Inability to achieve appropriate performance from staff
This is an example of where having an independent view is so helpful, especially for executives at senior level, where there are few peers to bounce ideas and issues around with, except in relation to strategy and higher level corporate issues. It is also an example of where the problem is so simple that “it can’t possibly be the reason”, and for that reason it was dismissed before it was considered.
Matthew was a very senior I.T manager responsible for multiple project delivery, under tight resource and deadline constraints. He is a highly intelligent man and highly respected in his field. He had been encountering difficulty in getting his new senior project managers to deliver the quality and form of output he required, and found himself increasingly having to intervene and redo much of the task himself. This was adding to his work burden considerably, which, given the already tight deadlines, was not a sustainable state of affairs. He asked me how I could help him. I performed the usual detailed data gathering to assess the components of the scenarios he cited. After a short while the picture emerged very clearly. The purpose of Matthew’s division was to provide technical solutions to enable the Business users to operate more effectively and efficiently. Matthew’s historic skills in dreaming up very elegant, cost effective and relevant solutions and implementing them in a very timely manner had earned him the very senior position which he now held. The demands on him had increased as a result of his success, and so he had hired more managers and took on more projects. Matthew recognised that the solutions now needed to come from the managers themselves, and with each new Business systems demand, he would hold meetings with the managers to derive the solutions. Typically he would end up with boards full of intricate diagrams, “the derived solution”. These meetings culminated in a happy Matthew, pleased that yet another solution was securely on its way. But this was not the case in reality. It transpired that, in these meetings, Matthew was still driving the solution, but this of itself would not have been a problem. The managers understood at a micro level, and could, and did say “Yes, I understand” at the micro level, but they did not have the overview understanding. So when they were given their respective responsibilities for turning Matthew’s spaghetti on the board into the design and implementation plans, they felt helpless. The culture was one where weaknesses were overcome or hidden, not broadcast, and so positive noises were being made by the managers until the deadline for delivery arrived, when the horrors of the world emerged. All manner of reasons, excuses, blame, etc all delivered very articulately, provided a wonderful smokescreen. Matthew himself thought, “After all, these managers were very experienced, very well paid recruits from excellent stables and with excellent references, it couldn’t possibly be that they just didn’t understand.”
We identified that the overall problem was that it was Matthew’s spaghetti, not theirs, and they needed to generate the solutions for themselves. Even if they had a few subtle prompts from the genius, they had to own it before they could plan and implement it as their own.
I spent time with Matthew mentoring him on brainstorming techniques, and suggested to him that he never amend anything in future, just elicit from the managers the reasons for its not being what was required. Following this, he transformed his way of operating and got the delivery performance he required.