Surviving crisis’ then going on to emerge and thrive is as much about leadership style as any slavish pursuit of procedures or methods. A leader’s style should be ethical, adaptable and agile in its pursuit of positive outcomes.  However, flamboyance and approachability on their own won’t win the moment. The toughest task is to take a leader’s intuitive ideas and make them practical processes and methods that others can work with, especially so when leaders don’t tend to be good at the detail or completing and finishing a stream of necessary actions. Style must link directly with process and method, yet in the immediacy of the moment, we tend to focus on methodology over the fundamental impact that leadership style has on the people involved.  We ignore the emotional aspects of working with people simply to JFDI the job done, and as we experience recently the new acceptability to be emotional and express our inner feelings in the workplace is still unsettling to leaders. Fundamentally if the leader’s style does not interact well with the expectations of the team, no amount of flamboyance and approachability will prevail, and the resulting processes and methods won’t be fit for purpose and even counterproductive to the business function. Agile we know from the digital world has strengths and weaknesses, yet it necessarily dynamic, inquisitive, innovative, though occasionally problematic to work with; it empowers determination and ingenuity. Pragmatically, we need to move on our practice to use Agile in management culture terms to facilitate working pragmatically through difficult times. This paper promotes the importance of using leadership culture strategically for emerging from difficult situations and challenges.

Billions of taxpayer pounds are now massaging the broken bones of many businesses and individuals! Yet the assumption seems to be this will take us back to business as usual. Let’s get back to where we were as soon as we can, even if we are still draining the swamps of the latest breed of alligators.

Our economic strength though seemingly too good to fail, cannot pay for everything for ever. Businesses must become more self-resilient and so how can we learn from the computer industries agile thinking?

A one-size fits all management style

Since the mid 1990’s numerous business improvement initiatives had focused on building common process and improved consistency of method and skill.  Inevitably, this approach has constrained, and eventually excluded highly capable individuals whose character didn’t fit and as technical the emotional aspects of the team were ignored. So, while organisations drove to value rigour above delivery, we ended up with a case of the medicine ultimately crippling the patient!

Organisation culture or management style is rarely considered as a true part of any Business strategy.  This means we are now reaping the consequences of operational rigidity, frustrated staff, and the disconnected management attitudes that have emerged over the last decade.

Today’s challenge is how to strategically exploit the dominant cultures of the organisations, yet realise benefit from the short-term use of management style and culture – as is our focus in this paper. It’s the tactics around business delivery where we can have the greatest impact soonest, while those macro changes work through into practice.  Simply, we have to accept this imperfect state and work within its constraints to extract the optimum outcomes.

Management style is not just about how individual managers behave, it includes all the HR procedures, governance, the quality of inter-personal relationships purchasing relationships and more; all factors that directly impact on how managers act and are constrained. 

What do we mean by management style?

Management style is also termed organisation culture, Organisation culture is the pattern of beliefs, values, rituals, myths and sentiments shared by the members of an organisation.  It influences the behavior of all individuals and groups in that organisation”

Organisation culture effects all aspects of any given organisation and its people; how colleagues and managers interact; the tolerance levels found within localised management styles (sub cultures); how decisions are taken; the organisation’s reputation, how people are incentivised and rewarded; designs of ICT used; and how the organisation responds to its external business environment and stakeholders.  Smaller business cultures tend to be based on individuals being dynamic and achievement focussed. Corporate’ tend to be procedural, openly conflict averse and consensus seeking around an oligarchy.

Seminal research by Professor Charles Handy, with further development work by Dr Roger Harrison and Herb Stokes both then at Yale in the early 1970s, showed that all organisational management styles or cultures can be reduced to the following four measurable dimensions:

Transactional – where an authoritarian command and control management style focuses on a single leader or oligarchy, which has the gift of reward.  Decision-making and resource allocation is usually centralised and typically deferred upwards.

Alignment – where colleagues within an organisation unite intellectually through a shared vision, or shared business processes, of what that organisation aims to achieve.

Self-Expression – where individuals achieve through drive, ingenuity, performance, boldness and entrepreneurship.

Mutuality – Where colleagues share strong bonds with each other, keeping them involved, inclusive, protective, and caring of each other and their families and friends.

These dimensions, or domains, are tangible and core to how every organisation of more than half a dozen individuals functions. 

For the most part management style is hidden in the noise of daily working life, and rarely considered for the practical benefits it can bring. There is no reason for the skills in doing this to be the preserve of senior executives in the private sector; we are all capable of successfully using this knowledge for our benefit.

What are the consequences of a miss matched management style and a business?

Historically executives tend to create their own layered motivation, seemingly out with an organisation’s systems. This motivation is superimposed on top of their expected compliance to an ideal behaviour based on process and role. 

This mixing of management styles creates conflict and distraction. This confusion is often entrenched to the point of invisibility, yet it has considerable impact on business delivery and ultimate success.  The amalgam represents neither one style nor another. Transfer this disconnect to a business environment and we introduce further management style expectations that conflict with an already conflicted situation.

Similarly, the design of a computer system or business process is both a response to, and a reinforcement of, a given management style. This is made manifest through the many individual deign and procurement choices made for a business from its inception. For example, if we have a strongly command and control culture accepted or expected by colleagues (T in cultural terms), then they will work best with rule based and workflow designs of computer systems guiding them. In contrast if we have a strongly achievement culture accepted by staff, (SE in cultural terms), then that rule or workflow-based computer system could create conflict and frustration.  This is a major factor in the successful adoption of new systems, and processes, yet it’s virtually ignored when requirements are defined.

We need to promote a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of management style, and how that blends with business team characters in an organisation.

The connection between management style and business team members

Collectively, we tend to look at a business as an entity, focussing on its mechanics and the processes of bringing it to fruition. When recruiting team members typically we consider external candidates in terms of the finer points of their skills and experience, plus a ‘can we work with them personally’ assessment.

In contrast internal candidates come frequently as a given with little management choice in this respect.  This has led to a self-fulfilling prophecy where team members and contractors tended to be recruited in a similar mould and character, one that fits the prevailing management style.  The many individuals who are driven by a genuine desire to achieve excellence may not prevail over the departmental management style.

Should management style dictate the business method?

Yes, is the plain answer!   The Agile philosophy and approach empowers individuals to succeed through collaboration and honest feedback, with the courage to experiment and innovate; plus the boldness and confidence to make a swift turnaround if things don’t work out. However, it’s directly at odds with the present dominant management style for businesss in the public sector.

To introduce Agile ‘cold’ into a strongly procedural management style will fail or be very uncomfortable for management and team members alike.  It would be counter-cultural and empirical evidence suggests that this would be the case for the public sector.

We need business leaders who can work with confidence outside of any prevailing management style.  Simply, such a leader must be able to pick the most appropriate business method/lifecycle to work with for a given situation and team.  Such a leader must be empowered to modify the prevailing balance between individual and method. 

Such a leader should be able to plan backwards from a desired business outcome, to choose its method/lifecycle, and then recruit the relevant team, before enabling that team through a management style that will deliver on time and on budget.

Character is the key to success, not some illusory difference in technical skill

The assessment of someone’s workplace character can be straightforward, yet understanding that dimension can dramatically improve our ability to successfully communicate and work with colleagues. 

There are many formal methods to gauge a person’s character or temperament for business with Belbin’s team roles probably the best known of these.  In Alpine’s work we have adopted an informal business method named Empathy StylesTM.  Empathy Styles derives from long-standing and validated research on management effectiveness and recruitment performance.  The model has seven character descriptions that we all exhibit in different strengths – typically with two to four stronger traits, the others being lesser so.

Each trait has a descriptive name, a drive, and a set of likely behaviours or attitudes.  The possible combinations of these traits demonstrated allow for a more realistic view of likely behaviours from an individual in context.

The seven traits are:

The Artist has a drive to create, together with the desire to be different, and can find communicating with others difficult.

The Double-Checker has a desire for security and a concern for the welfare of themselves and others.

The Engineer has a drive to complete projects, characterised by detail, process, and method.

The Hustler has a drive for material success, being quick, opportunistic, and entrepreneurial.

The Mover has a drive to communicate, characterised by a positive and upbeat energy and a desire to work with others.

The Normal has a drive for social approval and order and brings a sense of formality, maturity, anchoring of others, and logicality. 

The Politician has drive to win, including the need for status, strength, and decisiveness.

For some individuals, two or three of these traits will be dominant, shaping their behaviour and choice of career.  Other individuals will have a more balanced set of all character traits, bringing a different mix of strengths valuable to successful business work.

It is possible to gauge some of a person’s basic traits by observing their behaviour, dress, and use of speech.  There is neither a right nor wrong implied here.  Similarly, intelligence is not relevant in this context other than for a person’s chosen profession.

Through character assessment, we build a view of whom and how we are as individuals at work.  In addition we can, gain an appreciation of other people’s expectations from their style of workplace, and the way they go about their work.  Each trait highlights individuals’ strengths and weaknesses, which we can then use to engage them within a given management style and business role and objectives.

It would seem intuitive that a strong ‘Engineer’ trait should be the perfect person to deliver business.  In reality, they could work well in isolation, which may be their preference, though without elements of Double-Checker and Mover, for example, they would probably fail in larger business.  In Agile, we see a better fit with the Artist for business, yet they often find it difficult to work with others and in progressing their ideas and designs to a timely conclusion. 

So for Agile we need to look for Artists (for creativity) with Engineer capabilities (to complete the task); plus some Mover characteristics to make the person happy to communicate with others; plus a Normal in the background to set high standards for their work.

This is a simplistic example yet the principle is straightforward and reliable.  To find out more about character through your own traits, there is a ten-minute on-line confidential quiz found at www.empathystyles.com/findoutyourstyles.php

We keep no personal details from the quiz, located in the UK for Data Protection purposes. 

How do we improve performance by thinking management style and character?

When planning a Waterfall business’s lifecycle, the most effective characters will be in Empathy terms stronger ‘DC’, ‘N’ and ‘E’ characters with background ‘P’.  ‘A’ characters in this type of business could become stubborn which may be an advantage, or a hindrance.

In planning a SCRUM/Agile business lifecycle, the challenge is tapping into quite different team behaviours.  Success will stem from a mixture of outward looking and listening to the user  – as ‘M’ and ‘Hustler’, maybe ‘Double Checker’, (although not to be the strongest trait), and an ability to get the activities done –  probably ‘Engineer’ with some ‘Artist’ and ‘Politician’. 

‘’Mover/Engineer’ would be ideal for Agile, as they’re capable of doing the work and happy to communicate with users.

Not having the perfect ‘dream team’ of skill and character is not necessarily a show-stopper. However, the more one set of character traits dominate a business team, the more that team will seek to behave in the way they feel most comfortable with – which may not be the best for a business.

This may seem an obvious statement to make, but we cannot emphasise enough that management style can emerge organically where we fail to anticipate and make provision for its importance.  If we construct a management style for a business and impose it on colleagues who don’t aspire to it, they will react to it adversely. This conflict could prove disruptive and contribute to failure.

Our objective is to create microcosms of management style within a business‘s lifecycle to deliver specific work streams or deliverables.  All would co-exist and work together, harmoniously, within a top-level management style.

Pointers to improving business delivery through culture and character.

Understand your own character more formally. (Take our online confidential quiz).

Be aware of the dominant culture, or management style that exists in your own organisation.  How might you find any sub-cultures that may be hidden to senior managers?

When initiating a business, consider its lifecycle and what overall management style or styles ‘on balance’ are most likely to best guide its journey to a successful conclusion. 

Recruit team members and supplier staff whose characters best fit with the delivery method required.  Don’t rely solely on technical skill and past similar business to guide your choices.

Make changes to internal reporting and administrative structures, so that management cultures (of either type) accommodate the reasonable expectations of others. Apply interim governance models if they would help to deliver business objectives.

Tiger Teaming can be useful where changes to administrative and reporting structures are not practical, or other transformation issues could hinder success. Here responsibility for operation and business are together ‘licensed’ to a team leader for the duration of that business or activity. Then ‘handed back’ when signed off and complete. This can be very useful where a business includes moving to a fresh or regenerated management structure.

If this paper does nothing other than raise awareness of how colleagues’ characters differ, and what that means for business delivery, then it has value.

Character and culture is a way of starting conversations, and when we get people talking about themselves and their preferences, we can place them into suitable teams – and benefit more from their abilities.  We propose a simple recipe for success: recruit the right mix of characters, in the right business roles, under the right business method and in the right management culture.


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