February 18, 2007

Never manage through reports; instead manage through your people.

It may sound moronic to even think that someone can try to manage through reports. But in a flash of corporate eureka moment, I realized that this is what many managers in many organizations do. They try to manage through reports instead of trusting the abilities of the people they manage. As a result, utter chaos prevails and things never get done. And to top up all these, everyone in the company transforms into a report jock churning out reports 80% of one’s time. Discussion and reports take center-stage while action and execution take a backseat.

Reports have a simple purpose – to give you a good enough view of the situation with reasonable accuracy so that you can plan and execute your actions wisely. Expecting anything more than this from reports is a sure shot way to bring gigantic inefficiencies in the system. Once the report has done its primary duty of giving a view, the ball should move to people’s court for action.

Why some managers manage through reports?
First, they are control freaks who want to control everything from top to bottom irrespective of whether it is worth their attention or not.

Second, they don’t hire right. Hiring becomes a playground for favouritism, promoting people to their level of incompetence, and wrong assessment of competencies. You can manage through people only if you have right people at right place. They just try to hire people who are their alter ego, and definitely not smarter than they are.

Third, they don’t trust the people they hire and are basically a great fan of command and control philosophy of management.

Fourth, they have poor delegation skills.

Fifth, they lack basic leadership skills like inspiring and motivating people to action. They just don’t know how to put the fire in their people’s belly so that people embrace their leader’s dreams as their own.

Sixth, reports are the ideal place to hide a manager’s own shortcomings under a pile of carefully designed sentences and tables of data that are creatively interpreted.

So what to do…
First, throw away all unnecessary reports from your system. Simplify the rest. If your people are spending more than 10% of their working time on making reports and MIS, then something is wrong with the system (at least in sales & marketing domain of consumer goods companies).

Second, hire bright people whom you can trust. Don’t shy away from hiring people who are smarter than you. People aspect is the most important aspect of effective management. Next on importance ladder is process.

Third, delegate effectively. Neither everything is worth your attention, nor are you competent enough to tackle everything.

Fourth, talk in numbers as they don’t lie. In my experience, reports are the most effective tool for rationalization with all those creative structuring of sentences and interpretation of data. Don’t fall into that trap as it is a vicious cycle with the potential to choke the system. Also, talk about solutions not problems. Reports have a tendency to focus too much on problem and too little on solution. Problems have no end, so better talk about solutions, one at a time. And to become solution oriented you need to become action oriented rather than reports oriented or discussion oriented.