In his latest article exploring the dynamics of high performance in the workplace, Apodi’s Tony Swift examines how line-managers have the power to determine whether teams are successful or not. Drawing on his own experiences, he discusses what makes a great manager and leader, and why measurements of success are so important.
According to Tom Peters, the renowned business guru, the number one source of dissatisfaction amongst employees is the quality, or lack of it, of the first-line management in companies, sports teams or organisations. For many employees not even the best pay and conditions in the world will make it tolerable to work for a bad manager.
The varying quality of management is a little surprising given the fact that most employees will quickly make their own assessment of the quality of management in the team they work for and, if asked, will readily give their opinion.
It is seemingly more difficult for senior management to make this assessment because there are considerable variations in the quality of first-line management and organisational structures may make it difficult to see where problems may lie. Yet it might be that assessing quality by senior management is not the problem per se. It could be that inertia and an underestimation of the important role that first-line management plays which enables poor management to exist in some companies in the first instance.
Throughout my own sporting and business career I have been fortunate to be managed by superb coaches and captains at various times. Conversely, I have seen some very poor attempts at leadership – even at the most senior levels. Superb coaches and captains have a habit of getting the very best out of the talent at their disposal. The first England international rugby captain I played with was Bill Beaumont. Bill had a number of attributes that made him ideal for leadership, including fearlessness, humility, amiableness and empathy. Even the most senior players within the team listened to him and respected him. When he retired England missed his leadership and for a number of years went through a very unproductive and unsuccessful time.
Therefore one of the most significant strategic business decisions any company makes is who to promote or recruit into management. For an organisation to make the most appropriate hiring decisions for management, a good starting point is to first of all identify what good managers actually do.
What great managers do
Here are just some of the practices implemented, and excelled at, by great managers:
1. Recruiting the right team – this is key to ongoing success. I have discussed recruitment in previous articles in Pharmaceutical Field, so please take a look at these for more ideas on this subject.
2. Setting the direction – simply put, people need to understand specifically what is expected of them and how they will be measured. Research undertaken by Apodi shows that this is not always the case. Many pharmaceutical companies are establishing Market
Access teams and Key Account Management teams to address the new healthcare economy. However, those that are being successful have very clearly identified the role of these teams, how they should operate, be measured, and constantly communicate the benefits internally to the rest of the organisation.
3. Enforce results, manage activities – successful sales people within the same teams often deliver required results through different types of behaviour and activities. If a manager attempts to standardise these approaches it may result in blunting much of the talent within the team. Good managers need to understand when to stand back and let the sales people deliver in the way which best works for them.
4. Making tough decisions – all managers at some stage in their career find that one of their reports is not going to make it. Good managers find this out quickly and act immediately. Poor managers let the problem fester – the effect of this is to undermine performance in the business and also undermine the manager’s standing within the team. Good employees tend to know when poor performing employees are being tolerated,
which can be incredibly damaging. That is because high performing employees tend to share a sense of mutual accountability which gives employees and teams the confidence they need to take on more challenging tasks. This is just not possible with poor performing
people. At its extreme, I have seen certain teams almost take it out of the manager’s hands and rid the team of poor performers when and if a manager prevaricates.
5. Work on strengths, not weaknesses – whilst it is possible to improve people’s weaknesses through coaching and mentoring, the improvements are often minimal. Many organisations waste considerable resources in this area and better returns can be realised
• focussing on people’s strengths
• designing the organisation in such a way that the strengths of an individual are maximised and the weaknesses minimised.
Figure 1 (see below) highlights some top-line research on the effectiveness of individual business development executives within a team. Each executive was marked out of five (1=poor-5=very effective) for different but relevant talents.
The research highlighted a number of factors. Each individual had particular strengths and weaknesses apart from Executive 1 who was a strong all-rounder. Rather than working on individual weaknesses it was decided that it would be more effective if the executives worked in a team environment – rather than as individuals – where their strengths could be maximised and weaknesses eliminated. The research also showed a general weakness in
the prospecting area and, rather than attempting to train people to be more effective in this area, it was agreed to recruit a new executive with specific prospecting skills.
6. It’s always ‘show time’– a number of the above practices are viewed as ‘hard edged’. Great managers complement these practices with the softer skills necessary to motivate team members. For example, making tough decisions is only respected by team members
when these decisions are fair and in the interest of the team as a whole – being tough for the sake of it wins no support or respect from fair minded people.
Great managers also know there is no let up – they are on ‘show’ all of the time as far as team members are concerned. This means displaying all of the traits they want displayed by their team members – hypocrisy just does not work in management.
Why measurement matters
If the key practices above are put in place and actively pursued, then high performance is the likely outcome. There are examples of this in every walk of life. Sir Alex Ferguson, the manager of Manchester United Football Club, implements these practices and displays
these attributes, which has resulted in a hugely successful career. From my own point of view, I have found it difficult to identify any high performing team where managers do
not display these practices, whether in commerce, sport or the charity sector. However, not all managers are in such high profile roles that their performance is there for all to
see. This is why it is so important for managerial qualities and competencies to be valuated against measurable criteria.
Measuring manager performance
When I review how managers are measured, it is rare to see all of these practices being part of the assessment process. I believe organisations would be well served by incorporating ways of measuring managers’ performance in their existing assessment processes in the following areas:
• The ability to recruit effectively
• Establishing the right direction for the team
• Enforcing results and managing activities – only when necessary
• Making tough decisions if required
• Coaching ability – focusing on strengths
• Having the ability to carry the team with you.
Measuring team performance
A common scenario we are seeing in pharmaceutical companies is where they establish a Key Account Management team and Market Access team but are then unsure as to how
well these teams are performing and whether or not the investment has been worth it. It is critical that they know the answers to these questions.
The primary reason companies are unable to answer is because they have not developed a measurement system the organisation trusts sufficiently in order to base decisions on. Market Access teams are typically established in pharmaceutical companies some 6-12 months prior to a launch of a product. Normally the role of this team is to create a favourable environment with the NHS to ensure maximum sales when the product is launched. Clearly in the first 6-12 months prior to launch there is no sales data and therefore the ultimate measure of success does not exist.
The company’s strategy has to be clearly defined and the team’s performance needs to be measured against this. It will usually be a mixture of quantitative inputs and qualitative
outputs. The reliance on qualitative outputs with its heavy reliance on subjectivity means that a company can only entrust the management of this to extremely competent, talented and experienced managers.
Getting it right
Pharmaceutical companies routinely make multi-million pound investments in the deployment of teams. As the guardians of such investments, the team management has to embrace, and be adept at implementing, the practices we have looked at. Therefore, not only is selecting the right management vital to success, but so is putting in place ongoing assessment of key practices.
An effective, results-based management process demands both superb management and effective monitoring in equal measure. It is likely that only when these particular conditions are in place, will true high team performance be achieved.