What does changing management behavior really mean?

Observation #50

carpedia-observation-50We often say it’s tough to change management behavior. Universally, executives nod their heads in agreement. But when we all say it, what do we actually mean? What specific behaviors are we all talking about? What does changing management behavior really mean?

Like all of us, managers tend to repeat the same behaviors over many years, and in time those behaviors become deeply entrenched. Behaviors help form individual management styles and are the basis of familiar, comfortable work routines. Changing management behavior means getting managers to actually act differently from what they have done in the past. This could be setting clear daily expectations for staff, following up on planned work, actively listening or giving feedback. While these behaviors may seem very basic, they are not always common practice.  Interestingly, they’re actually more common in production environments than they are in office environments. When a behavior isn’t performed by a manager currently, it will be hard for him or her to start doing it in the future. Furthermore, not only does the manager not know how to do it, employees don’t know how to respond to it.

Another aspect of changing management behavior is to modify the “style” of management that people use. We are strong believers in an active management style that is controlled, collaborative, and focused on results. On the other hand, we are not fans of management styles where an aggressive manager bullies subordinates, or a manager feels the need to flatter someone in order to get something done. We also are not fans of what we call “passive management” styles, e.g., where managers shy away from issues and avoid confronting poor performance. Nor are we fans  of the management style where a  manager asks an employee to do something but is apologetic and does not accept responsibility for giving the assignment — or blames it on the company.

It’s a lot easier to modify specific behaviors than it is to modify a person’s management style. Behaviors are usually the result of doing something over and over again, which can often be tweaked or adjusted. Management styles tend to reflect both the social style of an individual and the culture of an organization. Some organizations are aggressive and some are passive; this often mirrors the styles of key executives. On their way up through the ranks, executives tend to hire and promote similar kinds of people, which over time creates a corporate management style. It’s one of the reasons why corporate mergers can be so difficult: two similar businesses can have very different management styles.

Management styles can — and do — change over time, but from a practical perspective it’s far easier to focus on modifying specific management behaviors.