Faced with the popular belief that “to be a good manager, you have to know how to control your emotions and avoid getting attached to people”, Patrick Errard, medical practitioner and author of the book “Philosophy to the rescue of management – La philosophie au secours du management”, says:”there is nothing worse than cold management. It is important to express your feelings. And for what reason should we not get attached to people?”
If there is one thing that schools do not teach, it is management. As with sales, this art of dealing with people can be nourished by advice and methods, but above all it is something that must be experienced and learned over and over again.
The etymology of the word “management” is derived from the Italian verb “maneggiare” – which in turn comes from the Latin manus, meaning to control, to have in hand – and from the French word manège, in the sense of “to lead a horse by directing it with the hand.” So management was originally inspired by dressage!
To be clear right away: by “management”, I do not mean the old-fashioned figure of the leader who thinks and the managed who executes. If I still use the term “management,” it is because in today’s language it stands for what is becoming more and more similar to leadership: the manager who moves from the position of a hierarchical superior coordinating his subordinates to that of a teammate assisting a multidisciplinary team in carrying out a mission that is part of the purpose of the entire organization.
The hundreds of interviews with managers I have had the privilege of conducting in recent years, as well as my experience of more than twenty years of management in large groups and startups, have allowed me to draw some lessons that I share here, as well as in my last two books: “The Next Generation Enterprise – L’Entreprise Nouvelle Génération” (Eyrolles Editions) and “Enterprises with a mission and purpose – Entreprises à mission et raison d’être” (Dunod Editions).
We are not exempt from the need to manage and therefore manage well. As in sales, but with different skills, you either have management skills or you do not. I have seen how devastating the tendency to make management a mandatory part of a career can be. One of my colleagues had rightly told me before I took a position with considerable management latitude (I managed more than 1,000 employees) that the most important thing was to love people. To love them genuinely, to understand them, to help them, and to take them on a journey that they can contribute to, that they can help shape.
Loving the people you work with and showing sincere benevolence is not given to everyone. But this criterion is fundamental, it is an absolute requirement. Like many other managers, I have come to realize that the success of an enterprise rarely depends on its social body. Of course, recruitment is an important process, but after a few years, when life has taken its course, and with a minimal organizational size, the social body of any enterprise has a relatively equivalent potential and, above all, no real limits, except in rare cases, such as very specific research activities. The difference lies in the ability of management to uncover and express some of that potential. The difference we are talking about here can prove to be immense.
Immense as that of an impassioned associate in the face of a disillusioned one. Immeasurable as that of one who has contributed to the construction of a project, in the presence of a disciplined executor. And with love, the manager will appreciate the differences, value the strengths and make his employees vibrate by sharpening their motivation. Low moments will certainly alternate with non-Malthusian congratulations: generosity calls for generosity.
Lastly, in order to love people, one must already consider them as equals and not as subordinates, adults conversing with other adults and not with children. Respect should not be negotiated in 2021, and any verbal or physical violence is totally unacceptable.
As mentioned earlier, management is not an option. Some leaders, unable to implement it properly, believe that a process – a set of rules – can replace this delicate and laborious art. An absolute fallacy!
Loving people is neither processed nor automated. Human problems are varied and unpredictable. They require care and patience if you want to invest in your teams for the long term. A scale-up manager explained to me that in the case of rare technical skills, his team had decided to open recruitment to atypical profiles and make extra efforts to train or improve expertise through internal tutoring. The result was a near-zero attrition, extremely strong recognition of the employees involved who became ambassadors, a very rewarding sense of handover for the existing team, and outstanding commitment to the enterprise’s project. This socially positive example is a triumph of creativity and trust. It beats the heck out of an AI – Artificial Intelligence – or a recruitment process that would have reproduced known and “safe” patterns and added to an already excessive competition in this market segment.
In the same way, it is possible and desirable to support a less hierarchical management in the sense of subordination, for a flatter organization, tending towards a network of teams in permanent progressive reconfiguration, all based on tools and models such as teal and OKR for example. However, the human dimension, which is fundamental to management and leadership, should not be treated with scorecards or data!
No data could explain the frustration generated by the new bureaucracy of tools and data that flourished during the pandemic in order to compensate for managers’ loss of control – little bosses – suddenly “far” from their teams. No evaluation can measure the creative capacity of a brain endowed with free will and time to imagine what has never been imagined before, never processed.
If rules and processes are necessary, like legislation in a state governed by the rule of law, they become all the more effective when they are no longer apparent. The quality of an organization is seen in what it does on a daily basis and the commitment of each of its members to its actions, certainly not in what a handful of people have written in procedure books. And no, it is not because a rule or procedure is written that it is understood, assimilated and implemented by the members of the organization. The most important thing remains to be done. Naturally, it is easier to adhere to and implement what you have helped design.
You simply can’t afford to wait to give your trust. A tiny minority of employees are toxic, not to say a small number of exceptions. Consequently, at the end of a recruitment process, trust and sincerity must be total in order to support and understand the possible difficulties encountered. Some expected talents may not turn out to be as good as anticipated, while other qualities will emerge, sometimes brilliantly. Motivation and the ability to learn from one’s mistakes will supplement an in-place evaluation of current abilities and potential to be expressed.
It is no surprise that this terrible quote that makes me freeze every time, “Trust does not exclude control,” comes from Vladimir Lenin. Without trust in the long run, there is no real personal commitment, no possibility to dream, no conceivable transcendence of that mission to be achieved, which is greater than the individual.
Certainly, the turn of the century is marked by political leaders known for deciding on their own (Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Donald Trump, Emmanuel Macron), but their contexts are either very specific or are indeed markers for countries in decline.
The Chinese mode emancipates its population at the cost of an authoritarianism that would be unbearable in the West. The pandemic episode also shows that the management of neighboring democracies, such as South Korea, has been both more effective and less coercive, relying on a mature and committed collective management of stakeholders.
Unlike Turkey, which is in decline, Russia’s military might has allowed it to solidify its status as an important partner. As in the case of China, the Russian people, held together for more than 70 years by the iron fist of communism, are relatively satisfied with the current regime. But for how much longer?
Trump, being a conservative liberal, has delegated to the private sector the creation of value supported by a protectionist policy in the service of a controlled and actively exporting continental market. As with Russia or China, Trump’s military power is at the service of the economy and technological innovation. Yet, he has not been renewed.
The French economy has underperformed the major European economies for several decades, and its influence in Africa is waning in favor of China and the Anglo-Saxon countries. Its historically Jacobin modus operandi is fully expressed in an outdated Fifth Republic ill-suited to the accelerating crises and complexity of today’s world.
On the economic side, the world’s largest capitalizations (the trillion dollar club and more), all of which are technology companies, are also often run by one, two, or a few (less than five) people. However, these companies have widely adopted agile methods with distributed authority, using multidisciplinary team leadership for their most strategic projects. The fact remains that the gap between the few leaders and the rest of the troops is widening by the day, not to mention the disconnect between strategic decisions and the organization’s stated purpose, as in the handling of customers’ personal data and the scandals that have uncovered it, or the targeting of investments made possible by record operating surpluses. The brutal irruption of these techno-economic titans places great responsibility on them, and we can bet that the downfall could be brutal as well if their governance does not express this pursuit of shared authority and decision-making. As Bill Gates himself says, “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”
Emile Servan-Schreiber, doctor in cognitive psychology and researcher, demonstrates through his work how collective intelligence appears as one of the great revolutions of this century. Intelligence, said Piaget, “is not what we know, it is what we do when we don’t know”.
Emile Servan-Schreiber also quotes American President Woodrow Wilson, who decided in 1917 to send his G.I.s to Europe, and who advocated the principle of ” not only using the brains he has, but all those he can borrow.” The book, “Supercollective,” a result of years of research, shows that networked brains can surpass the cognitive or decision-making abilities of the same brains working individually, let alone the most intelligent of men. The scientist also shows that to function, collective intelligence must unite a maximum of atypical personalities.
Specifically, this means that homogeneous decision-making bodies are weak. “The theorem of diversity, discovered by the American sociologist Scott Page, proves that the intelligence of a group results as much from diversity of viewpoints as from sophistication of analysis.” “A diversity of opinions not only compensates for each other’s inadequacies, but also neutralizes the intellectual errors of some by those of others. The first enemy of intelligence is not quantity, but conformity.”
Finally, Emile Servan-Schreiber affirms that a fundamental movement driven by demographics is currently revolutionizing the way organizations are governed: “the talents of younger generations no longer suffer from being constrained, and managers in their forties have grown up professionally with the collaborative spirit of the Internet. In recent years, French enterprises have adapted very quickly to this new situation, relying on this human resource that artificial intelligence cannot yet replace, and for a long time.”
If a good manager has doubts, he will not try to surround himself with ‘yes-men’, still less will he cultivate his certainties. He will rely on the power of collective intelligence. Ludovic Cinquin, the founding director of OCTO Technology, explains his success as follows: “The great changes in the enterprise are not the result of visionary enlightenments on the part of executives who, between the four walls of their offices, would have understood better than anyone else and before anyone else the upheavals in the world of technology. On the contrary, if there is one quality that should be attributed to OCTO leaders, it is probably that they have allowed the emergence of a collective intelligence and then put themselves at its service.”
We are in 2021! The job market is becoming more volatile across all sectors, public reviews abound (glassdoor, comparably, #balancetastartup), and the average loyalty rate to a company are all possible signs of a toxic corporate culture. And to be clear, not the company culture as described in some repository, no, the one that the members of the organization know, live and feel on a daily basis. Just as it’s not enough to write down the characteristics of a culture for it to be implemented, it’s not enough to lay out rules (or values) in a meeting for them to be understood, let alone accepted and implemented. Your team members are smart, never doubt it! If they are not involved in the co-construction of a decision, their yes will be tantamount to “this organization is vertical, the decisions do not concern us, we are ultimately executors.”
Similarly, if the form of the answer to a question asked or an assignment given by the leader to a person or team is expected to be precise, then it is best to say so from the beginning to avoid frustration. Because when I take on a task, it is to carry it out with heart and originality, by associating all the useful talents. The first step in letting go of management is to recognize that there is not just one right answer, but several, and that the steps to get there are therefore potentially very different. Any control of details becomes counterproductive or even irrelevant, as the best skills brought in to solve a complex question are more competent in their field than the management that initiated the question. In the future, it will certainly be more efficient to ask the team or person in question what their objectives are and who they intend to enlist to achieve them. In this case, management will simply verify that the collective efforts are well aligned to achieve the purpose and support the teams by mitigating situations that require, for example, external intervention or strategic advice.
The time freed up by the detailed control of the manager(s) allows them to invest in strategic issues, which has a significant impact on the medium and long-term value of the enterprise.
Since micromanagement exhausts the best forces and demotivates them to the point of resignation, its disappearance will consolidate the enterprise by leveraging the seniority of key talent. American author Big Ziglar sums it up very well: “You do not develop a company. You develop a team, and the team develops the company.”
And as the saying goes, “we join an enterprise, we leave a manager.”
The meeting, as a hallmark of dysfunctional organizations, can serve as an instrument for communicating decisions that have already been made, hoping to present a false moment of sharing; in reality, everything has already been decided, the exercise is purely top-down, in the mode of “I decide, you participate.”
In the same sense, there are meetings that are only useful for the leader, since everyone already has the information, but the boss “needs” the meeting to potentially intervene and redirect everything.
So the boss will spend most of his time in meetings gathering information, deciding on everything, and redirecting the various projects of the enterprise at will. The deception of delegation and autonomy will not last long, and an implicit cover of leadership will be installed in the daily operations of the enterprise.
The result is disappointment, a strong slowdown – let us wait for the boss’s instructions so as not to work in vain – and a Pavlovian fear of any kind of internal meeting.
Why make things simple when you can make them complicated? We live in a world that no longer supports intuition and even less approximation. Everything is “data-driven,” which means that everything must be measured. Measuring everything comforts those who trust nothing and no one. Data measures something. That something is necessarily comparable to something else, so we can begin to talk and act. But data, often approximate, only illuminates what it locates like a torch in the night.
It does not matter that the greatest talents and creativity in general are not measurable or not measurable at all, nor are motivation and trust. We measure what we can, and we spend more and more time on it, so much so that the actions that can influence this data sometimes fade into the background.
Patrick Errard confirms it: “dehumanized management, without emotion, does not know how to make decisions other than by purely mathematical algorithms and this is the reason why it often makes mistakes”. The doctor-philosopher speaks of the courage to let one’s emotions and intuition speak for themselves.
In OCTO’s story of agile transformation, Ludovic Cinquin explains in his latest book, Becoming an agile enterprise – Devenir une entreprise agile, that their collective experience has led them to “value people and their interactions more than processes and tools.”
Sometimes data and customer feedback are not worthy of interest. Instead of expressing the collective intelligence, the leader will want to substitute his unique vision, ahead of the market, the one that perceives the unexpressed but intrinsic needs of the customers, for their own good, obviously. The founder or leader of the company necessarily has a natural legitimacy to assert his opinion, otherwise what is the point?
Yet Steve Jobs and Elon Musk are global exceptions. But arrogance is better distributed than that.
Since the day has only 24 hours, a good “little boss” tactic to stifle everyone’s initiative without saying so and to maintain absolute control of the activity consists in multiplying the projects in all domains. The leader or manager will then be sure of the authorship of all these projects and will be able to focus his meetings on the follow-up of these projects. The loop is closed.
Alignment with the enterprise becomes personified by alignment with the leader. An abuse of language? No, an abuse of authority!
For Patrick Errard, “Managing people in the nostalgia of the past is depressing them”. Just as a long-term future seems unpredictable and potentially anxiety-provoking, the capabilities of a past team will not help them manage the present and its specific context. Moreover, since team members often did not live through that regrettable period, they would be hard pressed to use it as a frame of reference. The guilt of what one does not know and has not done is devastating for motivation and the ability to build and project.
Enron has set the gap between stated and applied values high, especially when it comes to integrity!
On another level, I have observed many managers in large corporations practicing “agile washing.” It’s not necessarily those who talk about it the most who practice it the best, or at all. A two-hour audit would have brought to light the raw words of a reality that is very different from the speeches we hear.
The same is true of shared governance or distributed authority. What a consternation for members of the organization, especially new employees, who have to live with this shameful discrepancy between what is said and what is done.
The pragmatism of Ludovic Cinquin, the head of OCTO, sheds light on the matter. “There were two parts to our transition: doing agile, then becoming agile.” And he continues: “many agile enterprises know that any strong dissonance between what the organization displays and what employees experience on a daily basis is a deadly poison as soon as the dose increases.”
An excellent leader will not be afraid to leave his company for a few weeks or months without jeopardizing its long-term growth trajectory. He will also know when the time comes to recruit people who are different from him in all domains and more competent in their specialty. Finally, once recruited, he will not try to explain to each person how to do his job. He will limit himself to sharing what exists and will allow each new incumbent to implement his expertise and his ways of proceeding in the respect of the collective.
Clear signals of a leader or manager limits of their own organization are a continuous overactivity and interventionism. The ability to delegate and let go is not innate, especially to those without previous managerial experience. Working in a small team is easy, scaling up requires other skills where the good manager is like a leader of a team as balanced and autonomous as possible.
To quote the motto of the Association for the Progress of Management, “The progress of the enterprise depends on the progress of the manager.”
Source: La Tribune (France) : https://bit.ly/3M0zeUj