Middle Management Reformation!

Moving from Command and Control Management

I’ve been in a few conversations lately where middle managers who appear lost as they find themselves confronted with a major change. Command and control with 21st Century is out the window. So is the concept of “reports”. How do you measure performance when it’s the team who succeeds or fails? How to you calculate compensation and bonuses? How do people get promoted? How do you lead teams, when they are leading themselves? How do you set goals, when the customers end users or the team defines them?

Their questions and concerns expose how deep many transformations reach, Following a strategic plan to “go all in” has given many companies a huge competitive edge. However, change adoption is often restrained by managers who insist on techniques inconsistent with Agile values. A middle management reformation is well overdue. Here are some thoughts which I hope will encourage the discussion.

Commander OUT Mentor IN

Instead of giving direction help your teams discover their way. By this I don’t mean becoming a better salesperson able to make a convincing argument. Remember we are not trying to convince or find consensus. We allow the group to discover the best way forward. Guide the discussion. When a solution is suggested, question it in as many ways as is appropriate. Don’t give answers. Ask questions.

Accountability OUT Responsibility IN

Accountability is often used to threaten. A team is not empowered when they hear, “I’m holding you accountable.” The premise for “accountability” is an underlying assumption the team is irresponsible. They understand failure will be met with punishment. If the manager can’t trust their team, then a much larger problem is afoot. Trust must be assumed. All the manager needs to do is help the team find and remain on their path.

Disciplinarian OUT Coach & Mentor IN

While discipline comes from the word disciple (follower of a teacher), a disciplinarian leads using sticks and carrots. Even though there are usually guidelines against management abuse, it still occurs. Always reminding the team they could lose their job at any time, or the manager not taking the blame when the team fails are signs Agile values have not taken hold. An agile leader is expected to inspire the team to greatness, not throw them under the bus. When times get tough and failures occur, the manager steps up to guide the team to success.

One amazing item in the Agile manager’s toolkit is the A3 Root Cause Analysis. This process requires the manager to be both mentor and coach. While mentoring focuses on the individual coaching focuses on the team and its strategy. Both are required to get the most out of A3 efforts. As the improvement goals surface and target conditions are clarified, the manager keeps the big picture in mind. They help the team understand when an experiment should be abandon and guides toward adopting those which succeed.

Demanding Change OUT Allowing Change IN

When a company needs change due to new economic or market conditions collaboration from every level of the organization is required. While many managers agree, few know how to leverage the wisdom of crowds. The legendary industrial engineer Taiichi Ohno said, “Standards should not be forced down from above but rather set by the production workers themselves.”

The manager or organization should define the problem at a high level. The team will clarify the lower level issues and come up with solid solutions. You can bet your business on your team’s ability get you through troubled times.

Yearly Bonuses OUT Merit Money IN

In his book “Managing for Fun”, Jurgen Appelo recommends replacing the yearly bonus with “Merit Money”. Points are awarded by team members who wish to recognize the contribution of another team member. This process gives each team member the chance to award team mates with a set amount of merit money each month. This merit money is collected until bonuses are paid out. Bonus payouts are not scheduled, but based on the role of the dice. When a randomly selected team member roles a six, merit money is cashed out for real money as a bonus payment.

Promotion Based Reviews OUT Personal Goal Setting IN

Instead of the manager setting individual goals, Jurgen Appelo likewise recommends team members define their own goals. Once individual goals are set, the manager creates a weekly set of metrics which represent progress. Creating a dashboard shows how well the team is doing. If some are having problems, mentoring may be required. Reaching individual goals means advancing to the next level of compensation. It may also mean the team member is ready to take on more responsibility in the form of a promotion.

Get on Board!

Middle managers are often seen as a hinderance to Agile adoption. By promoting a middle management reformation from control to mentor based management, middle managers have an opportunity to play a key role in creating and maintaining an Agile Organization. The role of the middle manager is being rewritten. It’s an exciting time to become an Agile Manager!

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