Is your Team “Manager Dependent” or “System Dependent”?

The east coast was buried in a large snow storm this past winter.   Virtually everything came to a complete standstill. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was lucky enough to be on vacation with his wife and children in Florida.  Of course Florida was cold that week as well but I digress.  Christie came under sharp criticism for being away from the state during this 5th largest storm in the state’s history.  Why would someone criticize the Governor for this?   It takes a certain mindset.  It takes a “Manager Dependent” mindset.  We need more people with a “System Dependent” mindset.

A “Manager Dependent” mindset assumes problems can only be solved by certain people and if those people are not around problems will not be solved.  This mindset is the genesis of the Talent Management movement in HR circles today.  Talent Management claims “that teams with the best people perform at a higher level.”  This mindset is not only incomplete and unsophisticated it is inconsistent with systems thinking.  Let me be so bold to correct this thought by describing what the Talent Management experts in HR really mean.   These HR professionals really mean “that teams with predictable processes and people trained to play their specific roles and responsibilities within those processes such that they can manage the variation in those processes perform better.”   It is the leader’s job to create the environment to accomplish this.  It is NOT the leader’s responsibility to “drive the plow” in a large snow storm.  If the predictable processes are clear and if people are trained to manage their roles and responsibilities doesn’t the leader need to step back and let people do their jobs?  Won’t the people just do their work and be self-managed vs. manager dependent?  This begins to describe a “system dependent” environment.

We love heroes and heroines.  It is exciting to see a person step up and solve a problem in an emergency.  It is dramatic.  It is fun to celebrate the success with rewards and parades afterward.  Let’s just be clear, when emergencies occur it is often an indication of poor leadership, poor management, and/or poor planning.    Dr. W. Edwards Deming defined management as “prediction.”  This means to me that if a manager can’t predict his/her results within a relatively narrow range then they are not using tools available to them. They are not doing their job.

The following evidence suggests you have a Manager Dependent environment:

  • Decisions are delayed waiting for the boss and/or the boss is a micro manager
  • Training is seen as a waste of money and time (or secondary to the work that needs to be done now)
  • People look for others to blame for mistakes or problems
  • People are more concerned about looking good and taking credit for quick solutions (they run from problems or hide them).  This is where the heroes and heroines either emerge or disappear
  • The “favorites” are almost always those who look good or who are the heroes and heroines
  • Meetings are wasteful and seem to last forever
  • People hoard information and/or knowledge to protect their jobs or to look good
  • Customer service suffers

The following evidence suggests you have a System Dependent environment:

  • Decisions are made quickly at the lowest level possible
  • Employees take action to solve problems before the boss even asks
  • People admit problems or mistakes to ensure the damage done is limited
  • People know what to do and don’t need to ask permission
  • Customer Service is not only excellent but is often ground breaking and innovative
  • Managers talk about systems improvement and avoid criticizing people

The environment is different and it the creator of the improved behavior.  It is not the talent that matters it is the system that matters.

Those who think Chris Christie should have been in town (or come back from vacation) to solve the snow clean-up problem are stuck in the “Manager Dependent” mindset.  This mindset limits performance, engagement, and creativity.  It is not a way toward performance improvement or innovation. Only system dependent management can deliver the results we all seek.

Leave a reply