Why Management Exists

Get everyone on track to one destination: for easier work, healthy employees, satisfied customers, contented shareholders.

May 2022 | Leadership

If you have more than a handful of colleagues you almost certainly know how ‘the organisation’ makes your day harder. In complex workplaces with a hierarchy of levels and various departments, widespread inefficiencies – which harm employee engagement, customer experience and shareholder returns – can frustrate everyone’s efforts to do a good job.

Strategic alignment

Familiar workplace inefficiencies are often the result of poor ‘strategic alignment’. With time, day-to-day work falls out of step with what the business needs. Parts of the organisation end up on a course for Oxford – and possibly a dozen other, random cities – whilst customers wait on the platform at Cambridge. (Read Why 40 Hours’ Work Makes Only 20 Hours’ Difference for an intro to strategic alignment.)

How work gets off track

Misalignment creeps in as soon as decisions and actions depart from the aims for which the organisation is intended. The outcome? Employees put in time and effort, but their outputs do not fully advance the mission of the enterprise. Work becomes less effective and – as everyone pulls in slightly different directions – harder.

Risks to alignment

We see five broad areas where misalignment can derail good work:

Purpose – what the organisation aspires to achieve
Systems – the data, technology and processes that structure work
Resources – how time and money are spent
Leadership – the people and standards that guide, facilitate and govern work
People – the choices and actions of individuals in the workplace

Business purpose

Start with purpose. After all, you cannot begin to consider failures of alignment if your people do not know what to align with in the first place. Back to the travel analogy – if teams are unclear that they need to get to Cambridge, then why would they not jump on a train to the south of France? Not to mention that half your budget has already gone on flights to St Barths.

Purpose explains why your organisation exists in the first place. It clarifies the difference your business makes.

Purpose is also the overarching ambition that binds together vision – the difference you aspire to make to your customers’ lives; mission – the aims that will help you realise your vision; strategy – your plan for making the mission a reality; and values – principles that help you pursue your strategy. Purpose keeps systems, resources, people and leadership aligned and on track with what the business needs.

Sceptical employees

Sadly, managers blow much hot air around these concepts. HR and the odd senior executive (as well as consultants) wax lyrical about vision and values. Yet little action emerges from all this rhetoric. The vocabulary of ‘the future state’ smacks of management bluster, hollow promises and disappointment.

Still, purpose comes first

These common shortfalls do not mean that you may set aside talk of purpose. Far from it – without clear purpose, your business has no reason to exist. Similarly, without purpose your work will never be aligned with the demands of employees, customers, shareholders or wider society. Without purpose, your systems and processes will tend toward inefficiency. Without purpose, you will lose time and money (and good employees) as people tug in different directions. Management exists to help people overcome these problems.

Your best shot at creating a strong business is to build an organisation that is closely aligned with a clear aim. There can be only one overarching purpose. To be effective, every board member and senior executive has to understand, agree with, and champion this vision of what the organisation exists to achieve.

As owner, chairman, senior executive, department head, line manager or team leader, you have a duty to articulate this purpose in simple, everyday language. Regular, confident and engaging communication then helps to integrate the idea into how work is done. It goes without saying that managers must practise what they preach.

Meaningful talk, concrete action

It is crucial also to invest time and energy in helping each person see how he or she might contribute to the effort. Believe that everyone – regardless of role or level – can be inspired by a lofty ambition. (Read Mopping Floors, or Sending a Man to the Moon? for how a 1960s janitor at NASA identified not with soap and water, but with sending a man to the moon.) Overcome people’s scepticism through meaningful talk and concrete action.

Without a clear purpose, expect teams to pull in different directions. Expect processes to be complex and costs to rise. Expect good people to resign, customers to defect and shareholders to take their money elsewhere. As a manager, first make an excellent job of business purpose. Then worry about everything else.

Image Sergey Pesterev | Unsplash

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