Managing effectively in 2013

While the effectiveness and efficiency of the production process is vitally important to all manufacturers, readers are advised to never neglect the effectiveness and efficiency of its management.

According to Greg Lourey, a director with The Leadership Circle Asia Pacific, many senior managers make the mistake of thinking, 'What I do is who I am'. 

"However, the moment we associate our sense of self, our worth, our security with external conditions, we sentence ourselves to a roller coaster experience in which we never quite catch up because of the prevailing anxiety that exists."

According to Lourey, one of the most significant transitions managers must attempt is reframing the belief that they need to please and be respected by those around and above them to be effective and successful. 

"We may develop many competencies and a solid track record of success along the way, but to the extent that we assign approval of ourselves to others, we're essentially playing to avoid losing respect.

"Most organisations have a set of leadership competencies and measure against these with various 360-degree assessments, peer reviews and customer feedback. We seldom look more deeply at the assumptions and the mental operating system that drives our behaviour," he said. 

"We ask leaders to change aspects of their behaviour, like delegate more effectively, without looking at the assumptions that create the old behaviour, if I want the job done properly I must do it myself. 

"This is a very common problem, and it's no wonder we revert to the old ways so quickly," Lourey told Manufacturers' Monthly.

Instead, he says, people should ask themselves why. "Is it because I don't trust the person or the process?" 

He also says it is important, especially for newly promoted middle managers, to be aware of the bigger picture, even when they are feeling the stress of having production or quality problems for example.

"If they let these problems affect the decisions they make, they will start to make short term decisions, which might solve the present problems but won't address the root cause.

"My advice for managers is to always pause before they respond; take a breath, or even sleep on it, and in that pause they often decide to say something different.

"I also advise manufacturers to take note of the old engineering term 'Structure determines performance' which is really important. 

"If I have a badly designed process or system I only get the outputs I deserve. Managers need to continually look at the processes or systems to make sure they still serve the company and to hold on to the big picture, it is easy to get caught up in the detail instead look for the root cause."

Lourey says innovation is very important in the manufacturing industry.

"But if managers are so busy doing all the work themselves, rather than seeing the big picture, stepping back and delegating, it's really hard to innovate".

Interestingly he says age is not an issue.

"You can have mature people at a young age and people of mature years who should know better, plus there are many people out there who have been promoted beyond their capability.

"Often people with great technical abilities get promoted with more leadership responsibilities, when they don't really want that," he said. 

Lourey says there are three self-limiting assumptions or mind-sets that can reduce the effectiveness of managers.

"First is excessive control. This strategy for reacting to unrecognised fear or anxiety can manifest as a need for perfection, an exaggerated driven stance or heightened ambition. 

"The tendency to adopt an autocratic style when greater involvement is actually called for is a lead indicator. There is a secret inner assumption that we don't measure up and excessive control is the compensatory strategy to keep us feeling worthwhile, valuable and secure – though it seldom does for long.

"Second is excessive aloofness and criticalness. With this strategy we attempt to stay on top by knowing more than others and using our perception of being smarter and more intelligent to critique and diminish the contributions of others so as to secure firm footing for ourselves.

"Last, but not least, is excessive approval seeking. If we hold an inner assumption our true value and worth lies in the hands of others, then it stands we will do what we can to manage how others see us. We avoid conflict and have trouble telling the truth if others may be upset by it," he said.

Lourey says readers might be surprised to find even the toughest sounding leaders can struggle with approval seeking.

"We may achieve a level of excellence in our leadership results for a period of time, sometimes years. 

"However, until we can identify and address our self-limiting assumptions and mind-sets we will miss higher, more elegant levels of leadership where we can achieve more with much less effort and strain. Transformation happens when leaders see their own mental software," Lourey said.

Dealing with Asia

While the story regarding Bob Hawke's first trip to Japan as prime minister is not new, it is still worth repeating, to highlight the problems of 'lost in translation' when working in the Asian region. 

Hawke was asked by Japanese journalists whether union action at the time would harm Australia's reliability as a supplier of raw materials and exports. 

He responded by saying 'Australia is a reliable supplier for Japan. You've got no worries in discussing this and I'm not playing funny buggers with you'.

However, the response was translated that the Australian PM was reassuring them that 'we're not playing laughing homosexuals with you'. 

There was nothing wrong in what Hawke had said, he just didn't take into account whether the way Australians speak, and do business, will translate in Asia. 

According to Tamerlaine Beasley, maanaging director of Beasley Intercultural, this is a common problem for people new to working in the Asian region.

"The laid back, easy going culture of Australia endears us to many, but this informal behaviour especially when doing business with people from more hierarchical cultures, such as those in most of Asia, can have unforeseen consequences.

"Our reluctance to use titles, and our desire to refer to everyone on a first-name basis, is valued in our culture. We prefer to treat everyone equally. 

"However in Asian cultures, where it is important to treat everyone according their position and status, our behaviour is perceived as disrespectful," Beasley told Manufacturers' Monthly.

She says that while classic Australian humour is laconic, self-deprecating, and full of banter and 'put-downs', to people from hierarchical cultures, this behaviour is curious, 'why do we choose to insult people in order to show we respect them?'.

But rather then understanding everything about the country, Beasley advises to people to focus mainly on what is different.

She says the key point of difference is our attitude towards hierarchy.

"Australians operating right across the Asian region, tend to have a lack of respect towards hierarchy. Our management tends to be open and relaxed while in Asian cultures it is far more closely monitored, micro managed in fact. 

"Our communication is also very collaborative, so we expect to get feedback with two way communication, whereas in most Asian cultures it tends to be more one way; top down," she said.

However, Beasley warns readers that cultural understanding is more than jsut chopsticks and manners.

"While the Japanese are horrified if someone should blow their nose in public, (they should sniff or quietly go to the bathroom), it's never a deal breaker.

"However, what people write in an email is far more important," she warned. 

"Australians should be aware that they may be offending Asians by using Aussie banter to the extent that they don't want to do business with them anymore. 

"For example, Australians often write, 'I'm wondering if you can flick me a copy of that report when you get a sec'. 

"But this might be translated to mean 'I'm wondering if you are capable of doing it', it's not a request to send it.

"Be aware, if you want people, who have English as their second language, to do something, you must make it clear that it's a request for action," Beasley said.

She warns that our way of developing relationships and establishing an equal playing field through the use of humour, first names and informal English, can create unnecessary barriers and hinder success.

"The keys to Australian businesses being successful in Asia are perseverance, patience and building relationships. For successful engagement in business in the region, companies shouldn't just focus on understanding the culture of 'the other' but take the time to reflect on what it is about Australian culture which may be challenging.

"Viewing a company's business culture 'from the outside' will assist manufacturers to be able to make positive changes and take advantage of the great opportunities on offer from the Asian region," Beasley said.