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November - 2006 - issue > People Manager
"Managing People Is Like Herding Cats..."
C. Mahalingam
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
'Managing People Is Like Herding Cats...' iss what the Leadership Guru, Warren Bennis said and wrote about! And he had compelling reasons for doing so. To quote him: “People may, however, be coaxed, cajoled, persuaded, adored, and gently led.” He continues further, “...any leader who dares to think of himself or herself as the ‘cat’s meow’ will likely be hissed and clawed. The recipe calls for more catnip, less catnap!”

Very successful people managers stand out for the following reasons:
l They understand that motivation is almost always intrinsic

2 Motivated people move faster, take ownership, solve problems and build and keep the team together

3 Encourage people to work hard and play even harder

4 Help every one in the team to become career-resilient

And the way they go about accomplishing all this is amazingly different! They stop managing ‘people’. Instead, they manage the ‘context’. Therefore, the secret to smart and successful people management lies not so much in managing people, but managing the context in which people function. Let me explain what ‘managing the context’ means.

Firstly, it means building trust and mutual respect within the team and between teams. This, of course, takes time. It involves reliability and constancy. Managers build trust when they articulate the values they stand for and when their people know where you are coming from. It is often emphasized that ‘trust-worthiness’ precedes trust and the trusted leader behaves as trust worthy as a prelude to creating trust in workplace. Trust worthy leaders do not pretend to be what they are not and they acknowledge that every member in the team including themselves is unique in what they bring to the work in terms of their abilities and motivation.

Managers create a climate of trust by focusing on three things:
l Demonstrate Competence. Competent managers generate a lot of trust in the team

2 Demonstrate Congruity. This is about integrity, saying what you mean, meaning what you say and bridging the gap between what is being said and being done

3 Demonstrate Constancy: Clearly stating a purpose and sharing the same with the team engenders a lot of trust in the team

Secondly, managing context means empowering the team in every possible way. Empower-ment is usually experienced in four different themes:
l People feel significant and wanted
2 Learning & Competence matter
3 People are part of a community
4 Work is exciting and every thing possible is done to make the work exciting

Thirdly, it means explaining the big picture to team members. This is a key ritual that leaders across levels in organizations need to keep in mind and perform with religious fervour! The big picture should cover amongst other things how a team member’s quality impacts over all quality, linkage between organization’s vision and its meaning to individual’s goals and contribution and the like.

Fourthly, context management also means creating ‘gung ho’ spirit at workplace where people feel like coming to work every day, looking for challenges and stretching to better their own performance with each passing day. It also means making people perceive who needs what help and support and going the extra mile to extend this.

Fifthly, it also calls for a culture of catching people doing things right, rather than doing wrong things. If only managers pay attention to the ‘invisible sign’ around the necks of their team members, they will be able to read ‘make me feel important’. So, catching people doing things right and celebrating success, no matter how small they are, will go a long way. Early in my career, I had a manager who took enormous pride in declaring his philosophy about people, which is: “when people do a great job, they do not need a praise since they are paid for it anyway….

And when people do a bad job, they need to be fixed as I am paid to do that anyway!” Understandably enough, his team had low motivation and began to look for opportunities elsewhere within and outside the organization.
Sure enough there are many other routes to ‘managing the right context’ for people to reach out to their potential within and deliver their very best. So, stop trying to manage people, but manage the context for best results.

Remember what Warren Bennis remarked: “When it comes to cats, it is milk before meat!”

The author is Sr.VP-HR with Symphony Services Corporation. He can be reached at mahalingam.c@symphonysv.com
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