Are We ON The Same Side?
post # 242 — November 17, 2006 — a Managing post
What follows began as a piece that I wrote for PSVillage.com (a great location for IT professionals), and I plan to expand it into a longer article if you all find it interesting and worth commenting on. Here it is:
In the November 6 issue of The Wall Street Journal (page B1) there was an article by Erin White and Gregory Zuckerman entitled The Private Equity CEO, which explored how life for a CEO changed when a company went from being publicly-held to being owned by private equity investors.
What caught my attention was this excerpt:
â€œMr. Bilborough (the CEO of privately-held Generation Brands) says one of his biggest challenges is motivating employees amid uncertainty. Most companies controlled by private equity are sold within three to seven years. Senior executives receive equity, which can be lucrative. But middle managers and lower-level staffers typically donâ€™t get stock. â€˜Youâ€™re trying to lead an organization where everybody knows weâ€™re going to be sold, said Mr. Bilborough. â€˜It just hangs over them like a cloud as a constant distraction for people.â€™â€
When management and employees have very different vested interests and incentives, employees really begin to question whether everyoneâ€™s on the same side. They begin to ask â€œIs management doing this because itâ€™s good for the company, or because itâ€™s good for them?â€ People begin to wonder: â€œAre we in this together or not?â€
By the way, before you get too far in reading this, donâ€™t think Iâ€™m only talking about â€œTHEMâ€ — the top people in large companies. These tensions apply to all of us, even if we manage only a small project team — or even if we donâ€™t manage anybody, but just have to collaborate with others on a project or across departments.
People will always be asking:
a) What time-frame are you using for your decisions; and
b) Are we in this together or not?
We are all tempted by (and seek) immediate gratification, and doing things that pay-off in the short term. Underinvesting in our future is something we all due as individuals and human beings, not just as organizations. And weâ€™ve all probably done something, sometime, where we were seen as looking out for ourselves rather than the team.
The timeframe issue is crucial, because itâ€™s hard to get your team to accomplish things that take time if they think that you, their manager, is acting with a shorter —term horizon.
This is not a matter of morality (like some Animal Farm chant of â€œlong-term good, short-term badâ€). Itâ€™s OK to be either at different times, but you need to be honest and self-aware about which game youâ€™re playing. Managers need to learn that they rarely fool anyone else about their timeframe, and itâ€™s dangerous to try and fool yourself!
So, putting all this together, there could be four outcomes of how people view you:
- Youâ€™re in it for yourself and want a quick payback for your efforts.
- Youâ€™ll â€˜play ballâ€™ as a team player as long as the team is working, but will bail out if it stops working for you.
- Youâ€™re in it for the longer term, but youâ€™re still primarily focused on yourself.
- Youâ€™re both a team player and in it for the long haul.
Which way do your people see you?
Note that these questions donâ€™t necessarily have to have permanent answers. People will come to a judgement about which game you are playing THIS TIME.
In my latest article called â€œAccountability: Effective Managers Go Firstâ€ I argued that the best managers work hard to remove the distance between themselves and those they manage. By this phrase, I donâ€™t mean you have to get â€œbuddy, buddyâ€ with those you manage, but, if you DO want them to pull out all the stops on behalf of you team, then those being managed need to feel that the manager is part of the team, not separate from it. Managers and managed need to be â€œon the same side.â€ All too often they are not.
If the people you are trying to manage think youâ€™re not on their side, or are only trying to meet short-term goals, youâ€™ll have a lot less ability to influence them. Youâ€™ll be able to manage them because they (temporarily) want to keep their job, but its unlikely they are going to put their hearts and minds into your teamâ€™s activities. Youâ€™ll get todayâ€™s sausages made and shipped, but you wonâ€™t be going anywhere new as an organization.
So, those are my thoughts. Your reactions, please?