, then they say That surprises me. I must be blocking
on that one. Will you help me get focus? If you will, take me back to when
you are talking about. You were there so help me into the picture.
Surprisingly often, the response is Well, I wasn’t there but so-and-so told me . Other times, the
Manager is reminded the person really is right. Whatever the outcome, the
Manager has an opportunity to reprocess and reinterpret the event. The
outcome is not necessarily better but their commitment to Management
Excellence is intact. Let me note the any reasonable interpretation standard
is used here as with other issues and misunderstandings. The question for
the Manager is how a reasonable person with similar training and
experience might have interpreted the
situation, instruction, or event, not the Managers recollection of his
meaning or intent at the time.
Managers work with people instead of merely relying on their power and
control. They know relying on power and control stifles innovation,
creativity, and cooperation. Further, it increases tension and
apprehension while causing staff members to become anxious and fearful.
Even if they are not the focus of the power and control, the effect is
about the same. Just being in a power-oriented environment is unsettling
and stressful. SSI Managers recognize these unacceptable outcomes, but
their favoring working with people rests more specifically on the less
obvious downside of routinely using power and control. Regularly using
power and control is ineffective and counterproductive. In the long run,
it does not work. Specifically, the more skilled the employee, the less
effective it is; the more important the person’s participation is to the
agency, the more using power and control jeopardizes the agency’s success.
Managers make the tough or unpopular decision when necessary. This
dilemma is at the heart of adaptive management. When should a Manager
defer to the collective wisdom of others and when should he go with his
personal best judgment, given what he knows at the time? An SSI Manager’s
solution is fairly simple. He always goes with the collective wisdom of
others unless he believes very strongly the other people are wrong. It is
not enough to believe he is right. He has to also clearly believe they are
wrong. Having made this decision, he may still go with the collective
wisdom if he believes the consequences will not be excessively problematic
or can be reversed, if necessary. They might be right; and even if they
are not, their empowerment entitles them to their turn at bat, so to
speak. On those few occasions when he clearly believes he is right and
others are wrong and the consequences of going with their recommendations
would be very negative and not reversible, the Manager does what he has to
do. He has only one responsible choice. He can handle people’s being
unhappy or upset with him at times. He cannot accept his failing to do
what he knows needs done. Even more to the point, he cannot accept his
failing to manage.
Managers give staff members clear, frequent, and accurate feedback.
They are as quick to tell them what they have done right as they are to
tell them what they have done wrong. Importantly, though, SSI Managers are
also as quick to tell staff members what they have done wrong as they are
to tell them what they have done right. Equal attention is given to both.
This requires a very sensitive balance. Finding and keeping the balance is
based on taking it for granted people are trying to do a good job. They do
not intentionally make mistakes or perform below their abilities. SSI
staff members consciously and intentionally give the little extra to move
good work into the excellent category. Their commitment to excellence is a
major reason why they are SSI staff members.
The real issue here is criticism. SSI
Managers praise publicly and only criticize in private. They also are very
careful to assure their criticism is an exact fit with the problem or issue,
not overdoing it or under doing it. Criticism, no matter how well it is
managed, introduces a negative element into a fast-moving, stressful
environment. The effect is the staff member who is criticized – as well as anyone
who is coincidentally in the immediate environment – becomes apprehensive and
less productive, at least for the moment. Criticism is always temporarily
counterproductive. For this reason, SSI Managers are quick to praise but very
cautious when criticizing anyone, for any reason. They know providing
constructive and effective criticism is a delicate management area. If the
feedback is inappropriate or excessive, the staff member may overreact or
withdraw, and the outcome is often worse than the original problem. If
criticism is not forthcoming when it is appropriate or is not focused enough,
the problem or issue persists and likely will get worse. Getting criticism
right is critical for SSI Managers.
There is an additional dimension further
complicating the matter. The SSI performance standards increase over time.
Yesterday’s acceptable performance levels are under continuous review and may
not be acceptable today. Staff members who have performed adequately in the
past may have the same quality of work criticized and judged unacceptable
today. They find they have shifted from valued staff members to marginal
performers. At a minimum, the bar is constantly being raised and higher levels
of performance are expected. The possible result is a staff member has to leave
SSI. If this happens, other members then become anxious about whether they
might be next. Because of this anxiety, any criticism must be managed very
carefully and judiciously.
The major requirement here is an SSI
Manager must be a good teacher. Further, all incidents or situations
potentially leading to criticism are redefined as teaching opportunities. SSI
Managers seldom criticize. It is just too dangerous. Instead, they know how and
when to teach and are careful to never miss a teaching opportunity.
The key here is in understanding the nature
of the teaching opportunities. The most common prompt for these types of
teaching opportunities stems from an inadequacy in work or work performance.
The staff members performance is not up to the expected level in one or more
areas. Dealing with this is fairly easy. Simply sit with the staff member to
discuss the inadequacies and to develop a mutually agreed on plan for
correcting them. This may mean more training, more attention to detail,
connecting with a mentor, or anything else to reasonably get the valued staff
member from here to there. Set specific dates for activities, for evaluation of
progress, as well as for having the deficiency corrected.
The more serious challenge is when the
staff member either cannot or will not do what is expected or continues
unacceptable behavior after having been warned. There must not be any delay. It
is unfair to the staff member to put off confronting the issue. Further,
avoiding doing what needs done gives the staff member the impression there is
no problem. Do today’s work today, even if it is uncomfortable or potentially
unpleasant. The task only becomes more uncomfortable and unpleasant if it is
postponed until tomorrow.
When SSI Managers do confront the issue, they
say My problem is . They are quite
specific. – You either will not or cannot do what SSI expects. If you cannot,
we will talk about it. If you will not, there is nothing to discuss further.
You cannot remain on the SSI staff. If the staff member feels capable and the
SSI Manager agrees, the Manager and the staff member develop a plan to correct
the problem. If the staff member feels incapable, the SSI Manager reassigns him
to other responsibilities, if possible. If the conclusion is the staff member has
to leave SSI, the SSI Manager makes the arrangements, giving as much
consideration to the individual’s needs and circumstances as possible. The
staff member is still a valued person, even though staff membership is
terminated. People in this situation are entitled to the same level of humanity
and respectful treatment as they received while they were being recruited for
the SSI staff. The adaptive Management Excellence basics still apply every day,
every time, with everyone, no exceptions, no excuses.
People leaving the agency for
whatever reason do so in the way that works best for them. As they disengage,
some people behave and relate as they always have. There is no change. For
others, their behavior and pattern of relating noticeably change. They have
their own way of separating. So long as they do their work, contain their
behavior within acceptable limits, and do not disrupt the functioning of other
staff members or clients, it is important to support their style of leaving.
Tolerance, flexibility, and understanding are still important as people leave.
They continue to be valued and deserve our respect and consideration, always.