What Is A Manager’s Real Job Anyway?


Wednesday, 9.00pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder, but nobody wants to lift no heavy-ass weights. – Ronnie Coleman

When things aren’t working it’s easy to become frustrated – to get annoyed with what’s not happening the way it should.

So, who should you get annoyed with, who should you blame?

The correct answer, always, is those in power.

It’s easy to blame the workers – the ones doing the job.

After all, they’re the most visible and they are the ones doing the job.

But that’s making up your mind by just looking at the surface – the things you can see.

The usual approach if you think like that is to assume things would be better if people tried harder, put the hours in – just got on with delivering.

But, as Deming wrote, if everyone does their best 95% of problems will remain.

And that’s because he knew very clearly that if 95% of the variation in the performance of a system is caused by the system itself and only 5% is caused by the people.

In his words, “A bad system will beat a good person every time.”

But these insights, although they are now decades old, are still not understood – because we still see the jobs of managers as “managing” people – allocating people to jobs and monitoring their performance.

Which is a waste of time.

An utter, complete, futile waste of time.

So, what should managers be doing?

They’re in power – they should be changing the system.

How can they do that?

First, let’s start with the customer.

The customer gets two kinds of things from you.

One is what they need.

The other is what is wrong.

Let me explain.

The only person who seems to really be talking about this is John Seddon, who wrote Freedom from Command & Control: Rethinking Management for Lean Service, and came up with the terms value demand and failure demand to describe these two things that you give your customer.

Say you’re a graphic designer.

Value demand is a design that the customer likes and wants to use.

Failure demand is you reworking the design because the client expected something different.

Both kinds of demand result in work – time spent in front of your computer doing the design – and to many managers both kinds of work look the same.

But they’re not.

The fact is that any work you do that is being done because things weren’t properly understood or a mistake was made or you didn’t ask a question is work that is being done to meet failure demand.

Once you get this concept you’ll see failure demand everywhere.

It shows up in the powerpoint presentations that have charts with axes so small you can’t read the values.

It shows up in the analysis that focuses on a metric no one cares about.

It shows up in the program that solves a problem no one needs solving.

In the diagram above you’ll see the three main actors in any project – the customer, the worker and the manager.

What’s does your worker need to do?

They need to serve the customer.

If someone tells you they’re always busy there’s a good chance that 80% of their time is taken up dealing with failure demand.

That’s not “serving” the customer really, that’s sorting out everything that is going wrong.

If you’re serving a customer, then the customer ends up happy.

That’s the only thing that matters.

But, how does the worker know what the customer needs to make them happy.

They often don’t – they’re not experienced enough.

If they were, they’d be in management.

It’s the manager’s job to appreciate what the customer needs – to really know what should happen.

Not who is filling out what timecard.

If the manager really knows what the customer needs then they can spend their time building the worker’s capacity to serve the client.

This means focusing on reducing failure demand and freeing up the worker to spend time on value demand.

How does a manager do that?

By getting involved. By coaching and training and supporting. By studying and experimenting and learning.

None of which is part of the standard management curriculum or the way people think is “normal”.

But that’s where you have an advantage.

If you get this idea of value demand and failure demand and learn how to redesign your business so that most of what you do is work on value demand then you’ll be ahead of 99% of other businesses.

Because everyone would like to have a business that gives customers what they need.

Most don’t put in the work needed to do that.

You can.


Karthik Suresh

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