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What is traditional Management?

From the traditional perspective, management is not a solitary activity. It is something Managers do in relation to staff members. For Managers to manage, staff members must cooperate. This simple premise, on the surface, seems so self-evident it can be merely assumed, with no need for serious thought. Managers manage and staff members cooperate. Management is, it seems, no more complex.

We can imagine a situation – Managers manage and staff members cooperate – where the traditional understanding of Management fully explains the Management process and relationships. In those circumstances, the agency is like a train where the cars of the train blindly follow the engine down the pre-set track. The relationships are also simple. Each unit of the train has a pre-defined position and is hard-locked into position. There is minimal tolerance for variation or deviation and no tolerance for individuality or creativity. This is traditional management. Such management is judged by the extent to which the agency follows the pre-set rules and procedures and how efficiently the agency runs in relation to available resources. A perfect rating is 100% compliance with applicable rules combined with achieving this performance level within the approved budget.

With skilled, traditional management, an agency improves in two ways. First, it reaches higher levels of compliance. Second, it becomes more efficient, using fewer resources to achieve the same or higher levels of compliance. Do human services agencies need this type of skilled, traditional management? They do. No contemporary human services agency can function effectively and successfully without it. The Manager must manage and the staff members must cooperate.

There is, however, a second dimension within which Management must function if SSI is to pursue excellence in addition to compliance and efficiency. This is the adaptive dimension of management. Here, the simple premise of staff members cooperating with the Managers is insufficient. Within the adaptive dimension of Management, emphasis shifts from technical knowledge and understanding of the fields of administration and human services to the adaptive management skills of the individual Manager.

No two people will pursue the adaptive dimension of management in exactly the same way. How a specific Manager manages depends on his (or her) personal life experiences, his personality, his individual interpersonal style, on what he chooses to emphasize and what he personally thinks is less essential. In this dimension, rules – including agency policies and procedures – and available resources represent functional parameters, not evaluation criteria. Evaluation of the Manager within the adaptive dimension is, thus, two-fold. First, the Manager must operate within the existing rule and resource – functional – parameters. Next, his success is judged in terms of the extent to which he contributes to SSI achieving its intended outcomes.

We can consider management from the perspective of the Manager – traditional – or from that of staff members – adaptive. If developed from the perspective of the Manager, we emphasize the traits and characteristics, strengths and weaknesses of the Manager. Good management is primarily a product of Managers who exhibit more of the desired traits and characteristics and avoid the less desirable traits and characteristics. If developed from the perspective of staff members, we emphasize management strategies and techniques to encourage and maximize the strengths and individual talents of staff members. Good management is primarily a product of Managers who are able to fully actualize the potentials and capacities of staff members. Careful attention to these apparently opposing perspectives reveals they are not separate perspectives. Rather, the second is the complement of the first. Good Managers blend both traditional and adaptive management techniques and strategies. (For a useful historical review of task and social leadership style, strategy, and process presented primarily from a social work perspective, see Brueggemann, 2006, pages 78-110. The material applies equally to leadership and to the management perspective discussed here.)

Traditional and adaptive Management are separate and complementary dimensions of management. They are not the opposite ends of a continuum. As Figure 7 shows, management can range from high traditional to low traditional management. This is represented by the descending, diagonal dotted line in Figure 7. Management moves down from higher traditional management to lower. Management also can range from low to high adaptive management as illustrated by the ascending, diagonal dashed line in Figure 7. Management moves up from low adaptive management to high.

As we focus on Figure 7, the blending point is where the two diagonal lines cross. There, management is two-dimensional. This is the optimal balance for SSI management, i.e., the point where the mix of traditional and adaptive management creates the optimal environment for SSI staff members.

For traditional Managers who believe good management primarily depends on personal traits and characteristics, strengths and weaknesses, thinking focuses on how to personally maximize those traits and characteristics thought to be associated with good management.

·       How do good Managers behave in various situations?

·       How do they interact with SSI staff members?

·       How do they approach and handle problems and challenges?

·       How do they enforce the rules and regulations governing agency operations?

·       How do they assure staff members cooperate?

·       What traits and actions differentiate good Managers from less successful Managers?

For adaptive Managers who believe good management primarily depends on strategies and techniques to encourage and maximize the strengths and individual talents of staff members, thinking focuses on how to encourage staff members to personally and more specifically manifest the behavior thought to be most clearly associated with SSI’s success.

·       How do Managers support staff members to actively pursue SSI’s mission?

·       How do Managers assure staff members commit their full energy and capacity to SSI’s success?

·       What techniques and strategies are necessary to maximize the contribution of each staff member in relation to his (or her) individual skills and talents?

·       How do Managers enable staff members to choose spontaneous cooperation because it is the right thing to do?

·       How do Managers facilitate staff members’ functioning more autonomously and independently?

·       What environmental and situational factors are managed to minimize avoidable loss of energy, skill, and focus and to maximize the actualization of the productive potential of staff members?

On the one hand, the traditional key to good management is in definable traits and characteristics of the Manager. On the other hand, the key is in factors and conditions related to the performance of staff members and adaptive strategies and techniques to optimize those factors and conditions. Good management depends either on improving the performance of the Manager or on increasing the participation and commitment of staff members. Although SSI Managers know both approaches are separately productive, they prefer blending the approaches. They believe they can best manage the SSI internal eco system when they concentrate both on personal pro-management traits and characteristics and on implementing strategies and techniques to increase the autonomy, participation, and commitment of all SSI staff members.

Considering SSI management as it applies to decision-making is instructive. How are decisions made and who makes them? At one extreme, decision-making could be autocratic. The traditional Manager has absolute authority and makes all decisions. He (or she) may ask others for advice, information, and suggestions, giving the impression of participation. Nonetheless, the Manager decides. The quality of decisions thus depends exclusively on the judgment of the Manager. The opposite extreme is not consensus or some other type of group decision-making, as one might at first think. Rather, the opposite extreme is chaos. All participants in the agency act on their individual judgments and initiative. Even if each staff member makes all decisions from what he (or she) thinks is in the best interest of SSI – and all staff members will not – the resulting chaos is, at a minimum, counterproductive.

If we look at decision-making with autocracy – high traditional management – at one extreme and chaos – low traditional management – at the other, SSI management falls within a fairly narrow range between the extremes. SSI Managers know if they move too far toward autocracy, staff members become alienated and functionally constricted. Their performance becomes less effective than it might otherwise be. Alternatively, if SSI Managers move too far toward chaos, SSI’s internal eco system becomes fragmented and increasingly dysfunctional. Exactly defining the limits of the optimal decision-making range is open to debate and disagreement. Even so, the reality of the optimal range is obvious and the importance of SSI Managers thoughtfully functioning within the range is clear. SSI Managers do not move outside the optimal range toward either extreme. The optimal range for SSI Managers is toward the middle, as illustrated by the point where the two diagonal lines in Figure 7 cross.

We could debate the relative benefits of intentionally shifting SSI management behavior toward one end of the optimal range or the other. For example, is it better for a Manager to be more autocratic or less autocratic? Is it better for him to defer more to the judgments of staff members or to defer less? Should he delegate more decision-making authority to staff members or less? The debatable aspects here not withstanding, SSI Managers maintain their management behavior within a relatively narrow range. Exactly where individual Managers function within the optimal range depends to a significant extent on the Manager’s personality, strengths and skills, specific circumstances and conditions, and on a mix of other factors.

Just as traditional management varies from high to low, with chaos resulting if the level gets too low, adaptive management varies from low to high, with chaos resulting if the level gets too high. If the level of autonomous, independent, self-directed functioning of staff members gets too high, there is a reduction in coordinated, integrated effort and an increase in idiosyncratic activity, approaches, and behavior. These tendencies shift the internal eco system toward instability and chaos. For this reason, the optimal range for adaptive management also is toward the point where the two diagonal lines in Figure 7 cross.

Just as there is a fairly narrow, optimal range within both the traditional and adaptive dimensions with respect to decision-making, there are optimal ranges for other aspects of SSI management functioning. For example, strategic planning for SSI proceeds within fairly narrow limits. At one extreme, planning could be so autocratic there is no real improvement over time or virtually no buy-in by staff members and stakeholders. Alternatively, planning could be so unconstrained change becomes non-sustainable and chaotic. SSI’s success depends on the capacity of its Managers to pursue strategic planning within optimal limits. Just as there are optimal limits for strategic planning, there are optimal limits for other activities and areas. SSI Managers understand and function within the multiple optimal ranges related to SSI’s success. Their success is not related to where they function within any specific range. Rather, it is derived from their demonstrated ability to continuously maintain their behavior and functioning within optimal limits on all of the relevant ranges concurrently. Their styles and approaches vary but nonetheless only vary within fairly narrow limits. Any apparent inconsistency is mostly a product of the multiple ranges, individual variations within and among the ranges, and the personalities and individuality of the Managers.

From the above discussion, we see SSI staff members cannot and should not expect a traditional working environment. They have a high degree of personal and professional latitude to do what they think is appropriate and reasonable. They have assigned duties and responsibilities and are expected to achieve predetermined outcomes within their areas of responsibility. At the same time, they do not receive close supervision, do not have someone giving them specific directions, and are generally not told what to do or when to do it. Rather, they are provided with the relevant functional parameters and needed resources and opportunities to achieve the expected outcomes and judged based on whether or not they achieve them.

There is an underlying philosophy governing the practice of SSI Managers. It is based on a simple maxim – SSI Managers help staff members seek what they seek. They help them pursue SSI’s mission. Consider the two elements of the SSI maxim. First, SSI Managers are helping. They are helpers who are helping staff members. For SSI Managers, their role is to help each SSI staff member succeed. Within SSI, management is a helping profession in the same sense teaching, social work, and the ministry are helping professions. Consider what it means to be a helping professional.

SSI Managers base their practice on accepted theory and knowledge, verified techniques and strategies, and on best practice. They do not make it up as they go along or just do whatever strikes their fancy today. Their behavior and actions are governed by a keen sense of responsibility. They are clear about the values underpinning their management practice and the standard they use as they help staff members seek what they seek. They do the right things right, the first time, on time, every time, no exceptions, no excuses; and they help SSI staff members adhere to this standard.

As SSI Managers, they take the initiative to assure what needs done gets done. If there is something important to do and it is not getting done, it’s their job until it’s done. They assure the necessary resources and services are deployed to complete the job. Further, they help other SSI staff members adopt the same orientation to personal and professional initiative. As SSI Managers, they direct all of their talents, energy, and resources toward a single outcome: Doing the right things. As they help staff members seek what they seek, they assure staff members have the training, support, and resources they need as they direct their efforts toward the same outcome.

As SSI Managers, they continuously evaluate their performance, their progress toward the goal. Continuous Performance Improvement – CPI – is based on a simple idea. They are committed to getting better and better at getting better and better. What’s more, this commitment extends to helping those who seek what they seek to get better and better at doing the right things with them.

The second element of the maxim is staff members seek what they seek. There are two points receiving SSI Managers’ careful attention with this element. First, they are clear about what they seek, clear about SSI’s mission, for it’s this vision of excellence they are helping SSI staff members seek. They communicate their vision of the right things, with a clarity and passion that helps staff members join them in their journey. As they communicate, they understand, “A message cannot be isolated or disassociated from an organization’s context. Rather, any message sent or received by an organizational member is interpreted against the background of all other messages received.” (Shockley-Zalabak, 1991, p. 13) Managers are sensitive to the context of their communications and take care to assure they are consistently clear, credible, and open to all feedback. Second, they understand those whom they are helping are tuned into WIIFM. What’s in it for me? is asked and has to be satisfactorily answered by everyone. Whether SSI staff members are extended the continuing opportunity to help depends on how well the answer to the WIIFM question fits with the needs and interests of those with whom they work. The answer must be they do and will continue to make a positive difference in the lives of SSI’s clients.

People typically think this would be the ideal work environment. They think succeeding, given the high level of personal freedom and self-direction, would be both easy and satisfying. Unfortunately, many people do not function optimally in this type of working environment. They want a Manager who manages them. When there is not someone who tells them what to do, how to do it, and when to do it, they have trouble staying on task and following through with everything needed. Without someone to set priorities for them, they struggle with doing it for themselves. When they do not have someone judging what they have done, they are uncertain about how well they have or have not done. They want to be evaluated mostly based on how conscientiously they have followed the rules, on how hard they have tried and less on how well they have done.

SSI staff members are evaluated on the same basis, whether they are Managers or have another position in the SSI eco system. They are expected to function within the existing rule and resource parameters. Further, their success is judged in terms of the extent to which they achieve the expected outcomes. Anyone who will not or cannot meet these expectations cannot succeed as an SSI staff member.

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