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Conflicting management paradigms

By Jesse Brogan

Executive summary
Since the rise of performance management, its theories have conflicted with the old style of boss management. Improving performance of a workforce in an authoritarian, boss management paradigm is a tricky path that industrial engineers often have to navigate.

Barton Shrugs was skilled at seeing the path ahead. He had heard of Dabbs Personnel Performance Metrics from a friend at a marketing strategy conference and immediately recognized the potentials for Shrug Industries.

He called in his head of personnel, chief of sales and operations chief, giving them a lead on where to get information as he set the task upon them. He wanted his entire sales staff on DPP standards in 90 days, with 180 days for all management and support staff in operations.

He could hardly believe it when Bob from operations asked where there was going to be a payback for the time, effort and training cost associated with the change.

He was, however, used to this attitude from operations. He didn’t like it, but he wouldn’t have anyone else in charge as long as people worked as hard as they did for Bob. He had to honor the question to some extent. It wasn’t the first time he had to direct action, and it surely was not going to be the last.

“Bob, you let me worry about the payback,” Shrugs said. “I need you to put this in place.”

The deeper question is how two people who are trying to do the same thing can end up in conflict. The answer is not in platitudes or in clever statements. The answer is that we have two simultaneous and incompatible management paradigms.

Paradigm No. 1 is the boss manager. This paradigm originated when family businesses had to hire managers as their workforces grew to where family members no longer could manage them. These early boss managers were hired to do the management functions that otherwise would have fallen to a lesser family member. They represented the family business to the worker. Their functions were authoritative and empowered through their easy access to, and support from, the family members who performed senior management above them.

Their operating functions included directing workers, keeping them at work until completed, and receipt of product on behalf of the owner or family. This was the general paradigm for hired managers until the early 1900s.

Paradigm No. 2 is the performance manager. This later paradigm derived from the observation that greater performance was achieved when managers performed duties to support workers and to enhance what they could accomplish.

The performance manager was to do the work of management, assuring good process with coordination and complement of worker efforts. This new performance manager accepted personal responsibility for gaining productive results through workers.

This paradigm introduced such innovations as company-provided tools, rest periods and performance standards based on predefined performance processes. The modern foreman is the result of applying this paradigm.

Industrial engineers will recognize performance management as the result of the work of Frederick Taylor and other early founders of industrial engineering. Industrial engineering gives technical support to performance managers.

Distinctions

The purpose of boss management includes getting workers to do the maximum amount of work for the least pay. It focuses on the worker-hour as a purchased unit of productivity. The boss manager defines performance in terms of paid time and effort.

The boss recognizes a worker’s personal incentive to minimize the work they have to do to keep their income, a purpose that conflicts with boss management. This paradigm assumes and acts upon a conflict between management and labor.

The current forte of the boss manager is hiring and empowering the right people as subordinate leaders and cutting them loose to do the work they are hired to do.

On the other hand, the purpose of performance management is to gain the greatest performance through those who answer to the manager. It is based on input and output rather than work performance. This manager is responsible personally for performance and takes an active and supportive part in the performance efforts of subordinates. He does not quarterback the subordinate’s efforts, but he takes part wherever it supports performance.

The foundation for performance management was giving the same productive purpose to workers and the manager. Their efforts worked together instead of being competitive; performance management supported teams and partnerships instead of conflict. The performance unit was a group of workers teamed with a manager.

Frederick Taylor’s original scientific management paper in 1911 documented the main differences. Where the boss minimized worker pay, the performance manager increased it. Where the boss maximized the hours of performance, the performance manager decreased them. Where the boss manager hired the right person and set them to work, the performance manager worked with the worker, providing expertise in process and organization to optimize worker results and to make worker efforts additive. Where the boss strove to keep people at work, the performance manager instituted work breaks.

The boss paradigm insists on hiring the right person to do the job and cutting them loose. Work is what others do. The performance paradigm hires a manager to gain performances assigned to the manager, and workers are the way performance managers get their work done.

It is not uncommon for administration, which can be viewed as one modern term for boss management, to establish administrative support tasks for subordinates to do. These reduce the productive work that can be accomplished by those hired to be productive. It is an open violation of the purpose of performance management, which already has a defined product for which both the performance manager and workers are responsible.

An initial conflict

The shock of first application was that performance management worked as well as it did. The sting was that a scientific manager was able to gain remarkably more effect through these new applications than boss managers ever had accomplished. It more than doubled the output from a man-hour of effort, demonstrating such an advantage that it only took 20 years to replace production area boss managers with modern foremen.

There are lessons from performance management that clearly are unacceptable to boss managers. The idea that a worker can become twice as effective through what the manager does all but invalidates our currently supported use of personal performance standards.

Being in charge, boss managers did not have to accept this new paradigm and effectively quarantined it in the production environment — where it continues to this day. Outside of that area, we find personal performance standards. Instead of managers being held personally responsible for maintaining work process, we find suggestion boxes where workers can do the process-based management that a boss manager does not do.

Senior management did not readily support the introduction of performance management. Rather, they tried to incorporate one or two of the performance concepts into their boss management approach. They tried to get at least some of the benefits demonstrated by these upstart scientific managers through using work standards to push workers even harder and to justify paying them even less.

Where scientific management was applied, shared responsibility had reduced the labor-management conflict. But the boss-based use of work standards spurred the development of organized labor.

There was one further complication from an increasing use of incorporation. This greatly affected the boss-manager paradigm as it removed the family owner from the picture. As there was no longer a family in charge, the boss manager assumed charge on behalf of a large body of faceless investors and answered to “the corporation” rather than specific owners. It also encouraged exercise of authority without effective responsibility. The quality of the leader took on much greater significance, as there was no longer a higher authority seeing to any family purpose.

The conflict today

The modern boss manager performs administration. The foreman is almost wholly focused on scientific management application. Other managers find need to slip from one paradigm to another depending on whom they are addressing.

The resulting conflict is seen in today’s administrative focus on management styles, which has an impact on the management work process. The administrator is judged a success by what he or she accomplishes, not by what is accomplished through others. Again, modern administrators measure their subordinate manager’s performance by what each does. The very idea that a subordinate’s performance may be doubled or tripled in effect by what their boss does to support them is not even a consideration.

It is not that the style of a leader’s management is not important; but that it has little to do with performance by subordinates. If the style is determining the direction of management and does not have an impact on performance of those who are managed, then we have a clear statement of the importance of matters of nonperformance.

Challenge

Industrial engineers are performance support people and accordingly are of great value to performance managers. They are tolerated, barely, by boss managers because the IEs don’t seem to understand the boss concept of authority and responsibility.

The boss paradigm and the performance paradigm are incompatible. There is no way to meld them. Beyond that, the products of these two paradigms are different and can be opposites. Slipping between these paradigms, which is mandated commonly for middle managers, is a source of disruption and dissension in workers who cannot be relieved in our current management environment. The manager who tells workers one thing and says something else to senior leaders will infuriate the workers.

Industrial engineers who are skilled professionally only in the performance area easily can be caught in the middle. When they provide performance support to a manager who is being directed to boss management functions, their very orientation becomes disruptive.

Consider a “lean” study directed by senior management. It likely will increase costs as an initial investment. If the displaced workers (manpower reductions) are reabsorbed in other areas of the business, that investment will not be paid back. Implementation can become a cost incurred without increasing what the business can sell to its customers to earn income.

The overriding concept is simple enough. Senior managers are in charge, and their authority is not limited to directing performances to subordinates. They are the ones who define or redefine the purpose of others. They can do so at will. They can decide that performance is not important in the short term and can direct inefficient or unproductive efforts. They do not answer to performance people for their actions. There is no family in charge that is going to hold them accountable for doing what the family wants them to do.

Opportunity

Where paradigm conflict occurs, it is valuable for the engineer to identify the same to those who are otherwise oriented to performance. It is valuable for the engineer to support the performance manager through making that person aware that some situation calls even people with performance orientation to do work that can challenge performance.

On the other side, the engineer can provide value to the boss manager by keeping him or her privately aware of the larger issues recognized by performance people, and that they are directing their workers to do things that seem to cross their basic performance responsibilities. Their administrative direction may be challenged if people think they will be held accountable for the unproductive result.

While the engineer cannot prevent or remove the conflict that naturally occurs in today’s management, he or she can aid in promoting performance processes at the higher level. This is accomplished by bringing the managers to common understanding of how conflict affects the end results. Even if they cannot remove the conflict, differently oriented managers can come to common understandings concerning their divergent viewpoints.

This is the function of technical support for management. It is supporting performance management at the level of the managers; it is management engineering. It supports the gaining of results through the efforts of the various managers who then are able to work together more effectively. The common knowledge of conflicting purpose partly defuses the natural conflict of having divergent paradigms.

Most senior managers, having come up through the ranks of managers themselves, are aware of this conflict at some level. Younger and less experienced managers can achieve great personal benefit from having technical support of this type.

Engineers should remember that their desired result is technical support, not an attempt to manage the managers. Any attempt to gain performance through manipulation of managers will be recognized immediately as competitive by the boss manager, and the results will not be good for the engineer.

The purpose for the performance engineer is, as always, providing the supported manager with technical knowledge and perspective through which their management can be most effective. While the engineer can provide some recommendation on a path to performance, the actual application involves the artistic skills of the individual manager who is taking action. That action may be by a performance manager who wants to pursue performance in conflict with his boss, or it may involve recapitulation or attempts to find some way to keep both paradigms in balance. That is up to the manager, not to the engineer.

Modern boss managers are not openly aware of this conflict. They think, with some justification, that they will decide what they will direct for accomplishment — end of story. I have noted personal surprise in these leaders when subordinates who have a different orientation seem to stray from the purpose they assigned. And then the ever-present conflict comes to the surface unmanaged, so that it does damage to relations between senior and junior managers.

One of the great frustrations of the modern boss manager is that a decision is made, and then subordinates seem to drag their feet when it comes to implementation. This often leads to conflict between senior and junior managers. It easily can be seen as indirect insubordination, or perhaps a reason to challenge the subordinate’s competence.

The engineer can bring the conflict to the surface where skilled managers can see clearly what they must do to maximize what they decide is important; and this will have great value. The engineer who can do this through objective dealings with managers will be valuable to both performance and boss managers.

Navigating future performance

In our initial example, the senior IE working for Bob, the operations chief, might learn about the interchange about the decision to retrain staff on Dabbs Personnel Performance Metrics. The senior IE might drop Bob a note or comment to the effect of: “Bob, I hope Mr. Shrugs realizes the value of having your investment challenge raised. It is necessary that he has the benefit of an alternative that might also have value. His re-emphasis then dismisses that investment alternative; and it sets a single direction for all of us.”

Bob, of course, will decide if it is best to make a second communication to his boss, harvesting additional value from the technical view presented. Or Bob could just use the information to understand the conflict and how better to communicate the result to his subordinates, assuring that his people realize that implementing the boss’s direction is to be a team purpose.

Even if Bob already had a full understanding of this, having an engineer who shares his viewpoint will have personal value. The performance engineer thrives through providing valued technical support to the one who has things to accomplish through others.

Jesse Brogan is a senior member of IIE and the Society for Engineering & Management Systems. The three-time president of the IIE Baltimore Chapter is founder and president of The Management Upgrade Shop, an institution dedicated to expanding the role of performance engineering. His industrial engineering degree is from the University of Massachusetts. His degree in law is from LaSalle Extension University.

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