Most of us deal under some pressure much of the time. The demands of satisfying clients, given limited resources, causes stress. Most managers deal with problem-solving regularly. Resolving the simple problems or those with which you have had experience are rather easy and gratifying at the same time.
But what happens when there are persistent problems for which there are no obvious or quick solutions? Frustration builds. Relationships get tested and performance will probably suffer. It is the job of the leader and manager to step aside and re-analyze the situation from a fresh perspective. The key to knowing when to do this is when the old methods don’t resolve the issues satisfactorily.
I used the cliché recently that “It’s tough to remember that you were sent to drain the swamp when you’re up to your butt in alligators.” If you are in a messy or complicated conundrum, help is available but you have to be willing to change, learn and grow. In reviewing a valuable text, “Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice and Leadership” by Bolman and Deal, I outlined some tips that are helpful to me. At Greco Apparel this past year we have gone through a major transition in refocusing the strategy of our business. Due to the recent changes in business climate, (the Recession) we have been forced to reduce costs while increasing categories of product offerings, foster growth and satisfy the needs of current clients. This was no small task and subsequently caused some internal organizational and relationship stresses.
Last week, my VP of Operations theorized that a group of our staff members were not confused, they just don’t know what to do. While this seemed paradoxical I started to think about the intent. Turning to Bolman and Deal I was reminded that ‘managers are imprisoned only to the extent that their palette of ideas is impoverished.” No one can resolve or think of all the solutions individually. Help is required from various sources including outside advisors, review of the business plan, interested co-workers, consultants and reference material that is the history of the trials and errors of others. Blending together the components required for a successful solution is artistry which the authors define as neither exact nor precise. Art is not a replacement for engineering but an enhancement. So what’s a manager to focus upon?
A basic premise for management failure is faulty thinking rooted in inadequate ideas. Learning multiple frameworks is a defense against ‘cluelessness.” Here are the four basic frames that will serve the multiple functions of maps which will aid in navigation as well as tools for analyzing the presenting problems to help formulate a diagnosis. Spend the time to delve into the problem and fully comprehend the influences at hand prior to rushing into prescribing the curative intervention plan:
First, the Structural Frame is a function of the organizations formally stated goals and objectives considering the technology and environment and conditions existing within which to achieve those goals. What are your associates trying to accomplish in what time frame with which resources? Are the correct people assigned to the right roles in the organization chart? A good formal structure will enable attainment of goals while a faulty design will cause confusion, demise or morale and loss of both money and clients.
Second is the Human Resource Frame. We should remember that organizations exist to fulfill human needs and requirements and not the reverse. How does the management design the fit between the people and the organization so that the needs of the organization, talent, energy and profitable growth for example, meet with individual’s needs of compensation and the opportunity for self-actualization during the work career? Mismatches will cause dissatisfaction while a properly designed environment will support and further the needs of both the people and the business.
The Political Frame is something that cannot be avoided. Stemming from the economic reality that resources are scarce and the decision to allocate those resources is based on some philosophy, ideological necessity or combination of these factors. Interests of people within the organization will be diverse based on personal perspectives and the goals of the particular department or company as a whole. How is your incentive system designed? How are operating metrics tabulated and measured? Does your political system allow for continuous improvement in performance and professional growth of personnel?
And fourth is the Symbolic Frame which focuses on how we normal humans make sense of the typically unorganized world around us. The organizational culture will define the values of everyday behavior and decision making. Can people think for themselves once they have been trained in the values of the organization? Do the leaders portray and provide the standards by which the whole company will be judged? What is the tolerance for straying from integrity and honesty in dealings with important stakeholders including clients, vendors and your own associates?
A wise and succinct example of culture comes to us from The Nordstrom Employee Handbook. It states “Welcome to Nordstrom. We’re glad to have you with our company. Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them. Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1: Use your good judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.”
It usually seems to me that brilliant ideas come in packages that are very easy to understand. So much that we could have designed them ourselves. But alas, I cannot progress without the help of others who make valuable and appreciated contributions to my success. Thank you all. Let me wish Happy Holidays and a Healthy and Prosperous New Year to us all.