If you want to achieve successful and long-lasting change, create a powerful, professional, qualified, and capable team of Team Leaders. Here are our thoughts on how to go about this:
The brilliant business theorist, Rosemary Stewart, proposed a model suggesting that successful managers are the ones who can navigate the choices that exist in the gap between the 2 demands placed upon them and the constraints that they live within. (See https://www.pocketbook.co.uk/blog/2016/10/11/ rosemary-stewart-practical-management/ for a neat summary of Dr Stewart’s thinking). Team Leaders, because they sit somewhere in the middle of the business hierarchy, can feel the squeeze of facing simultaneous demands and constraints particularly acutely.
It is almost inevitable that Team Leaders will have targets and budgets set for them as part of the operation’s strategic direction. They may have some input into the size of their team but this will often be set by central resource-planning cycles and they may find themselves supporting central strategic initiatives and change programmes. At the same time, Team Leaders will feel constraints of the skills or availability of their team.
Making it last
Many great training or culture change interventions have not stood the test of time in organisations because people leave and new people arrive. Even if the training remains in the corporate library, there is never quite the same focus and energy as there was during the first-wave roll out.
One way around this is to give Team Leaders simple tools (or Apps in the modern parlance) to help them do their job. To borrow from the world of behavioural economics, this gives people a “nudge” towards doing the right things. The idea is to make it easy for a large group of people to do things a certain way. Rather than try to achieve this by issuing policies or rules, just give people tools that help.
The great thing about simple tools is that they embed the learning from past generations for future generations to use.
– We don’t need new Team Leaders to work out how best to discuss with colleagues the loaning or borrowing of resources to cover peaks and troughs of work, we just give them a simple ready reckoner for daily capacity.
– We don’t need to insist on planning for next week to be done on a Thursday so that we have time to communicate with staff before the end of the week. Just give a tool that helps prepare for the meeting and gives the summary for the Friday Commitment Meeting.
A lot of big technology programmes – particularly in the world of Workforce Optimisation – exist for senior managers to collect data on people and to produce schedules for people. These have their place and we are not arguing that these should be abandoned, but operations also need simple tools that help at the frontline. These should be tools that work for people, not on them. They should be the sort of tools that Team Leaders and team members want themselves. They should feel like a gift, not an imposition.
With a combination of structured methods, backed up by focussed training that is supported and sustained by simple tools, Team Leaders can become a force for good. There is no getting away from Team Leaders being the meat sandwiched between operations imperatives and daily realities but this doesn’t make them part of the problem. They are part of the solution – the unsung heroes of operations and potentially the engine of change.
Neil Bentley has been helping organizations to improve their front-line operating performance for over 20 years. Originally qualified in Psychology, he went on to work at Lucas Industries in the 1980s, gaining experience in manufacturing production management, before focusing on financial services and the public sector, first with PA Consulting Group and then as a partner with specialist consultants OCP.
He launched ActiveOps with fellow OCP partner Richard Jeffery in 2005. Neil brings with him an unparalleled understanding of the mix of the human and the technical aspects of performance improvement.