The Blog


Managers are accountable for the outputs and behaviours of their employees. The spectacularly poor performance and early exit of Spain from the World Cup last week provides a great example of poor management and the inevitable results.

Spain had a wonderful run of success with the team that just failed in Brazil. They were European Champions in 2008 and 2012 and World Champions in 2014.  But in the World Cup, the team was literally shredded by the Netherlands (1-5) and Chile (2-0).

So what happened?  Don’t blame the players – blame the manager. Vicente Del Bosque appears to have forgotten the accountabilities of an effective manager.

What was Del Bosque’s strategy and plan?  Because he hasn’t changed his strategy or players for several years, the competition had ample time to analyze Spain’s reasons for success and work out ways to nullify them.  Del Bosque showed no ability to adapt to the evolving environment in which his team was competing.  The Netherlands and Chile exploited this weakness to huge effect last week.

Why did the manager fail to create and implement a succession plan for his players? This team has become too old and there appears to have been no plan or action to build new capability and bring on the next generation of players. Where were the 19-22 year olds full of energy and adventure who could rejuvenate the team? Spain was beaten by Brazil 3-0 two years ago but Del Bosque failed to read the writing on the wall and take action.

Why did he not act on the obvious and replace his old or ineffective players holding them to account to play effectively at the level he required in the tournament?  One reason could be “Anaklesis” – the wish to lean on old relationships, the avoidance of uncomfortable conversations about capability, and fear of offending team members who had served him so well but now lacked the capability to deliver.

To me, Del Bosque was a poor, ineffective manager and the results show it. He was great in his day but he appears to have failed to implement and execute 3 cardinal management accountabilities (highlighted above).

In comparison, look at Jurgen Klinsmann, the manager of the USA team, and the results he is achieving with a team of moderate capability.

You may not be interested in soccer but the World Cup gives you a wonderful opportunity to access managerial effectiveness and results achieved on the world stage.

Nick Forrest

Two weeks ago Toronto’s Deputy Mayor announced he needs a Deputy.  This new role, the Deputy Deputy Mayor of Toronto, will be required to stand in for the Deputy Mayor when he is on vacation or his workload becomes too heavy and he needs to delegate some of his accountabilities in order to cope (one assumes because the Deputy Mayor is currently filling in for the actual Mayor).

This sounded reasonable until I heard the title: “Deputy Deputy Mayor”.  Who would want to walk into a large reception and have this title sonorously announced?  The title shouts “bureaucracy,”  “minion”, “person of no power and of little consequence.”  Who on earth would want a job with a title like that?  It sure will look good on a CV.

I see the same issue in business. In my book, I talk about the corporate disease of creating too many levels in a business and then populating each level with new titles.  It is not uncommon for us to find companies with 2000 – 3000 employees, with 9 to 11 levels, some with titles such as:

Executive Vice President
Senior Vice President
Vice President
Assistant Vice President
Associate Vice President
Senior Director
Director
Assistant Director

Would you want to engage in work with an “Assistant Associate Vice President” (which is really what “Deputy Deputy” means)? What confidence would you have in the capabilities and authority of this role to get things done?

This segmenting of levels dilutes the meaningful tasks and authority of each level of work. The value of a role is the value it can provide to the roles above and below it.  When there are so many layers, the jobs are no longer meaty, challenging roles; they are hollow and mostly meaningless, creating an overly bureaucratic environment in which decision-making is stalled by the need to seek approval from multiple sources. There are now too many Vice Presidents of various kinds in the company, all compressed together, doing work that actually could be done by half the number. The complex titles devalue the work further as they suggest a level of competence that is never delivered, effectively taking away power and decision-making ability. Cutting the number of roles in half and scrubbing the titles of redundancies would create meaningful roles with respected titles whose incumbents, unlike our Deputy Deputy Mayor, will be respected and successful.

Nick Forrest

Last week, Jenner & Block released a report to the Board of General Motors regarding the recalls of defective ignition switches. This report, commonly known as the Valukas Report after its author Anton R. Valukas, outlines the results of the internal investigation.

To say that General Motors, for over a decade, failed to take significant action on the compromised ignition switches would be an understatement. The report, which describes inaction, indifference and neglect, is painful to read. The report’s own author states: “GM personnel’s ability to address the ignition switch problem for over 11 years is a history of failures.”

But it is the people behind the GM façade and brand that brought about this “history of failures”. From everything that I have read, it seems clear to me that senior executives at the company abdicated their accountability to manage.

In my book How Dare You Manage?, I make the point that managers are accountable for the behaviour and outputs of their employees. If it goes wrong, the manager is at fault. The employee is accountable to work effectively only on the work managers delegate to them. Managers need to be aware of what their employees are working on and how successfully they are doing it. If employees cannot work effectively on what they are delegated to do, and have been coached and talked to about performance with no increase in performance, they should be removed from their role. If the employee’s manager’s manager judges the manager to have been ineffective in managing to the required results, they should be fired and removed from their role.

For instance, when back in 2002, the choice was made to use an ignition switch that did not meet GM’s own specifications, was that a lower level engineer’s decision? Did his or her manager approve that substandard selection? If they did, why? And if they were not aware of the selection, they were not adequately supervising the work being done.

Managers appear to have completely abdicated their accountabilities to manage, monitor and ensure their employees solved the switch problem. What the heck was the definition of management at GM and why has no manager been fired?

I understand there has been substantial turnover in the executive management at GM. It is sad there is little forgiveness and apparently misguided reprisal for the “switch fiasco” meted out on employees. Another employee trust building failure by the Executives at GM.

Nick Forrest

Multinational corporations and increasing globalization have led to a managerial conundrum that would have been unthinkable twenty years ago: the manager whose direct reports work in another continent.

The manager may never actually meet these direct reports, and yet is still accountable for their outputs. How can this be accomplished so that both parties are satisfied?

First of all, it is critical that role clarity, agreed-upon accountabilities and fully vested authorities are established. Without clearly defined roles, employees will flounder. They must be able to answer the question, “What is the purpose of my role?” This is true of any employee, even the one whose office is next door to their manager’s, but it is especially vital for the manager and the direct report who live and work thousands of kilometers apart.

To a clearly defined role are assigned accountabilities. Again, the employee needs to be cognizant of what they are expected to deliver.

Lastly, and once the accountabilities are spelled out, authorities need to be granted to the employee in order for them to get the work done. There is nothing more unfair than to expect an employee to do a piece of work without making sure that they have the necessary authorities from other staff members in the organization to accomplish the task. For instance, if the employee requires service from another function, this needs to be recognized.

Provided the above three steps are undertaken (and there is no doubt this may take some time at the beginning of the manager-direct report relationship), distance then becomes irrelevant. Face-to-face meetings are not required; email, telephone and other modes of communication can suffice. The manager can rest assured that the direct report is clear on their role, their accountabilities and is confident in knowing that they have the necessary authorities to get work done.

Pity the direct report who has no idea what their role is about, what they are accountable to deliver, and does not have any authority. In a long distance relationship, all this becomes magnified to the 9nth degree.

Nick Forrest