07 September 2010

Good leaders shield their people from wasting their time and organizational idiocy

The article is in fact "Why good bosses tune in to their people" in McKinsey Quarterly, but I found particularly good the part that says about shielding their followers - something that I recon, in the beginning of my term as president, I didn't do so well, but then I think I managed to improve. Here is that part of this interesting article:

The best bosses invent, borrow, and implement ways to reduce the mental and emotional load heaped on their followers—and protect them from the incompetence, cluelessness, and premature judgments of fellow bosses or others who can undermine their followers’ work and well being. Followers who enjoy such protection (and who may be bosses themselves) have the freedom to take risks and try new things.

Annette Kyle, for example, managed some 60 employees at a Texas terminal where they loaded chemicals from railcars onto ships and trucks. In the mid-1990s, Annette led a “revolution” that dramatically raised her unit’s performance through a host of changes, including better planning, greater responsibility at the lowest levels, improved and more transparent metrics, and numerous cultural changes. She personally sewed “no whining” patches on workers’ uniforms, for example, to discourage the local penchant for complaining and auctioned off her desk to workers for $60 because, as she explained it, “I shouldn’t be sitting behind a big desk. I should be contributing to team goals however possible.”

This transformation virtually eliminated the penalties that were levied when ships arrived at the terminal’s dock but (despite considerable advance warning) workers weren’t ready to load them. These “demurrage charges,” which cost the company $2.5 million the year before the revolution, were down to $10,000 the year after. Previously, it had taken more than three hours to load an average truck. Afterward, more than 90 percent were loaded within an hour of arrival. Surveys and interviews by University of Southern California researchers showed that employees became more satisfied with their jobs and felt proud of their accomplishments. I asked Annette how she could make such radical changes in her giant company. She answered that her boss shielded her from top-ranking managers—he found the resources and experts she needed but never discussed these moves with senior management until they succeeded.

Good bosses are especially adept at protecting their people’s time—for example, by eliminating needless meetings. Take a cue from Will Wright, designer of computer games such as The Sims: rather than automatically scheduling meetings, ask yourself if they are really needed. Wright employed a clever trick. Every time someone called a meeting, he charged that person a dollar. Although he collected a lot of dollars, this requirement made people “think twice, even though it was only a dollar.” He also used an employee-centered method to keep meetings short—inviting the creative but impatient artist Ocean Quigley, “the canary in the coal mine.” When Quigley raised his hand to be excused, “we knew that the meeting had hit diminishing returns.”

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