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These days, every utility senior- and middle-manager has a shelf full of “management theory” books. Many also have a long list of seminars, certifications, and the occasional MBA/MPA on their resumes. Each of these publications, courses, models, constructs and theories describes an approach to managing organizations, systems and people through a different lens. And each enables us (at least we hope) to see the world with a fresh perspective; one that can benefit the whole enterprise and its parts.

However, these new models usually come to us without detailed operating instructions. This can lead to some well-meaning, but contradictory, outcomes when leaders implement them in real situations. Consider, for example, the following examples from public utilities:

Two deputy directors who were ordered by their boss to form “self-directed” teams, and given non-negotiable meeting frequencies, durations, subject matter, team composition and processes.

The senior manager who, in an effort to delegate effectively, had stopped visiting his field operations, to give the site managers more autonomy. Ironically, the site supervisors and line employees interpreted this as his lack of support and interest in the challenges they faced.

The problem-solving team that spent months developing a uniform policy, only to have it vetoed by the person who sponsored the team in the first place.

For each example, there's a mitigating back-story that explains what happened and why. But there is also a price to pay -- less credibility for management and less enthusiasm for progressive, and needed, workplace changes.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2004

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