10 Management Rules of Engagement

Last Updated Feb 15, 2011 7:41 PM EST

10 Management Rules of EngagementSome months back, I suggested that employees take responsibility for their own actions and hold themselves accountable for their own behavior. The result, 10 Workplace Rules of Engagement, was intended to improve organizational effectiveness while, at the same time, bolstering employee's careers.

Well, it's probably a bit unrealistic to expect wholesale organizational change without management buy-in. Moreover, the best way to bring about change is to build a culture that's designed to inspire good behavior at all levels in the organization.

After all, the leaders of great companies like Intel, FedEx, and Southwest Airlines didn't just blindly follow management fads dreamed up by business schools and management consulting firms. Exceptional CEOs like Andy Grove, Fred Smith, and Herb Kelleher had their own ideas about corporate culture and built their organizations based on those ideals.

In the spirit of those entrepreneurs and the groundbreaking cultures they created, I propose these 10 Management Rules of Engagement to bring about top-to-bottom organizational change and improve the overall effectiveness and performance of any organization, big or small.

  1. Foster a culture where everybody walks the talk and nobody walks on water. Corporate culture fails when executives don't lead by example or there's a class distinction between management and workers. That means treating each other the same, regardless of rank. At Intel, for example, everybody works in cubicles, even the CEO.
  2. Nip dysfunctional behavior in the bud. If you're going to successfully drive a culture throughout the organization, you've got to have a method for dealing with outliers. I think the best way is to foster an environment where everybody is encouraged to call anyone on the carpet for misbehaving. Peer pressure is a powerful motivator.
  3. Incentivize the right kind of behavior. This is so simple it's scary. Folks will typically do what you ask them to do, especially if it makes sense and you put your money where your mouth is. Most executive or management compensation plans are not well thought out and end up reinforcing bad behavior.
  4. Promote organizational alignment, not rivalry. I hear it all the time: "there's a natural tension between sales and marketing," or "come on, everybody hates HR," like it's an inevitable feud between warring families. That's BS. There's nothing natural or inevitable about it. It's dysfunctional organizational behavior and it fosters rivalry instead of alignment.
  5. Foster healthy conflict and debate. There are various methods for effective workplace conflict like attack the problem, not the person; constructive confrontation; and disagree and commit. In addition, senior management must ensure that issues are ultimately resolved, consensus is reached, and plans are recorded, even if it means occasionally having to "break a tie" between peers.
  6. Avoid matrix management pitfalls. If you've got a big, complex organization with multiple businesses and regions and you're employing matrix management, then you've got to comprehend and deal with the myriad of pitfalls. That means goals and reporting structures have to be properly aligned to ensure there are no built-in conflicts.
  7. Drive accountability and decision-making at the right level. What level is that? The lowest level that makes sense, i.e. all the information is available and the individuals are capable of that type of responsibility.
  8. Encourage effective communication, not over-communication. Sure, communication is important to organizational effectiveness, but there's simply way too much of it, these days. Communication overload and hyper-collaboration where everybody's included in everything are overburdening organizations and hindering productivity. Don't overdue it.
  9. Identify and incentivize up-and-comers at any level, in any region. Too many companies rely on standard HR and OD processes to rate, rank, and promote individuals on an annual basis. That's not good enough. There should be specific processes for seeking out, challenging, rewarding, and promoting potential leaders of the future.
  10. Diversity doesn't mean reverse discrimination. Workplace discrimination by race, gender, or age is illegal. As long as that condition is met, promotions and raises should be granted solely on merit. Nobody should get special treatment at any level, IMO. Otherwise, you incentivize the wrong kind of behavior, breed mediocrity, and create resentment.
I am aware that one or two of these rules are a bit controversial, but I've never been one to sugarcoat my opinion on important matters. Likewise, I expect nothing less from you. Here's your chance to tell your management how you think they should operate and weigh in on a weighty issue.

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