By Bob Uhler, The Uhler Group
As the leader of an enterprise, your principal job is to assemble a team of synergetic executives who blend in a way that most effectively meets your organization’s short- and long-term goals. Not everyone should play the same role, for example, since assignments demand different leadership skills and responsibilities.
Asked to reveal his organizational management philosophy, ex-New York Yankee manager Casey Stengel once said, “Keep the five guys who hate you away from the five guys who have not made up their minds.” This reply—while probably tongue-in-cheek—would probably still hold true today, particularly within larger organizations where the executive management players fall into three different categories. They are:
The “Restless Growers.” These individuals aren’t satisfied with the present. They are very competitive when it comes to expanding a firm’s current offerings. That’s because they see success in top-line revenue growth and/or competitive size comparisons. They usually generate good profits (because growth outpaces overhead) and focus less on operating efficient organizations. There is usually waste within the Restless Growers’ operations, but that waste is often masked by growth. Popular with their subordinates, these types tend to lead organizations that possess high morale.
The “Bureaucratic Managers.” These executive managers resist change in order to protect their power structures. They usually advocate for doing things better internally rather than through reinvention of the firm’s offerings. Often they are the better business process managers and serve as the problem solvers for the company. They measure success by both profit margin and via their personal relative power of influence. They blame low growth rates on uncontrollable outside influences and are usually unpopular with their subordinates—many of whom feel stifled by limited opportunity.
The “Good-Scout Followers.” They are along for the ride and just trying to fit in and do their jobs. They don’t influence much change, nor do they want to. They see job satisfaction as being a contributing part of the team; they are not there to rock the boat. In terms of the value that they add to the firm, they are especially good at maintaining stability and continuity for the subordinate staff.
Each one of these three groups adds value to the organization. Bureaucratic Managers, for example, are attracted to process discipline, cost reductions and efficiency. The Restless Growers are primarily externally oriented and find ways to bundle new services, hire key talent away from competitors, innovate and improve customer service. Finally, the Good-Scout Followers go along with the group consensus and do their jobs.
Detecting and Correcting Imbalances
Strive to create a “blend” of the three key management types on your team. Add too many Restless Growers, for example, and the end result will be numerous disjointed initiatives and very little attention to detail. An abundance of Bureaucratic Managers, on the other hand, can quickly lead to deadlock as everyone tries to work through all of the red tape. In fact, the most dangerous situation for a company in this modern, fast-moving world is when the Bureaucratic Managers take over and turn the company inward. Experts at maintaining the status quo by exaggerating the risks of change, these individuals are natural politicians. They also claim success if they increase margins while remaining quiet about the sacrifice of top-line growth. They feel placated that being “well-run” is sufficient. Even worse, if the Bureaucratic Managers take over, the Restless Growers get frustrated and leave because patience is not their virtue.
Now, it’s not always easy to detect these imbalances within an organization—particularly one that’s dealing with daily problems to solve, new competitors around every corner and changing customer demands. The wheels of cultural change turn slowly, and leaders aren’t always aware of the shifts that are taking place in the leadership ranks. A CEO may sense the symptoms, but may not be able to put his or her finger on the culprit. There are some clear indicators when the syndrome occurs, including:
• Revenue growth stops or slows.
• Key younger growth advocates leave the company to go work for your competitors.
• Management meetings are about cost, risk and quality control instead of marketing, key hiring and product development.
• Very few senior people are introduced to the inside circle of the top management meetings.
When one or more of these symptoms occur, an imbalance is either imminent or already happening. Getting back to balance requires courage, determination and energy. Adding new Restless Grower players to a team can create resistance among current members, for example. Recruiting these individuals from the outside can be difficult, while growing them from within can take years or even decades. Bringing in more senior outsiders is also challenging, namely because their presence will be highly resisted (both outwardly and passively) by the Bureaucratic Managers.
The Right Blend
In the end, the CEO’s legacy will be dictated by his or her choice to either create a more youthful, agile and competitive company or by allowing the enterprise to become older, stagnant and antiquated. Ideally, he or she should focus on finding the right people for the right jobs. Put a Bureaucratic Manager in a growth job, for example, and the odds that he or she will propel the company to growth in an evolving industry will be slim. However, if you balance out the scales by putting Restless Growers on your growth products and initiatives and the Bureaucratic Managers on your mature cash cow, the blend just may work out in your favor.
Maybe Casey Stengel was on target—and not totally joking—with his management advice after all…
Bob Uhler is the former CEO and Chairman of MWH Global of MWH Global and now leads his own strategy and marketing advisory firm, The UHLER GROUP.
His thoughts and opinions are part of our new series “Industry Icons” in which we share insights from FMI partners and industry thought leaders. For further information, please contact Sabine Hoover, FMI’s content director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.