Mending the Soul

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Sections of this topic

    Moonshot #1: Management That Serves a Higher Purpose (1)

    As more companies embrace and begin adopting the frameworks of our intersection (see January 7, 2013 blog post), the role of managers, supervisors, and bosses is changing. With the rise of self-organizing and self-managing teams, one could ask: What is the Purpose of Management, period? To look for the higher purpose of management, let’s examine it from each perspective in the intersection.

    Systems Thinking: All frameworks in the intersection recognize the individual as the source of organizational knowledge and learning. Peter Drucker links the worker to the system in a direct way, “Productivity of the knowledge worker will almost always require that the work itself be restructured and be made part of a system.” (2)

    Drucker views productivity as measured by the output of the system, not the individual, and results as the outcome of developing people and the system concurrently.

    The higher purpose of management begins with seeing the system as more than the sum of the parts. Take Southwest Airlines for example (they show up everywhere these days), an airline whose main competitor is the car and whose stated purpose is to make flying affordable for those who wouldn’t otherwise fly. The higher purpose of Southwest managers (concurrently optimizing people and the system to produce results) would include: employee turnover rate, number of customers served per employee, flexibility to manage variability in demand, and a culture of cooperation across departments.

    The message to managers is: If you don’t like the results you are currently getting you have to change the way the work is done. By understanding the interdependencies between people and the system you can change how results are produced.

    Agile Framework: Teams are “the fractal unit of agile, …from which all other units can be created.” (3)

    Sounds good, we all like teams. But, what is a fractal unit?

    A fractal is a pattern within a complex system, ie business and organizations. Fractals have two key features: self-similarity, which allows for infinite scaling, and a detailed pattern or set of defining elements that repeat themselves at every level. Least you think this esoteric, urban growth, market trends, and human physiology are full of fractals. So the fractal unit of agile, the pattern that repeats at all levels of the enterprise, is the team.

    In agile the defining elements of the team are also those attributes that allow teams to be self-organizing and self-managing. Simplified, these are: (4)

    • Establish long-lived teams that build trust and commitment between members
    • Ensure cross-functional capability so that the team can collectively deliver results
    • Add customer value by adapting to their changing requirements
    • Learn to be “generalizing specialists” ie a multidisciplinary knowledge worker with a technical speciality
    • Communicate and collaborate and co-locate (when possible)

    Scaling teams also requires self-similarity in operating practices across the organization. Managers need to ensure the right people are on the team and remain there, that decision-making is participatory in nature, and that the team and its members make commitments, take responsibility, and assume accountability for their work in an open and transparent way. Whew! That’s a lot. It certainly qualifies as a higher purpose.

    The message to managers from the agile perspective: There is “no upper limit to how many agile teams an enterprise can create” (5) when healthy teams are the fractal unit.

    Lean Processes: “…it is unfair and ineffective to ask operators on their own to simultaneously make parts, struggle with problems, and improve the process, which is why Toyota calls autonomous operator-team concepts, “Disrespectful of People.” (6)

    Huh? Did I read that right?

    If continuous improvement is the goal of each employee then increasing the capability of people to see problems, learn how to solve them, and change their behavior is the purpose of managers. The higher purpose of management achieves this by providing the organization with teacher-coaches whose activities include:

    • Observing a persons learning capacity and process and to use this to understand what they are thinking so you can assist them in learning by doing
    • Creating situations for learning: present a challenge using dialogue, inquiry, and analysis, then give people space to figure things out and make small failures
    • Go and See, use first hand understanding of the situation to create learning not just results

    The message to managers from the lean perspective: For socio-technical organizations (7) the role of managers is to balance the social side and the technological side to create an integrated system – people and process.

    Design Thinking: To understand this Moonshot from the perspective of Design Thinking, I turned to Roger Martin’s The Design of Business (2009). In the first chapter he frames the higher purpose of management nicely – To recognize, embrace, and then simplify the uncertainty, ambiguity, possibility and variability in the marketplace and the organization so that actions add value to services and products. It’s a mouthful, here is his summary:

    “The path…from pinpointing a market opportunity to devising an offering for that market to codifying its operations – is not just a study in entrepreneurism. It’s a model for how businesses of all sorts can advance knowledge and capture value.” (8)

    Martin calls this “intuitive thinking” and he advocates using this to balance the analytic thinking that predominates in business. Intuition is a form of abductive reasoning, which generates a series of experiments or rapid prototypes to achieve a future goal one step at a time, learning as you go. Abduction uses hypothesis generation and testing, and fast feedback cycles to navigate complex situations, e.g. entering a new market or introducing new processes into an organization. For example, identify the next step (often obvious), take it (a means of testing our “hunches”), and incorporate the feedback we get into the next, next step we take. With each step, we gain deeper understanding of our situation by removing extraneous information and interacting with the larger system (learning). Although this sounds obvious, a budget, operating plan, and marketing strategy are predictive while a Sprint, iterative release plan, and prototype are abductive.

    The message to managers from design thinking: Balance analytics (proof from the past) with abductive reasoning (validation by experimentation) in order to see features and opportunities that others may miss.

    Leadership: The last component of our intersection comes from a case study, Morning Star (9), that examines how spontaneous order (structure) emerges from commitments between people whose work is reliant upon each other.

    How do you know who relies on you? First you have to see yourself as part of the whole system, then you construct a personal mission statement that links your work to the organizational mission. To do this every employee in Morning Star identifies colleagues who are affected by their work (in their network) and negotiates with them to determine how they will interact over the next year. The goal of their contract is to achieve their individual mission and the corporate mission simultaneously. This creates a socially dense network organization and promotes information flow across boundaries.

    The benefits identified by Morning Star employees include:

    • Initiative – driven by reputational capital
    • Expertise – individual responsibility for quality
    • Flexibility – responsiveness to changing conditions
    • Collegiality – networks replace titles
    • Local decision-making – pushing expertise down into the organization
    • Loyalty – ownership and engagement
    • Less overhead – savings fund growth and employee benefits

    Morning Star founder Chris Rufer, “A true leader can understand a situation, think through the complexities, come up with a solution, advocate a strategy, and recruit followers.” I would add, and be confident that the organization is committed to supporting them in these actions.

    Hamel offers this message to managers: “You have to decide: is it going to be boss-management or self-management. (emphasis his)

    The Intersection: I’m not going to pre-digest this for you…there is much to contemplate here and I trust that you can find something that applies to your situation today, and in the future.

    1 I use the following hierarchy in my work: Purpose, Vision, Mission, Goals, Objectives.

    2 Drucker, Peter. Management Challenges for the 21st Century, 1999. Italics in the original.

    3 Leffingwell, Dean. Scaling Software Agility: Best Practices for Large Enterprises. 2007. Italics mine.

    4 Larman, Craig and Vodde, Bas. Scaling Lean and Agile Development. 2009.

    5 Leffingwell. Ibid.

    6 Rother, Mike. Toyota Kata.

    7 concept from John Shook, The Lean Enterprise Institute and an ex-Toyota manager

    8 Martin, Roger. The Design of Business. 2009

    9 Hamel, Gary. What Matters Now. 2012. Chapter 5.3

    For those of you with questions, comments, or needing help feel free to contact me directly.

    Dr. Carol Mase,, 215-262-6666