I once had a very plain-speaking Australian operations manager call me into his office.
He had overheard a conversation I had with the CEO about killing the Intranet and moving to a new, more collaborative enterprise social system. After the initial mocking about my accent, weird shoes, the number of empty coffee cups on my desk and a quick update on the performance of his racehorse, he got to the point.
“I think you should know that…you know…he’s a manager, not a leader. He won’t make that decision. The real boss is in Singapore so either go and knock on his door or just get IT to put your new system in and cross your fingers they’ll do what you say and not ask too many questions.”
He was right.
I’ve just been re-reading John P Kotter’s seminal article Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail:
“A paralyzed senior management often comes from having too many managers and not enough leaders. Management’s mandate is to minimize risk and to keep the current system operating. Change, by definition, requires creating a new system, which in turn always demands leadership. Phase one in a renewal process typically goes nowhere until enough real leaders are promoted or hired into senior-level jobs.”
If you read the full article you’ll see there are many other factors to consider (pretty sure I’ve ticked the fail box on all seven at some stage) but the manager’s response is always to protect the current system. I think it’s an important thing to think about because it might enable you to change tack and start throwing down some quick-wins like I got with the new system that went live by the end of the day. I would have wasted so much time writing reports and re-scoping and testing all sorts of other options that the CEO would never have said yes to.
Like you, I’m sure you can think of many times when you’ve tried to get people to make decisions and wondered why nothing was happening. You get responses like ‘write a report’, ‘show me some KPIs’, ‘who else is doing this- I need to see a working system’, ‘we’ll move towards it over the next 18 months’, ‘there is another project that covers this’, ‘we already looked at doing this last year’.
You might be better to return to your coffee cup island wasteland in your weird shoes and come up with a new path over the mountain.