Compared with this level of complexity, walking to your car or adjusting the temperature in your house is child's play. Your organization needs to be constantly, effectively monitoring its current state, analyzing current progress to its desired future outcome, and making adjustments. It needs to Iterate.
And Iteration requires feedback.
So what's the organizational equivalent of the thermostat? What's in place to constantly check the output of the machinery against a target and adjust the input accordingly so that broader objectives are reached? What is the feedback system of the organization?
There's actually a one-word answer to that question: management. The purpose of management—the core purpose, I would argue—is systemic feedback. If the organization's strategic plan and objectives are what create the set point for the thermostat, and if the organization itself is what creates the heating or cooling, then it's the management team that keeps checking the temperature and adjusting what everyone is doing.
Though often misunderstood, this is why management exists.
Think for a moment: is there any possible higher purpose for management? It's made up of people whose job is to oversee output. Front line management oversees individual contributors, the people doing the actual work of the organization. Moving up the hierarchy, middle management exclusively manages other managers—and hold progressively larger budgets the higher up they are. And executives are responsible for whole divisions or sections, including their people, budget, and physical assets. Taken together, management is the group of people invested with the authority to direct all of the activity and all of the assets at the organization's disposal. What could management possibly do that would be more appropriate or more useful than making sure the entire organization is always taking the next most reasonable step toward its goals?
Iteration requires feedback, and management is the system that provides it. It's the only system that can.
So what does management need to be doing so that it functions as the feedback system? In other words, how does management ensure that the organization Iterates? Clearly, this is critical information for anyone who manages other members of management, for anyone who advises them, and really for anyone with the word "'manager'" in his or her title. And while the answer isn't terribly complicated or hard to grasp, it's not particularly well understood, either.
That answer comes in the form of the Five Key Practices (and eighteen Core Components) of Iterative Management, and it starts in chapter 2. But before we dive in, we need to make sure we all know exactly what we're talking about when we use the word "management."
Reflect on how management in your organization, including you, serves (or doesn't serve) as the feedback system.
1. To what extent do you as a manager clearly define one or more targets or outcomes for the people you manage as a group, analogous to the temperature setting on a thermostat?
2. How do you as a manager continually check and adjust the resources under your control to achieve the outcome(s)?
3. To what extent does your organization have one or more clearly defined targets or outcomes at the higher level?
4. How does the management above you continually check and adjust resources to achieve the desired outcome(s)?
MISUNDERSTANDINGS ABOUT MANAGEMENT AND FEEDBACK
Management as we're discussing it here is often confused with managing and also with change management. In reality, each activity is different, and each involves its own type of feedback.
Managing is largely about enabling the people who work for you to succeed. It involves setting expectations, giving performance coaching, modeling and enforcing workplace standards, incentivizing and motivating people, delivering compensation messages, and supporting professional development. In this context, "giving feedback" means telling individual employees how they're performing, what they're good at, and what they need to improve. Managing well, and giving this kind of feedback effectively, is important for anyone with direct reports at any level. It should not be ignored.
Change management is primarily for helping large groups to acclimate to and implement major changes in things like direction, organization, or scope. It involves finding executive sponsors, planning communication timing and delivery, dealing with early and late adopters, and understanding the emotional and psychological impacts of major change. In this context, "providing feedback" means letting sponsors, executives, and other interested parties know how a change campaign is progressing. Change management, and giving this kind of feedback accurately, is important for anyone who needs to shepherd a large group of people through a substantial shift. It should not be neglected in those situations.
This book is not about managing, and it's not about change management. It's exclusively about management—a system of managers, operating in concert, constantly adjusting resources based on new information coming in to keep the business on target. Management involves defining and adjusting group output requirements, monitoring prognoses to hit future targets, coordinating complex efforts, enabling group work, and constantly asking the question, "What's the next most intelligent step from here?" Only in this context is it sensible to say that management is the feedback system of the organization. It's like the
thermostat, keeping output on track despite fluctuations in the environment.
This excerpt ends on page 9 of the hardcover edition....