HR Group, founded in Edmonton Alberta in 1993, is a partnership of highly experienced management consultants who specialize in organizational effectiveness and human resource management, and promote participative, lean, and cost-effective management practices. All partners are Certified Human Resource Practitioners with extensive senior level experience in both the private and public sectors.

Just Do It!

Reprinted from “Productive Workplaces” (Fall, 2002), the HR Group newsletter.

Thank you Nike. You’ve got it right – “Just Do It!” This is what is so lacking in our society today and in today’s managers and leaders in both the private and the public sectors. Where is the will to just get things done instead of convening endless studies, commissions and meetings and not moving an inch without policies, procedures and every bureaucratic piece of machinery imaginable? So many seem scared to death to make an informed and common sense decision. So many are so concerned about risk management and possible error or failure that they do nothing instead or engage in every bureaucratic CYA process possible. Results don’t seem to matter as long as it can be shown that the politically, small p and/or large p, correct process has been followed.

I am reminded of a call that we once had from a manager who needed immediate advice and assistance with a performance issue. One of his equipment operators was driving a large piece of machinery while obviously under the influence of alcohol. He wanted to know what to do. I bit my tongue and advised him to immediately get the employee off the machinery as he was a danger to himself and others and send him home until further notice pending the outcome of his investigation into the matter. I further advised him to make a mandatory referral of the employee to the Employee Assistance Program and to terminate the employee if they did not attend the treatment program to which they were referred. Seemed like common sense advice that also fulfilled all obligations of good risk management. His response was one I’ll never forget. He asked, “Can I do this? We don’t have a disciplinary policy in place.”

Another incident that comes to mind is the organization that had been working on an overall strategic plan for over two years and no meaningful decisions were being made while the plan was being developed. Virtually everything was being held in abeyance pending the plan’s completion. The organization was, in our terms, completely constipated. Every department had been asked to identify goals and objectives and was then being asked to identify standards for all activities. One example of such standards was the height that the grass on the grounds should be cut to whenever mowed – as if the lawn mower operator was going to consult the manual. Either you know how to cut the grass or you ask the supervisor if he hasn’t already told you when you’re first asked to do the job.

One last example of this dependence on policies and procedures and resulting lack of action is the applicant for a CEO’s position. When asked what he would first do if he were the successful candidate, he replied that he would draft “enabling” policies for the board’s approval. No one on the interview panel had ever heard of such policies and so someone finally asked what they were. The answer, as I recall, was that these were policies that outlined the scope and parameters of what decisions the CEO and the senior management team could make; in other words, a complete CYA policy.

What so many organizations desperately need today in both the private and public sectors are leaders and managers who can see and assess what needs to be done – what problems need fixing, what improvements can and should be made and what goals can be achieved – and then go out and accomplish this by example and through the leadership of others. We need leaders and managers who have this kind of drive and enthusiasm and enjoy getting things done rather than following the politically correct process.

The process that does need to be paid attention to is that of good management i.e. creating a productive workplace culture where there is delegation of responsibility to all levels, the freedom to exercise initiative and to make informed common sense decisions, reward for performance and outcomes and ongoing accountability of all concerned. This is far more effective risk management, by the way, than reams of policies and procedures which no one reads in the first place or remembers if they did. Responsible, well informed, thinking employees who are allowed to make common sense decisions are the best line of defense for not only risk management but also for quality control, customer service and overall cost effectiveness. More policies and procedures accomplish nothing other than a focus on bureaucratic process rather than desired outcomes.

It is interesting to note that the main desired competencies for managers according to a generic management competency model outlined in Competence at Work by Lyle and Signe Spencer (2003, p.201) are:

  • Impact and Influence
  • Achievement Orientation
  • Teamwork and Cooperation
  • Analytical Thinking
  • Initiative
  • Developing Others
  • Self-confidence
  • Directiveness / Assertiveness
  • Information Seeking
  • Team Leadership
  • Conceptual Thinking

These are not the competencies of someone content to purely implement and follow bureaucratic policies and procedures.

Some of this emphasis on bureaucratic analysis and process can be traced to what is taught in our business education programs. It is ironic, however, that a recent research paper by noted Stanford University Business Faculty professor, Jeffrey Pfeffer (2002), author of The Human Equation, states that the MBA degree does not really serve any useful purpose. He concludes that the MBA degree does not produce more income or greater success in the business world and that the research done by the academic institutions involved has had little if any impact on day-to-day business practices.

Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman (1982, p.119) identified a “bias for action” as one of the main attributes of successful companies in their landmark book, In Search of Excellence. This is what so many of our organizations need today. The best managers/leaders that we know of are those that simply get things done by personal leadership and through others with a minimum of bureaucracy. “Just Do It”.

References

Peters, T. and Waterman, R., 1982. In Search of Excellence. New York: Harper & Row.

Pfeffer, J. and Fong, C.T., 2002. The End of Business Schools? Less Success Than Meets The Eye. Academy of Management Learning and Education, Volume 1.

Spencer, L.M. and Spencer, S.M., 1993. Competence at Work. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.