Sometimes organizations or their leaders confront problems over which they have little control. For instance, a manager might want a supplier offshore to deliver something right after an important national holiday. Even if the supplier agrees, the holiday might cause delays, because some employees might take extra days off. To acknowledge this risk is to accept the larger reality of the limits of the manager's control. The manager cannot control the behavior of the supplier's employees.
Recognizing these limits can be difficult, because organizational leaders have day-to-day experiences that demonstrate their substantial power. Those experiences can obscure the reality of limited power, causing those leaders to make decisions that defy reality.
Reality does constrain even those with organizational power. Here are some of the forces of reality that we simply must accept.
- Physical law
- Leaders sometimes create expectations or make demands that cause the led to attempt to violate laws of Nature. For instance, in 1979, American Airlines Flight 191 crashed on takeoff as a result, in part, of engine strut failure due to stress cracks created by using an unapproved maintenance procedure. 271 people died.
- Those who create environments that encourage people unknowingly to try to circumvent physical law could be setting themselves up for higher turnover, degraded morale, ridicule, or criminal prosecution.
- Societal and cultural norms
- Requiring work schedules that conflict with holidays, major sporting events or other observances, whether or not they have legal status, can cause staff to conceal their absences, or worse, to report for work distracted, exhausted, or otherwise impaired.
- The cultural constraints of our societies are far more influential than anything the organization might try to assert.
- Limits of human performance
- From time to time, managers require substandard working conditions, work hours in excess of the norm, or suspension of vacation allowances. As short-term measures, they might be understandable and endurable. But when they become standard requirements of the job,The cultural constraints of our
societies are far more influential
than anything the organization
might try to assert work quality degrades, rework rates increase, and turnover becomes inevitable.
- In most cases, requiring inhuman conditions or excessive hours as a way of reducing costs or circumventing regulations is shortsighted. These practices are toxic to the organization and cause the most capable people to leave.
- Economic forces
- If working conditions are below the norm, or compensation is below the norm, the quality of the work force eventually declines below the norm.
- The cost of managing an inferior work force is usually higher than the norm. Leaders get to choose: spend money on the work force and working conditions, or spend money dealing with a resistive workforce, higher turnover and output quality issues. You can't minimize the costs of both.
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Own Your Space
- Since we spend so much of our waking lives in our offices, it's surprising how few of us take control
of our immediate surroundings. If you do — if you make your space uniquely yours — you'll
feel better about the time you spend at work.
- Troublesome Terminology
- The terms we use at work to talk about practices, policies, and procedures are serviceable, for the
most part. But some of them carry connotations and hidden messages that undermine our larger purposes.
- Tactics for Asking for Volunteers: I
- CEOs, board chairs, department heads and team leads of all kinds sometimes seek people to handle specific,
time-limited tasks. Asking the group for volunteers works fine — usually. There are alternatives.
- Tactics for Asking for Volunteers: II
- When we seek volunteers for specific, time-limited tasks, a common approach is just to ask the entire
team at a meeting or teleconference. It's simple, but it carries risks. There are alternatives.
- When It's Just Not Your Job
- Has your job become frustrating because the organization has lost its way? Is circumventing the craziness
making you crazy too? How can you recover your perspective despite the situation?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 23: Power Distance and Teams
- One of the attributes of team cultures is something called power distance, which is a measure of the overall comfort people have with inequality in the distribution of power. Power distance can determine how well a team performs when executing high-risk projects. Available here and by RSS on October 23.
- And on October 30: Power Distance and Risk
- Managing or responding to project risks is much easier when team culture encourages people to report problems and question any plans they have reason to doubt. Here are five examples that show how such encouragement helps to manage risk. Available here and by RSS on October 30.
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- The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership
On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. But to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore lessons in leadership and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look at leadership from the vantage point of history. Read more about this program.
Here's a date for this program:
- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio
44017: November 7,
Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute.
- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio 44017: November 7, Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.