Direct Leadership – Not by Proxy

May 31, 2019 • ILE LAB • Boaz Tamir

When the fire breaks out – which happens every day in a chaotic environment – intense courage and patience are required in order to stop and invest managerial energies in building new work processes and adopting a new management mental model.  Yet, our experience shows – there’s no alternative, and leadership can’t be outsourced.

A continuation of“Creating space for Initiative in a Crowded, Chaotic World”

The Road to Change: Instinctive or Scientific Thinking?

To the management of Waterfall, Inc. (not their real name) the term “an innovative company” provided them with a vision and served as the basis for organizational change.  However, from the beginning, there were problems in the engineering operating system:  the strategic plan, which had been designed by a renowned international consulting company, was stuck in the product development unit.  The organizational bottleneck was blocking the process of change.

An immediate response to the delays in the jammed-up process was urgently needed. In times of stress, the brain tends to turn to the “First Brain Operating System” (as defined by Daniel Kahneman in, “Thinking, Fast and Slow“). Fast and instinctive thinking brings up the well-known solutions first, and only when they don’t work does the organizations put out the calls of distress to the consultants (who are assumed to have the solutions).

In contrast, a real change in the view of management rests on the “Second Brain Operating System” (also as defined by Kahneman.)  This is composed of scientific, analytic thinking, characterized by a process of trial and error; by its very nature, this is a slow process. Time is pressing and the market won’t wait, and the entire system, workers and management alike, must undergo a rapid process of a change in their mindsets.

How to Let Go During a Fire

I have met numerous CEO’s who understood the need for a change in the organizational management operating system and had even articulated a strategy and a vision. But in the end, when the fire breaks out – and in a chaotic environment this is a daily occurrence – it’s much easier to turn to the solutions that they know, especially if those solutions have been reasonably successful in the past.  Managers find it difficult to give up their control over the process; they are fearful of slow action (the Second Brain Operating System), which doesn’t promise quick results.

Against the background of the noise of everything that is happening, it takes courage and patience to stop and invest managerial energy in building responsible leadership and in beginning to work according to the principles of the Second Brain Operating System.

Usually, managers do not wait long enough to reach an understanding of the root causes of the problems and they tend to run into the problem as if they were firefighters trying to put out symptoms that actually demand that they step back and study – which is about as worthwhile as providing pain killers for a tooth ache.  Once the attempt to deal with the problem by dealing with the symptom has failed, they prefer to purchase external knowledge (from expert consultants) instead of developing in-house knowledge, which would bring resilience, ability to adapt to a changing environment, and skills for organizational learning.  But if they don’t solve the root problem to remove the source of the infection, it’s only a matter of time before the pain returns.

Calling on External Consultants for Help

This is what’s happening at Waterfall. The pressures from the environment and the stock holders have had an effect. Bypassing the obstacle of the “inefficiency” of the technology development system has become the supreme test of the company management.  The “First Operating System,” the instinctive emergency system, has taken control of the minds of management and directors.  A consultant who is “an expert in change” is to be brought in urgently to lead a program of increased efficiency, focused on immediate improvement in the system of development.

The power point presentation looked promising and, indeed, during the first few weeks, it appeared that the concentrated effort to create working groups according to Agile methodology within the development system was succeeding. In their daily meetings, the development teams and managers followed the consultants’ instructions, the fence around the development system was reconstructed, and reinforcement of the rules controlling entrance through the gates slowed down the pace of new projects and eased the overload on the development teams.

The Plot Thickens

Three months later, representatives of the board came to hear a report on the results of the process of focused change. Management was so relieved by the signals of positive results presented that, after pressure from above to generate revenues and raise the value of the company, they decided to open the product development unit gate to new projects.  This led, once again, to an accelerated renewal of the queue of projects for development, and the gate guarding the development system was once again facing off a long line of demands for the development of new projects.  The improvement did not reflect genuine organizational learning, and the well-known overload came back to slow down the pace at which projects were sent off.  It was clear that the organization had not developed any of its own coping capabilities, and, once again, it was forced to hire the services of external consultants.

The team of consultants suggested that the marketing personnel identify sub-contractors to complete the projects or quickly hire code writers and architects for contract work, but it was clear that this could not be implemented, due to difficulties in finding suitable personnel or additional resources.

And once again, the sense of helplessness and mutual loss of trust between management and the marketing, engineering and customer service units began to seep into the organization.  The cynical voices who were disappointed in the consultants and yet another inefficient “operational- excellence” methodology made themselves heard, too.  And so I was not the least bit surprised that Waterfall’s CEO was sceptical when we met: Why would a Lean methodology succeed where the other consultants had failed?

Epilogue: There are no simple solutions.  Organizations Build Themselves Up from Within or Implode

No ready-made solution or consultancy can replace management in the effort to build an organization that can cope with the threats and opportunities that a chaotic environment presents.  Needed is leadership that builds the organization’s and its personnel’s capacities through changes in mindset and organizational culture.  Like a farmer who takes care of his crops, a leader must build his workers’ capabilities through direct contact.  No proxy can do thisThere are no sub-contractors for leadership.

And what is the role of the facilitating consultants? “The Humble Consulting” 2016 (a term coined by Edgar Schein) facilitates PDCA processes, trains the team in a systematic problem-solving methodology (A3), presents systemic evidence and ensures that a safe space for critical thinking is maintained.  And above all, the consultant is needed in order to accelerate the learning of all of the workers and managers in the organization – learning that will bring him to finish his job and leave the stage.

What Lean process is recommended for Waterfall?  We’ll discuss this in our next column.

 Boaz Tamir, ILE.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.