Published August 2005

For managers, planning, organizing and controlling depend on leadership

University courses in management usually begin with an outline of what managing involves and why it is necessary.

More often than not, the abbreviation “POLC” will turn up — meaning Planning, Organiz-ing, Leading, and Controlling — to identify the tasks that make up management’s work.

The textbooks generally deal with the POLC tasks as separate things. And in the real world, one of the toughest things for managers to get a handle on is how those four management tasks relate to one another.

We can see a good example of the interaction between leading and organizing, though, when we look at how managers organize work.

Management schools are really good at teaching organizational skills. And business managers have become very familiar with the tools of the trade — the flow charts, “org charts,” and project management techniques.

But there is a big difference between an organization chart and reality.

Simply listing the things in a business that have to be done, and typing “customer service,” “shipping and receiving,” or “accounts receiv-able” into a box isn’t organizing the work, it is just inventorying the work.

When we attempt to organize work that way, concentrating solely on the “O” in POLC, we leave out an important element: leadership.

To give jobs an effective structure we have to bridge the gap between those wonderful management tools in the textbook and the real world that people work in.

And the first step is to recognize one of the critical differences between the education and training world and the real workplace.

A key characteristic of schools and training programs is that they have a beginning and an end. Participants work toward achieving a specific goal — completion — and then, after being evaluated, move on.

By contrast, most jobs in the workplace never really end. The workday ends, but the work doesn’t. And the answer to “Are we there yet?” is always the same: “No.”

Good managers keep this in mind when they are organizing the work within a business, and they apply some leadership so that the people actually doing the work can get a sense of achievement.

There are several ways to do this. The first, not surprisingly, is to take an interest in how the person is doing the job. A good start is to ask questions about how priorities are set, how goals are determined, and what kinds of problems come up.

Don’t be surprised if at first the answers are strikingly similar to the ones you got when you asked your teenager, “How was your day at school?” It takes a while to develop real communications between people; the workplace is no exception.

The second is to take the information you are getting and use it to lead the worker into setting some goals. Start with just onea clear, straightforward, and achievable objective.

This will achieve two purposes. After the goal is reached, the worker will get a justifiable sense of accomplishment. And his or her success will change the character of the communications between you.

Your questions will no longer seem like an inquiry into “what’s going wrong,” but of a “we can do this even better” conversation.

Goal-setting will quickly be taken over by the worker. And these goals, in turn, can act as the kind of “beginning and end” that transforms our work from drudgery into rewarding achievement.

The third is to limit your praise to the achievements you know about specifically.

One of the recurrent themes in the “Dilbert” comic strip is the manager who is prompted — sometimes by a book, sometimes by an evil consultant — to suddenly and randomly distribute praise to his workers.

There is something both funny and fundamentally insulting about receiving praise from someone who hasn’t a clue as to what you do all day, let alone whether you are doing it well enough to deserve praise.

And, in the real world, there are few things that will erode respect and breed cynicism faster than a “Dilbert”-like manager breezing through the workplace tossing “attaboys” around indiscriminately to the deserving, the undeserving, and even the copier repair guy who happens to be standing there.

The fourth is to repeat the specific praise in any team meetings you might have. This will not only raise the individual’s reputation but also reduce the time it takes to establish individual communications with other workers, because they will see you as someone interested in what they are actually doing all day.

The purpose of organizing work is to align the resources and set the right priorities so that the work can be done efficiently.

Injecting leadership into this process insures that the work actually gets done by the people you have available to do it.

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