Historically the management structure of a business was pretty simple from the governance instructions of executives flowing through to line management and delivering the executive instructions to the workforce. It was the job of middle managers and line managers to ensure the expectations of executive management were met, and confirmed to executive management by regular reporting to provide evidence their expectations were being implemented and achieved.
The opinions and suggestions of the workforce were often not valued as worthy suggestions and generally classed as uneducated assumptions based on the moment rather than the ‘bigger picture’ of the business.
The executive team would strategize and map the direction of the business, yet they were often disconnected from the operational challenges of the business whilst the workforce regularly complained about ‘unrealistic operational expectations’, as the workforce believed that management didn’t understand the issues being experienced within the operation.
The divide of management expectation vs workforce functionality was common place in many businesses, yet change gradually crept in during recent decades with business executives beginning to exercise their emotional intelligence combined with using a selection of tools such as quality systems, employee suggestions, self-managed teams, agile management, and others to close the divide between governance and operations.
Further tools were introduced to elevate skillful employees differently from their peers with bandwidth pay structures, merit payments, job titles, and similar, yet with all of these tools being used, the long established divide of governance vs operations still exists, begging the question of why?
With such a selection of employee management tools available, there continue to be many business entities that operate on the dictatorial management style sometimes driven by the business ownership wanting to maintain a very specific type of operation, or maybe the operational management structure wanting to maintain a presence of authority through tight control of any operational variations.
A question that sits in the minds of a portion of business owners and executives is:
What is element needs to change so significantly to remove the divide between governance and operations?
Alternatively: Could it be the divide or a version of the traditional divide holds some merit in a business?
Or: Maybe the divide is a human trait, some level of self-security that we need to have to allow the business to function well?
It’s well documented that 80% of us are categorized as followers and the other 20% are categorized as leaders. Followers may use a variable amount of free thinking and many have a desire to map their own pathway to the destination they need to reach, yet the follower still seeks to know what the limitations of their pathway might be, whether the limitations are functional within the confines of the operation, or in the design of the business compliance, values and ethics elements.
A leaders’ role is to show the way, to direct and guide the followers to their destination using the leadership style that is most suited to them, yet even a leader will have limitations they are guided by, need to adhere to and be able to deliver transparency of the limitations to their followers to protect the followers from adversity.
A parent will lead their young on the pathway of secure learning, teaching their young about life’s obligations, values, ethics and the ability to manage through the adversities as they arise. The young may resist such learnings and battle with the limitations the parents have laid before their young. The young may even rebel and cross their parents restrictions with some regularity, finding in some cases that the adversity they were being protected from was unfortunately very real.
As the young grow and mature they learn to trust the boundaries their parents have implanted in their environment, and gain a level of security with such boundaries, even if they regularly express their dissatisfaction with some vigor.
It seems that a workplace is not so different from the family environment when considering limitations or boundaries, in providing a level of security to the employment structure of a business. Management and employees will push the limitations of their expectations and abilities, seeking a better way to achieve the outcomes they are charged with providing, with the comfort of knowing how far their search for a better way can go before reaching the limitations of the business boundaries.
A selection of business have removed most of their boundaries in the hope that employees will honour the freedom of choice and reward the business with improved outcomes. Boundaries that used to confine employees through time and movement have been removed such as unlimited sick leave and annual leave, no measure of hours worked, work from anywhere for as long as desired (home, office, beach, off-shore), employees can make their own business decisions, employee authorized capital expenditure, and many more elements of the business.
This may work well for some business entities, yet it doesn’t appear to fit all business as a standard operational model. Some employees in the less constrained business entities leave their employment as they feel uncomfortable with reduced boundaries and want to know what their limitations are, they want to feel secure in knowing the functions of the role and that they don’t have to make decisions or create better ways, as they simply want to do their job.
It appears that boundaries have a place in business and tend to provide a level of security throughout various levels of society. The bandwidth of whatever boundaries may be imposed may be a more appropriate element to consider, rather than the complete removal of boundaries, as it appears that having boundaries is one of the foundation tools that we seek to rely on.