As most leaders know, management is a separate entity from leadership. Many organizational leaders have difficulty doing one and continuing to do the other. And management is sometimes still looked upon as an operational piece of the organization, so leaders believe that they should employ “managers” to manage and “leaders” to lead. There are a few basic leadership principles that you can use to look at the organization’s operations differently – and pass on to the other leaders and managers down the line.
First, you must take a different view of the organization’s operations. As people progress up the ladder, moving from line to management and then to more senior levels, they may begin to see operations as someone else’s responsibility. This is a leadership failure, so you should always see the understanding of operations as part of your job.
There are two different views of operations: conventional and systems. The conventional view sees the organization chart and job details. The systems view, which should be the leader’s view, is an understanding of how the organization’s goals get accomplished. What processes occur to allow higher income, new products, customer service, and industry leadership? To see your organization in this view, you should look at your systems as links in a chain, with one piece dependent on the next. Take the time to understand how each process fits with the next and how the whole structure fits together as a whole. On top of that, leaders should be able to find the chain’s “weak link” to make improvements.
Second, you must obtain cooperation across systems lines. This can be very difficult to do, especially in organizations that are rooted in the “org chart” view. People can be apathetic, angry, or unwilling to share information and processes with other departments. But just how can leaders facilitate a change from an organization with very strict boundaries to one without boundaries?
It is important to know what all of the organization’s departments do. This may seem elementary, but some high-level leaders do not concern themselves with an understanding of each component. If you’re new to an organization, take the time to visit, ask questions, and interview the managers of each area to determine their responsibilities, issues, and processes. Once you’ve done this, you will begin to see a big picture emerging, an idea of how those links in the chain fit together.
Armed with your big picture knowledge, learn what impacts whom – and vice versa. This means that you should understand that a slowdown in Department A will have an adverse effect on Department B. In linear terms this is simple, but complex organizations sometimes have issues that are not apparent at first glance. From the leadership standpoint, you can use this knowledge to cast an empathetic ear on issues; people behind barriers will be pleasantly surprised to know that you understand their problems.
Again, here is further knowledge that you can use to truly move forward. Leaders should break barriers, so you can show the overall strategy to everyone in the organization and create a team spirit that moves each process forward.
Third, and again elementary, you must learn to solve problems. The wrinkle in problem solving is that you’ve got to solve those problems from the systems view, not from the organization chart. One common problem solving technique from the operations standpoint is the “Ishikawa Diagram”, or the “5 Whys” technique. To use this in the systems view, you must first identify the issues. GE used the “Work Out” program to break down barriers and identify organizational problems. You don’t have to use a formalized program like “Work Out”, but you can model something after it to bring issues to the forefront.
Once the issues are identified, the “5 Whys” technique requires that you ask “why” at least five times. For example, if you determine that customers are not getting their products in a timely manner, the first question to ask is, “why is this happening?”. When you answer the question again, you’ll begin to drill down to the causative roots.
Finally, to apply leadership principles to operations management, you must harvest and manage knowledge. In many organizations, operational associates typically have various forms of “tacit” knowledge, that is, knowledge that they can take with them if they go. This knowledge may be written or mental, but it is your duty to begin a process of documenting and imparting knowledge throughout the organization. This process starts through well-developed and documented policies and procedures and continues through exceptional training for cross-organization moves and new hire employees.
These four concepts can help you apply your leadership skill to the operations of your organization. Once you’ve started this process, you’ll be amazed at how much ground you can cover.
Copyright 2011 Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.