The benefits of challenge

With an agreed approach on mistakes, there is the chance to put people into challenging situations to see what happens. There are two benefits to this. First of all, people are kept on their toes, given the responsibility to think in new ways and listen to new ideas. A common theme in talking to great company colleagues is that they are never given the chance to be bored. ‘Before I get to that stage, I have been offered the next challenge.' This is fantastic management - that ability to spot the first murmurings of stagnation and change the game. ‘People-handling brilliance affects productivity,' according to Asda.

Honda are expert at this, moving people around the business at regular intervals. People do not have time to settle down, unless that is what they want to do - after all, a company full of stars would be a nightmare. However, those who are ambitious are placed in new situations to stretch their thinking and keep them learning. There are no career plans; it is up to each person to take the chances as they arise. But there are also no limits as to what is possible, so sitting in the motorbike team and longing to work with cars is a problem that is easily solved. Find the job that needs to be done and ask for it.

Which brings us to the second advantage of moving people into new challenges. One risk in a great company is that people stay for a long time. It is brilliant on a number of fronts - the culture is maintained, recruitment costs are low, and expertise remains in the organisation. However, there is a risk of losing the impact of new blood and ideas from other companies. Dynamism requires disturbance - too much continuity can spell complacency. Change is scary, but it is also stimulating and enlivening. New thinking switches on the brain, lights up the thinking and ideas come storming through. Wise words from a colleague, Andrew Pearson, stick with me: ‘Don't worry that those you train leave, but that those you don't train, stay.'

Moving people from one department to another is the internal equivalent of bringing in new blood. Bromford send people on sabbaticals to try a job, giving both challenge and stability - if the job does not work out, there is somewhere to go back to. They also use external assignments to bring new thinking back into the office. Asda encourage risk - so much so that some people do not want a job that is familiar. At St Luke's, account directors have become creatives and vice versa: finding the job that suits the talent is the big driver, never mind what your original title was.

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‘If people are given all this responsibility and challenge, they may become hard to manage.'

Yes they will, if being outspoken, direct and honest is hard to manage. If, as a manager, you like to maintain control, this is not the work style for you. Think it through. If you have full control over your team or department, progress is limited to your capacity for new ideas and strategic thought. If your team take responsibility, you can go as far as the team can visualise - the bar is raised by putting all heads together. This is the basis of employing the best people. To quote Robert Hiscox: ‘Employ people brighter than you are. It raises your game and the whole business to a new dimension.'

This means losing some control - as the limits extend, you no longer have full knowledge and say about what is happening. If you try to take it back, your team will become disillusioned, so you need to find a different way of managing.

Action steps

Health warning: if you need to remain in control, think very carefully before you give additional responsibility - do not attempt it if you are not prepared to follow through.

  • Select a project/work task that you are prepared to hand over.

  • Talk with the team about the best way to take this forward. Clarify that they have the knowledge and information to do the work, or are willing to learn.

  • Whatever you choose to do, do it wholeheartedly. Be clear who will have responsibility, and give a clear outline of the process.

  • Work out the measures, timelines and checkpoints that will support you and the team in ensuring that the best work is done. Handing over responsibility is a poisoned chalice unless the parameters are clear - make sure that you are not setting yourself and others up to fail by giving incomplete information or support.

  • Be clear about your role. Where does your responsibility lie, and when do you need to be consulted?

  • Set regular reviews in place at team meetings to assess how it is working. Encourage honest feedback at all times. If you struggle to handle this, arrange some personal coaching to help you clarify your role and expectations.

  • Be clear how you will view mistakes. People will not take risks if they expect a punitive response.

  • Clarify what constitutes success, including the unexpected outcomes, and celebrate accordingly.

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Leaders have as much responsibility for their own development as every other person in the organisation, and doing this effectively will contribute to a positive disturbance factor. Meeting leaders from other companies, going on leadership development programmes and executive coaching are all ways of taking a fresh look at the day-to-day. Nick claims that this is one of the driving forces in the great culture at Bromford, as does Bob Henry at CORGI. No one is immune, and providing a good role model right from the top is the perfect way to embed the importance of learning.

Remember: giving people responsibility for challenge, new direction and exploration is only one part of it. They must also have the support they need to do the job well - this is definitely not the time for abdication (see Table 3 above). Great company managers spot the moment, put in the challenge, and then give all the support needed until the person is up and running. To challenge and desert is business suicide - challenge as a joint venture is a sign of greatness.

Becoming an Employer of Choice(c) Make Your Organisation A Place Where People Want To Do Great Work
Becoming an Employer of Choice(c) Make Your Organisation A Place Where People Want To Do Great Work
Year: 2006
Pages: 100 © 2008-2017.
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