Why People Who Manage Through Software Fail To Manage

Humble leadership isn’t something that I run across very often in the business world. Often I hear about huge gaps in communication between “management” and “teams”. Management is often seen by teams as some royal palace off in the distance that sporadically issues “proclamations” on how things should be done. Managers often see their teams as “complainers who are lazy, don’t do what they’re told and can’t be trusted”.

I’m sure you can imagine how building trust and collaboration between management and teams could be extremely beneficial. By building communication and trust between management and teams, teams become more engaged and managers becomes more informed. Managers are able to make more effective decisions and teams produce better results with a smile on their face! A recent Harvard Business Review article “How Humble Leadership Really Works” [link] does a great job documenting the ways some companies have benefited tremendously from this approach. But it seems that most software systems don’t encourage this approach.

Software often tries to split the manager from the team members and can actually encourage an unhealthy distance between team members and managers. Think of your operations management system at work (if you have one). The team members process information on one side and managers collect stats on the other side. Team members who don’t process enough tickets are told to brush up. While team members who achieve the best stats are given a raise. That seems fine on the surface. But what’s happening is that the manager begins to manage based on software stats, not based on the real world. Team members who are actually champions for the company might actually be getting penalized.

Software stats are helpful, but they aren’t the way to build great teams that operate at their full potential. A manager who manages based on “ticket throughput” alone is going to create a culture of monotony and negativity. (just look how many employees are disgruntled!). Yes, there are some people who are well motivated by “hitting their sales numbers” or “producing the record widgets”. But those people aren’t motivated to provide great customer service, build an excellent product, or produce innovative solutions. They’re only motivated to hit their stat. No matter how many team meetings you have to promote good customer service, if you only manage based on that statistic, your team will respond accordingly. That will stifle your company!! Think of the best companies you know, not the biggest ones, the best ones. There’s a reason that companies like Disney, Zappos and the Ritz-Carlton are some of the most successful and loved companies around. They know that great management is about connecting with and empowering your team members to do a great job; not to hit some arbitrary number! That’s how you get the best results!

For more on great customer service checkout out Tales of Customer Service from a marketing podcast called Under the Influence which I highly recommend.

So how can we make software system that support this innovative, collaborative environment between managers and team members? Give team members a fuller view of the company in their software. Give them access to more of the statistics that the managers have. Give them access to more functions in the software - if they’re in sales, give them the ability to do some support functions too. Why? Giving team members broader access to information and functions empowers them. Team members have the tools to react in any situation, not just the regular tasks. They feel empowered to do their job instead of restricted into a corner. Managers aren’t prescribing, they’re leadinging, guiding and trusting. But it isn’t only the team members side that could be improved.

The managers side of the software can continue to show statistics, but they should be less prominent. Software should aim to provide a well rounded view of what’s happening, not a “one statistic to rule them all” approach. Software should find ways to encourage real connections between teams and managers. Maybe alongside a “number of tickets processed” counter, there can also be a “quality of interaction” metric. And maybe beside that, it could say “There’s more to good customer service than this software can understand. Connect with your team member and watch how they’re doing.”

Let’s make our workplaces better places to be. That will mean success for everyone involved.

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