Management Design: The “designs” we have now: Make the loudest person the manager
The Manager by Design blog advocates for a new field called Management Design. The idea is that the creation of great and effective Managers in organizations should not occur by accident, but by design. Currently, the creation of great managers falls under diverse, mostly organic methods, which create mixed results at best. This is the latest of a series that explores the existing designs that create managers in organizations. Today’s design: Make the loudest person the manager.
“Loud” in this context can mean many different things:
–The person with the most booming voice
–The person who is quick to raise his or her voice
–The person who speaks up the most
–The person who makes the most dramatic flourishes
–The person who enjoys public speaking the most
–The person who shouts others down
The main benefit of this “design” is that you get ready-built confidence and appearance of authority. It also is intuitive that the person who is loudest seems to have the most “natural leadership ability” and can “command the room” the best. This is great design if this is what your conception of what a manager is – someone who stands before others, commanding and billowing orders. It’s a common notion that has rung true through the years. The opposite of this seems very hazardous: A “technocrat” who is “meek” and doesn’t know how to lead. Thus it is a popular design: Promote the loudest and the others will follow.
But there are some problems with this design. Since this blog explores how to improve management design, let’s list a few issues one faces when promoting the loudest.
1. Being loud becomes replacement for managing
In this design, the person is promoted precisely for being loud. This is the strength of the new manager, so the manager will use it. By promoting the loudest, you have just instituted the “yelling manager” into your managerial group. As described previously, the yelling manager is one who tends to manage from a deficit.
2. Other managerial functions not related to being loud are de-emphasized
There are many management tasks not related to being loud. Assessing employee performance and providing feedback, for example, is best done if you aren’t loud. In fact, it should be done in a sympathetic, comforting voice and using precise, behavior-based language. If your design is to put loud people in managerial role, you are in for many difficult situations where a manager, trying to create desired employee performance, comes off as yelling and inconsiderate, and the noise of the loudness drowns out the signal of the feedback.
Another area where not being loud is preferable is in setting strategy. Think of a chess player identifying planning several moves in advance. This needs to done with great analysis and concentration. No yelling, booming voice necessary here. Same goes in a business setting.
More likely, if the culture of management is to emphasize loudness, these more subtle managerial tasks are likely to be overlooked or performed less elegantly. It is a design flaw that would need to be corrected.
3. The self-perpetuation problem – both employees and managers will get louder and louder
If you promote people to management whose strength is loudness, this is the strength they’ll look for in making future promotions. It may become a required trait in hiring managers’ minds. The management class will keep getting louder and louder. In turn, the direct reports will identify this as being an important trait, and will emphasize their loudness over time. Unchecked, this will create a work environment where the employees and managers all “out-loud” each other, and it becomes a default company culture.
4. Loudness emphasizes individual strength over teamwork
Being loud draws attention to the person who is loud. This creates a greater focus on individual expression and achievement over teamwork and group results. If you want your organization to be effective, you need to push away from individual results and more toward team results. This design inches you generally in the opposite direction.
5. Volume becomes a proxy for Confidence, Leadership and Decisiveness
Leadership and Confidence are huge concepts that are hard to identify, define and hire for. You want these qualities in your management group. It is easy to be swayed that the person who is loudest is also the one with the most confidence, leadership ability and is most decisive. It is much easier to assess someone’s volume and willingness to shout and be present in front of other people than to assess the complex qualities of confidence, leadership and decisiveness.
The person who is loudest has the ability to drown out more nuanced conceptions of confidence, leadership and decisiveness. Those with indeed the best confidence, leadership ability and decisiveness will then have to escalate their “loudness” skills. This puts the focus on something (volume) that is not necessarily connected to confidence, leadership and decisiveness, and creates more noise that will detract from these important qualities. You may be designing out these excellent traits.
Of course, if the role is in a context that requires being loud so that people can physically hear you, then by all means consider this in making management hiring decisions. Although, it’s hard to imagine that these contexts don’t also require that the individual contributor speak loud enough to be heard as well, so it isn’t exclusive to the management role.
So while it is easy to be swayed by the person who seems the loudest, reliance on this “design” has significant downsides, and good management design should check to make sure the correct traits are instilled in the management group.
Are you in an organization that tends to promote the loudest? Does this translate to good management?