Most organizational leaders are compensated for executing on strategy and maintaining daily operations. While true, this is an overly glorified way of presenting their job description. Stated bluntly, leaders are responsible for accomplishing, producing, innovating, and providing value. You know, doing good things and getting work done. Their bonuses and annual pay increases are dependent on how well they perform at this.
Getting work done sounds simplistic, but it is actually very demanding. By definition, leaders do little of the work, relying on others to get it done, which means they are more focused on orchestrating than performing. These leaders may have succeeded in the past based on how well they did the work, but now the rules for success have changed, now they lead the people who do the work. In addition, their scope of responsibility has broadened, they are now pulled in many different directions. Leaders don’t always know what they don’t know, but they will soon enough, because it will knock them upside the head when they least expect it. Sounds like a lot of fun, huh? Getting work done can actually be very rewarding with just a little structure for focusing a leader’s attention, exploration, and energy.
So, how does work get done? It gets done through people, projects, and organizations. Now, there are a lot of topics under these major categories that make a leader’s job demanding. Knowing them provides a map for getting more and higher quality work done. Let’s take a look at these three categories in more detail.
People are our most prevalent resource in companies, they are also our most complex resource. People are highly unique, each with different strengths and weaknesses, not to mention likes and dislikes. There is no one size fits all when engaging and interacting with them. People are also very dynamic, they can change year to year or hour to hour based on circumstances.
Finding the right person for an open position is a mixture of science and intuition. Often, a number of frogs have to be kissed to find the prince. Finding the prince puts you on the path to good production, but being handicapped with the wrong frog effects work quality throughout. The affected work quality occurs not just with the wrong frog but also with the other people they interact with.
Helping people work better together has a lot to do with helping people relate well to one another. It starts with leaders relating to their subordinates and then continues on to all individuals. If people in the department don’t learn to play well in the sandbox together energy is diverted away from production to positioning and settling scores.
Managing performance is both proactive and reactive. Leaders must learn what motivates individuals and act on it. Make sure the training that individuals need keeps up with what the organization needs. Look for teachable moments, coaching and mentoring is required to help individuals get to the next level of performance. If people plateau, their value to the organization will deteriorate over time. Leaders must invest the energy to keep high performers producing high value. It will prevent employee churn and save the organization energy, time, and money.
Projects are the mechanism we use for moving our departments forward, one step at a time. Projects are what we use to chunk our initiatives, make our products better, organize our efforts, and turn “what could be” into “what is”. In reality, everything is a project. Some are big, some are small. Some require a lot of process and discipline; while others can be handled on the fly. There is a very specific set of skills and processes that are required to effectively and consistently get work done through projects.
Fleshing out the details of what needs to be accomplished keeps the horse before the cart. For some reason we humans are more interested in how to design and build something than what needs to be built. Many a project has failed because of this.
Matching the right approach for producing a product to the specific product being produced can be difficult. Is the product something you produce all the time or is it highly unique? Can the end result be easily envisioned or must the customer interact with it and give feedback many times before it is complete? Are the risks involved minimal or must we prove that critical pieces are feasible before we invest heavily? All of these factors influence the approach and can send efficiencies through the roof or deep down into the cellar.
Managing the efforts of all the project resources makes the project more predictable. That means finishing the project on time so it integrates with other codependent projects, not going over budget so the project does not have to steal funds from future projects, and releasing resources when other projects are expecting them to be added. Without predictability all projects currently ongoing or those projected to start in the future are at risk.
Organizations provide the environment for people and projects to exist. They are an ecosystem for healthy effort and production. When organizations are at their best they are hardly noticed. At their worst, they are as restrictive as shackles and toxic as an oil spill. Organizations can create an emotional tie with people or drive them to a fight or flight response.
Knowing what to expect from the environment and providing guidance when operating in gray areas is accomplished through an organization’s culture. This is huge considering we as humans spend a lot of emotional energy keeping ourselves from unpredictable situations. Also, there are many more shades of gray than situations that are black and white.
Establishing a reasonable governance system is needed to bring about order and reap economies of scale. Policies and procedures are not bad, people often appreciate them when they are appropriate and thus ensure stability and guarantee justice. When policies are not appropriate they can incite people to game the system through covert means or outright rebellion.
Providing a purpose and vision gives individuals a sense of community and belonging. It helps them feel as though their efforts are multiplied when combined with others and that they are contributing to something bigger and better that will make a difference. Work takes on a special value that is worth the extra effort and sacrifice when a purpose and vision are provided. Without purpose and vision narcissism creeps in and destroys community. Work becomes just work, with no intrinsic value.
Mastering all of these areas is a momentous endeavor, but that does not mean energy should not be invested in trying to do so. As they say, knowing there is a problem is half the battle in overcoming it. Leaders that chip away at their people, project, and organizational weaknesses end up with highly functioning departments that get the work done.