An interesting discussion is taking place on the Jossey-Bass leadership blog on the question of what should a leader be tracking? Several different views are emerging.
One view reflects a continuation of 20th Century management, in which the role of leaders is to develop a vision of the future, conceive a plan to implement it and then track the progress of work against the plan.
In today’s rapidly changing workplace, however, fixed plans quickly become obsolete and constrain innovation. With the epochal shift in the balance of power in the marketplace from seller to buyer, the capability to adjust to rapid change and to innovate becomes the deciding factor in the game. Moreover as all work is increasingly knowledge work, efforts to control those doing the work become counter-productive. Innovation requires not controlling the knowledge workers, but rather unleashing their talents and creativity.
Fifty years ago, in a stable marketplace dominated by a few oligopolies, not much global competition, the 20th Century approach worked well enough. Today, the results have been disastrous and continue to decline.
Another view, is that of the thousands of things to track, the real art is deciding on a few key metrics of no more than 5-8 items and then sharing them and tracking them relentlessly. In effect, it means controlling five to eight different plans.
Still another view is that leaders should be tracking their interactions with their employees such as the number of times they communicate face-to-face. Face-to-face is still the most effective medium for any message that has an emotional component. The problem here again is that interactions with staff, beneficial as they may be, are a means to the goal, not the goal itself.
The real goal of organizations
In the 21st Century, leadership requires more agility. In effect, the epochal shift in power from seller to buyer in a rapidly changing marketplace means that the customer becomes the effective boss of the organization and of those doing the work. Controlling against plans, or tracking 5-8 variables, or monitoring interactions with employees amount to tracking the means to the organization’s goal, not the goal.
Instead the leader must be tracking achievement of the organization’s goal. In the 21st Century, that goal is clear and simple: delighting one’s customers. The leader’s role becomes that of an enabler rather than a controller. The leader enables those doing the work (knowledge workers) to deliver more value to customers sooner. Controlling against plans and interactions with employees are only relevant to the extent that these elements are contributing to the goal. The only thing that ultimately matters is whether the organization is achieving its goal: delighting the customers.
Tracking the means to achieve the organization’s goal is a game for losers. Real leaders have a tight focus the only thing that ultimately matters: the goal of delighting their customers.
To learn more about 21st Century leadership, and what’s involved in delighting customers, read my blog post, The Reinvention of Management or my book, The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management (Jossey-Bass, 2010).