Rapidinnovation: Managers — Change or Get Kicked Around!

Right from the start of my career I never wanted to report to a manager who would only be there to keep record of what I was doing and inform me when I slipped on a self imposed deadline or schedule.

I thought that this was really funny. Why should a highly paid person (obviously higher than what I earned) kept, only monitoring me as if I were a circus animal?

I wanted something better. I wanted a boss or a manager who can guide me out of my difficulties (even personal ones), teach me the tricks of the trade and cushion the shocks of my failed experiments in my efforts to change performance and innovate.

Was it something very peculiar to my psyche? To make sure, I asked some of my peer buddies. And surprisingly they all came up with the same need that I was looking for.

If this were so, why companies would waste their valuable money keep supervisors who were just modern day versions of ancient slave drivers? As soon as I thought that I was magically transported to the vivid scenes of Cecil b deMille’s “Ten Commandments” where the Egyptian slave drivers were merrily lashing their whips around controlling thousands of slaves building pyramids and other infrastructure of Egypt.

Things haven’t changed much from those ancient days. Perhaps the form changed. The physical whip has long been replaced through industrial revolution by the ‘verbal whip’ and pens that possibly stings more emotionally than physically, leaving people more unproductive, raw and vulnerable than before – smarting and humiliated.

This triggers another vital question – Who needs whom? Do the employees need the organization? Or does the organization need employees who can think for themselves? The answer is not easy. When viewed from the principle of interdependence (one of the guiding principle of Rapidinnovation) the answer is ‘both’. Employees do need organizations as platforms to use their talents and perform as much as Organizations need employees who are willing to put up a fine performance.

How can this be achieved?

This might only be achieved if we take a ‘Human Centered View’ based on reasoned thinking on emerging situations, spontaneous creativity aided and guided by the focused will of management and managers who would be more willing to act as coaches and mentors for employees rather than take up the sick role of glorified version of slave drivers and ‘kill-joys’.

Without wasting much time I started my humble experiments in this direction (1980) since even as a Graduate Engineer Trainee I was already the boss of the Maintenance department.

So, rather than enjoying the ‘strange’ powers and ethereal joys bestowed upon me by the Top Management to grant leaves, permissions of all sorts and motivating my subordinates through regular enticements of ‘overtime pay’, ‘special increments’, ‘office parties’ I started mentoring them in my own way. It was good in a way since there were no well laid out precedents to follow so as to be trapped by rigid standards of earlier performance.

The focus of all that mentoring was simple indeed. How do we make sense of what is happening in the ‘now’? No big theories to contend with. No vague and remote scientific truths to digest. There was nothing irrelevant to what is happening in the ‘now’. We were jointly trying to make sense with me in the ‘mentor’s’ seat.  

Though I was greeted by derisions from my well healed but old fashioned managers the ridicule and jibes soon turned into amazement, recognition and awe. The result was more than I ever expected. We could complete projects before time (not on time). We cut operating costs by half (not 10% as slated in the annual budget). We increased machinery productive uptime to more than 98% (from a measly figure of 50%)… and more.

Surely, I was then bitten by the bug of coaching and mentoring which I kept repeating with great success and joy in all my subsequent jobs and professional engagements.

Today, after so many years, it is amply clear to me that mentoring and coaching are things that employees respect and live for.

That of course is all bad news to mangers who try to manage their mundane affairs in old fashioned ways of stick, carrot, numbers and prediction models. It seems to me that their time is up and they now stand ‘naked’ and vulnerable in front of their subordinates who certainly expect more mastery from them in the true sense of the word. It is already late. People are now ready to disrespect the last vestiges of the quintessential ‘slave driver’ mentality in traditional managers. How do we know? We know when performance goes much below what is expected.  

Making a successful transition from Managers to “Mentors and Coaches” appears to be the respectable choice offered to present day managers.

Managers – change or get kicked around!


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