Tag: Management

When some of  your employees start referring to themselves as robots something is badly wrong. If the content of the New York Times article, “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace”, is even partly accurate Jeff Bezos and his management team have their work cut out to re-correct for the long term. Given Amazon’s drive to introduce more robots in to its workplaces and its 2012 acquisition of Kiva Systems – a startup that used robots to pick products at distribution centres – you have to wonder whether it is all part of Bezos’ grand plan. Bezos needs to quickly clarify and rebrand his companies human resource policies to ensure his staff that they will not just become cogs in his mechanized automated retail delivery processes as he ruthlessly drives for greater productivity.

I recently spoke with former Canadian Tire Acceptance CEO, Jos Wintermans about the mistake many CEOs make when looking to improve productivity

How an organization behaves is the sum of the structure, processes, policies and management practices employees find themselves in.  This starts with senior management. Amazon’s current culture is a fundamental failure of management.

In successful companies, employees are held accountable to behave in a constructive and contributive way within the communities they serve.  Employees who join these companies grow in confidence and self worth living a life that will benefit the communities they live in.  At Amazon this appears to have broken down.  Sure, there are many employees who will love this environment but overall the fanatical pursuit of productivity is coming at a cost that could derail the company in the long term.  Working there sounds dystopian.  The description in the article does not make it a friendly, kind or supportive place to work – unless you are a robot.  Bezos and his senior management team have created a detention camp with rules that pitch employees against each other and processes that enable them to undermine and deep six each other!  Does he truly understand the systemic impact of all his policies, and the behaviour it elicits from his employees in the workplace. I think not

The company’s “Anytime Feedback Tool”, for example, encourages employees to give positive feedback to peers but also enables what, according to the New York Times, “workers called a river of intrigue and scheming – making quiet pacts to bury the same person at once or praise another lavishly”. Its initial intent may have been positive – but it was also naïve, and sets up a system that erodes and undermines trust.  It is company-sponsored victimization.  Reading the New York Times article also suggests that meetings have become “gladatorial” – the sword of axe now being replaced by data wielded in an aggressive and relentless way to push your idea through to victory.

Alan Huggins, former CEO of Lowes Canada, and Vice President of International Operations at Lowes in the US explains that the CEO plays an important role in the creation of company culture

Effective management provides failsafes to ensure that this kind of behaviour doesn’t happen. The management systems, processes and practices at Amazon appear to create an environment for it to flourish.

While Amazon has been hugely successful on paper my worry would be it has built a culture, and a way of doing business, that is dangerously short-sighted when it comes to its employees.  With this implacable pursuit of productivity – who working at Amazon can feel they have any long term security? Most managers lack the skill to implement this strategy effectively and will continually find themselves in a Catch 22: letting employees go they think are rather good, and unable explain the reasons for their firing other than the “system made me do it”.

Mr Bezos is in danger of creating a meat-grinding machine full of highly capable employees who fail due to the system they find themselves in. Some of the policies described in the article and and the behaviours they have manifested would make the STASI proud. That is not the recipe for a successful company long-term – whether or not your employees are robots.

Mr Bezos needs to step back and do the following:

  • Understand that it is his work alone to build an environment where all his employees can do their best work.  He does not delegate the creation of this strategy to HR.  It is the most important work he has on his plate at this time given the huge number of employees he now has and success of his company depends on how effectively he leverages this asset
  • Understand that CEO management requires him to integrate, and align the  structure, processes and policies he needs to put in place in his workplace to create the positive behaviour he wants.
  • Identify and root out all the processes and policies that presently propagate distrustful and manipulative behaviour amongst employees
  • Build a management team around him who understand his revised people strategy and value its philosophy and importance of implementation
  • Be very thoughtful about productivity enhancements and their impact on the larger workforce
  • Never forget humans are not extensions of machines.  Amazon has an accountability to better the communities his employees work in

Jeff Bezos’ pursuit of ever increasing productivity and innovation balanced with high morale and employee growth is not a new challenge.  But if he is going to be really successful he needs to make it his own work and not delegate it to lieutenants armed with data and HR – as many of his peers do.

About the author

Nick Forrest has spent more than 30 years working with senior executives of large organizations helping them better manage large groups of people.  He is a keen scholar of military leaders and an avid collector of Penguin Classic paperback books.


A key first step to managing large groups is to be clear on your strategy and be able to quote your Vision and Mission statement from memory. When talking with a group of 25 CEOs last week about how to manage large groups of employees a considerable number of these CEO’s,  to my surprise, could not do this.
I did not expect managers at this level to fail in this exercise.  But am I being naive? How many senior executives have their Vision and Mission statements memorized cold? How many are able to refer to it mentally as a guiding reference for all they do on a day-to-day basis?

The problem is many senior leaders regard their Vision and Mission as window dressing – something they need to have but do not really value.  Take some time to read a few: many are excruciatingly obtuse.  Yet these are the two statements
that are supposed to give context and direction (what businesses we can and cannot be in) for everything done in a company to achieve the strategy.  The apparent failure of CEOs and senior managers to know their Vision and Mission off pat could explain the poor performance of many household brand companies.

I think I stumbled on a real opportunity to improve alignment and corporate performance.  Knowing and understanding the Vision and Mission is the accountability of every manager in the organization.

Have you committed your Vision and Mission to memory?  What about your senior executive team? What role does it play in helping you manage large groups of employees?

Share your Vision and Mission below and I’ll send you a condensed version of How Dare You Manage? 7 Principles Every CEO Needs for Managing Large Groups of Employees.

Last week I read about the sad findings in Gallop’s most recent “State of the
American Manager” Report.  It’s an interesting – if depressing – read.  It got me thinking about the core skills of
management talent.   These are:

* Motivator
* Assertiveness
* Accountability
* Relationships
* Decision Making

According to the report, the majority of managers fail every one.  On the face
of it they do not look that complicated, so let’s examine them and try and see
where most managers are going wrong.

1. Motivator:  They challenge themselves and their teams to continually improve
and deliver distinguished performance.

You’d think that this capability should be found in most management candidates.
It is not hard to see if someone is interested in accomplishment and
improvement.  Just look at their past history and how they have improved

2. Assertiveness: They overcome challenges, adversities and resistance.

Have you put someone in a role where they will be overwhelmed?  How big are they
for the role?  You need someone who can get the arms around their management
role.  If they feel overwhelmed they will find it hard to be assertive.

The choice to put them in a role is the sum of their manager’s discretion.
Often this discretion gets undermined by weak objective measurements that
enable shoddy thinking and poor choices.

3. Accountability:  They ultimately assume responsibility for their teams ‘
success and create the structure and processes to help their teams deliver on

If you hold a manager accountable for the outputs of their employees you will
get the above.  There can be no “Teflon Management” if a manager is held
accountable for their team’s output.  “There is nobody else to blame for poor
performance so I had better get on with building the best team I can and support
them with the required structure and processes”

4. Relationships:  They build a positive, engaging work environment where their
teams create strong relationships with one another and clients.

All of us know and can judge if someone can build relationships.  How dare you
put managers in charge of people when they don’t like people!!!!   It just a
fundamentally flawed decision that builds dark satanic mills – awful places to
work.  It is unconscionable act of lousy management

5.Decision-Making:  They solve the many complex issues and problems inherent to
the role of thinking ahead, planning contingencies, balancing competing interest
and taking an analytical approach.

They need a brain to do this!  Do not put a manager in a role who is not capable
of handling the complexity the work.  They will be overwhelmed, unable to sort
things out and delegate effectively to their employees.  These employees will
also work out quickly that their manager is “too stupid” for the role and cannot
help or team them much if anything.  It raises the odds of them disengaging from
their work pretty fast.

The truth is that none of this matters much unless the CEO and their Executive
really engage and care about structuring work of their company and staffing it
with right management capability and holding them accountable for effective
performance.  And, while the five dimensions of effective management might
appear common sense, Gallup says that in a whopping 82 percent of cases
organizations choose fail to choose the candidate with the right talent for the
manager job.

This is an abdication of CEO Management.  It is a shame and creates a wasteland
of human talent as described by Gallop in their 2015 report. The sad fact is
that as ill equipped most managers in large organizations are, it starts with a
basic CEO skills gap.

Closing that gap MUST be the priority for the majority of large organizations.

Most companies suffer from a surfeit of leadership. What they need is management to ensure things get done. I mentioned this when talking to a group of senior managers recently who are accountable for the work of 2500 employees and received quite an energetic reaction.

I explained that this is because most managers have been told to lead their division or team. But to start with, most managers cannot define the difference between leadership and management. Leadership work is creating the company’s/department’s vision for the way ahead and engaging and enlisting their employees to help build this future. Management is the design and management of their employees’ environment to maximize their capability  to do their best work. Managers need to do both.

Leaders often don’t roll up their sleeves to do the slogging work of management.  They make a lot of noise but nothing comes down the stairs!  Nothing significant really changes to their employees immediate environment to enable employees to work more effectively and efficiently within the system they find themselves.

I believe that leaders who only focus on inspiring great work are not as successful as those managers who focus their efforts on helping their employees achieve the great work that they want to accomplish. Senior executives need to sharpen their senses to identify what prevents employees doing their best work. They need to be experts as removing these barriers.

Most of us arrive at work eager to contribute, create and be part of something successful. If our senior managers are effective, we will be able to continue with that enthusiasm and get our work done. Yes, I hold the top of house accountable for everything an employee experiences. For example, it is senior managers’ accountability to ensure that every employee is managed by a manager who will treat them with respect and can teach them and enhance their skills and confidence. To do this is not an act of leadership – it is an act of management. To make this happen will require the installation of company-wide assessment systems, frequent and truthful review of managers’ performance. To ensure fairness, all employees require clear goals and measurements against which they can be assessed. Removal from role will happen quite frequently at the onset of this process. These are the nitty-gritty tough aspects of management to get things done right in the company!

Leadership is often not the answer to solving the pain in a company. It requires management.


Over the years I have asked hundreds of CEOs to tell me their management philosophy. How do they describe their view of the Craft of CEO Management?  Most could not answer the question succinctly or clearly.  Many had “bits” of an answer, but few could describe a comprehensive integrated management process that directs and integrates the work of hundreds or thousands of employees.

For instance the question, “What is the difference between leadership and management?” runs most managers onto the rocks.  They cannot answer and, most revealing, plainly have not considered the difference.  So they tell their management team to be both… but cannot define what this expectation means and as a result garner the predictable disappointing results of under-performance.

I define the mastery of a craft as the lifelong pursuit of proficiency in a chosen profession – the profession in this case being CEO management.  When you take on the management mantle of CEO of a company, you need to be as trained and as confident as a 747 pilot sitting on the runway preparing to take off: that is, somebody who knows the ropes and has trained thoroughly for the job.  CEOs often have not had the hours of training an airline pilot undergoes, nor are forced to learn and inculcate a philosophy, a structure, a set of principles, processes and disciplines and then practice them to an exemplary standard with clear accountability for performance.

But CEOs have the opportunity to choose a management philosophy, a structure, a set of principles, processes and disciplines and then practice using them for the rest of their career.  Unfortunately, most do not and are not held accountable by their Board to do so.

Here lies such a great opportunity for performance improvement.  CEOs who adopt a craft, reflect on it, learn and integrate all the management work of their company tend to get higher levels of engagement and better results.  Without this locked down, they can behave and be perceived as inconsistent, unfair loose cannons.

Nick Forrest

A few days ago, I was walking through a busy mall in the downtown business section and overheard two women talking as they passed me. “I like working for her as she gives me space. Not like John who ……….”  I didn’t hear the rest as they had moved out of earshot. But the comment got me thinking of the classic CEO dilemma:  “If I have 400 (or 1,400, 2,400, 5,000, or 50,000) employees, how do I ensure they have enough space to get their work done?”

A micro-managed employee is generally not an effective employee – they are someone who does not/is not able to deliver value for the salary paid them. Multiply this condition across hundreds of employees and lack of space can suffocate company performance. All managers need to develop a sense of and the use of discretion to give employees the required freedom to use all their capability to complete work delegated to them by their manager to the best of their ability.

The seven principles highlighted in my book How Dare You Manage? are designed to address the issue of space for your employees or how to optimize the “Collective Space”™ of all your employees in your company. If you start looking at your company through this lens, you will see opportunities for productivity you had not considered before.

Nick Forrest

Managers must be clear on the management practices they use to manage. Sounds simple, but all too often when I ask managers what practices they use to manage I get answers seated in uncertainty. This, to me, demonstrates an inconsistency in how they choose to behave. Instead, I get, “I do a bit of this and a bit of that”. What I don’t get is an answer that describes a set of consistent practical steps.

Choosing a set of foundational steps and sticking to them is critical for management success. Genius is developed through doing something hundreds, if not thousands, of times. Remember how clumsy you felt when you first started to drive and now it is second nature to you? You achieved this through practice, practice, practice. Great managers do the same to develop their skills. They choose a set of management practices and stick with them for their entire career, each day deepening their expertise and effectiveness. This enables them through time to build a level of wisdom in and mastery of their chosen profession.

An immediate result is predictability, consistency and increased clarity for their direct reports, something most employees crave.

Here are the 11 Practices we have found serve managers well when they choose to adopt them and practice them religiously:

  1. Context Setting
    2.     Team Planning
    3.     Team Building
    4.     Task Assignment
    5.     Task Adjustment
    6.     Monitoring
    7.     Coaching
    8.     Effective Assessment
    9.     Selection and Integration
    10.  Deselection and Dismissal
    11.  Continuous Improvement

So… if you are a manager, ask yourself: how do you manage?

Nick Forrest