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July 2016

Organisational Change Blocker #2: Busy-Busy Management

I looked last time at the first major change stopper within an organisation - dependency culture - and how this related to Motivational Maps and how Maps can help unravel this problem. The second major change blocker is similar: it’s the Busy-Busy Management style that is so prevalent within organisations, including the organisation of the home, the family. Indeed, Petronius Arbiter commented some two thousand years ago on this phenomenon, or rather one of its classic effects: “We trained hard … But it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up in teams we would be reorganised. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganising, and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation”. If the dependency culture creates self-importance through being needed, the busy-busy management style generates self-importance by the process of forever being in charge, forever changing things, and forever never asking why! The Busy-Busy style is symptomatic of authoritarian types, especially those of a basically insecure type who need to prove themselves and be seen to be doing something. That is why the perennially busy leader or manager is so receptive to new fads and the latest ideas, as their adoption may just show them in a positive and progressive light; unfortunately, because no ‘why’ ever informs their thinking, the fads, even if they are good ones, are never followed through properly, but soon replaced by another one, and so a process goes on in which nothing ever seems accomplished, although every one is always being required to work flat out. As Petronius observed, this creates profound ‘demoralisation’ and, as I would say, demotivation.

From a motivational perspective, and given that this is what Norman Dixon would call a psychopathology, the dominant perversion of motivators is likely to be in the Achievement cluster of motivators (as dependency culture tended to the Relationship cluster), and especially the Director and Builder motivators. To be clear here: all motivators are equal, and we need them all. We need people who want to manage (Director motivator) and who want to make money (Builder motivator), but the psychopathology starts when managing becomes an end in itself, as opposed to being a means to a higher purpose or mission, or when the ‘bottomline’ and their quest to improve it also becomes the be all and end all of existence, and the rationale for every ill-advised and ill-considered irrationality.

In working in this situation, then, what are the best counterweights to check this tendency? First, from the perspective of the busy-busy manager gripped by this managerial obsession, self-awareness has to be the starting point. The two most likely sources of this self-awareness will have to be external, since clearly the busy-busy manager never has time to reflect or self-reflect on what they are doing. Thus, quality feedback from above or from peers is essential, and if this is not possible, then one has to consider reviewing mission: the why are we doing what we do? If this sounds motivationally familiar, then it should: both feedback and mission are aspects of the Searcher motivator. Ultimately, both the feedback and the mission come under the purview of the customer, or client: what do they think? We need to get the busy-busy person to accept that we need quality feedback from the customer, and that that feedback needs to shape our future actions. Of course, where the psychopathology is too strong, the busy-busy manager never will accept the actual feedback, but there is a strong likelihood that they will accept the process. Why? Because it is a new distracting fad, just like the others (indeed, they may well accept 360 degree appraisals for the same reason), but the challenge is - in these cases - to get the findings to stick in terms of action plans.

Secondly, there are at least three key skills that the busy-busy manager needs to be introduced to. I mention the motivators these are most associated with because as we know no-one has one motivator, but a range, and it may be possible to ‘sell’ the busy-busy manager a skill or concept on the back end of its position in his or her profile. So, one skill is delegation; the more effective delegation is diffused through an organisation, the more the downside of busy-busyness is blunted. And the beauty of this idea is of course that the busy-busy manager may well have Director motivator in their top three, so appealing to their upskilling of their management capability is intrinsically attractive to them.

Also, listening is a core skill, some might say the number skill of an effective leader. To accept this they will be far from comfortable, because this is typically a skill associated with the Friend motivator (and Searcher too), the need to belong. This is unlikely - but not impossibly - to be in the top three, and there is often a big incompatibility between the Director and Friend motivator. It does seem unlikely that the busy-busy manager will accept this, but if they do make sure that this is really a full-on and extensive listening skills course, not just a one-day introduction. Ideally, it would have follow-up components weeks or months after the main training. The reason I say this is because it is obvious so many people go on listening skills, and then practice a technique of listening but actually are not listening! This will be especially true of the busy-busy type. In fact, combining listening with meditation techniques - so driving more deeply into their personal development - is really necessary here.

Finally, the third skill is planning, planning as a detailed activity, which is very much related to the Defender motivator. Planning in this sense is the antidote to the latest fads acquisition that the busy-busy leader is drawn to: a long term plan that the organisation is committed to and is not going to deviate much from (unless there is a significant market shift) is stabilising, and creates a ‘cage’ that contains the busy-busy managers’ range of interference. Naturally, it won’t block it completely, as there will doubtless be operational things that can be stop-started-re-aranged and so on. But some big planning markers laid down and adhered to make things more awkward to shift. Keep in mind, the busy-busy type wants to be perceived to be effective, and so any evidence that seems to contradict that reality for them must be avoided at all costs. As a sidebar to that point, of course, it is why the busy-busy manager often moves on within 3 years, as the ineffectiveness of what they are doing finally begins to unravel. In planning here, we can also draw upon their tendency to the Achievement motivator, the Builder, who likes goals. But the goals must be subsumed under a bigger structure of mission, vision and values.