The Progress Principle

Teresa Amabile

Creativity, Productivity, and the Psychology of Everyday Work Life

Diary #2: Managers as Obstacles September 04, 2011

In our first featured diary, we looked at a boss who supported his team by championing its project. This kept the work on track, so that team members could continue to make progress – benefitting the organization and themselves. But, unfortunately, leader behavior like this was rare in the 12,000 diaries we collected. All too often, we saw management that actually got in the way. Here are diaries from one week in the life of Alvin, a forty-seven-year-old senior product engineer. In the first, Alvin has just received a new rush job from R&D, but is not provided with the information he needs to succeed.

The V.P. of R&D gave me a crisis new product idea that our customer wants now. The Marketing Manager does not echo his view. No information defining the product, potential sales, pricing issues, etc. are being discussed -- To satisfy the V.P. I'll have to invent a marketing plan to help define the product in order to proceed with design and engineering that will answer our customer and end user needs.

This type of intervention by the V.P. is a regular activity. It upsets the team, and makes it difficult for individuals to get all of the information to do a good job. Our company is good at going around the systems to get what they want but it sure screws up planning and keeps the troops stirred up! [Alvin, 5/10]

And this was not a one-time event – At the end of the next day’s diary, Alvin notes another instance in which the V.P. of R&D has contributed to a difficult situation. This time, Marketing presented obstacles, as well.

Met with immediate boss, Paul, to bring him up to date on development of the toilet brush and holder. So far, every solution I've developed for this project does not meet with the cost constraints of our customer. I'm becoming very frustrated with not finding the acceptable answer. Around here, not finding a solution is perceived as not being competent! The Marketing folks have not given any input to the project because the idea came from the R+D Vice President, not Marketing. !! [Alvin, 5/11]

Clearly, Alvin is frustrated. He is not finding a workable solution, and he is getting beat up for it, in spite of the fact that he is not getting support from the marketing department. And this was one of two projects he was working on, that week, where marketing managers were on board at the start, but then failed to make key decisions.

Decisions were reached by Marketing […] to proceed with cost improvement ideas on our Hypoallergenic Dusting Products. Finally, after 3 weeks of waiting for a meeting, we can proceed and get some common sense cost savings initiated.

Most of the frustration that I feel, as well as a lot of the other Engineers and designers, is because we have to bust our humps to come up with miracle solutions in record time and, when we do it, decisions are not made by our core team members to move the project along. The cost improvement discussed above is an example of this.... Upper management continually drives us to come up with real improvement opportunities, but it takes forever, in this case 3 weeks, just to sit with Marketing to get their blessing. Oh, well, that's what a team does that has Core team members reporting to different lines of management, V.P. of Marketing, V.P. of Finance, V.P. of R&D, and V.P. of Supply Chain !? Too many conflicting goals! [Alvin, 5/13]

It is bad enough when management fails to support progress. But for Alvin and his colleagues, the actions of management were actually hindering their ability to move forward. Too many workers experience this sort of thing. Have you, and if so, what did you do about it?

Comments

On September 05, 2011 Glyn Davies said...

Excellent stuff, the basics of communication and commitment need repeating and reinforcing (unfortunately).

BTW: First paragraph and case is repeated. smile


Thanks.

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