Karl Moore: This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, Talking Management for The Globe and Mail. Today I am delighted to speak to an old friend, Julian Birkinshaw, who is a senior professor at the London Business School.
Good afternoon, Julian.
Julian Birkinshaw: Good afternoon.
KM: Julian, you have been studying management now for a long time, management seems to be changing in some ways from your viewpoint. What are some of the key changes we should be thinking about when we think about management?
JB: There are bits of management that, of course, are going to be the same whatever is happening in the world around us; the basic ways in which we work with people is not changing. But I think managers, and employees, are under a great deal more pressure now and I think we need to get much more thoughtful about how managers can help their employees to do their best work. Indeed, my definition of management now is engaging our employees in doing their best work. I think when you take that view, an employee-based view rather than a manager-based view, we actually get some quite interesting insights into how that relationship is evolving.
KM: So Julian, what are some of those insights that you have seen about management?
JB: I have spent a lot of time in the last six months working with employees, in the bowels of the ship, in some cases actually helping to flip the burgers and so forth to try understand what really turns employees on and therefore what we can do as managers to do a better job.
For me, the heart of it is the analogy to the world of marketing. If marketing is about seeing the world through the eyes of your customer, and in fact finding techniques to do that, for me management is about seeing the world through the eyes of your employee and changing the way that we work, analogously to how we do marketing, to help our employees.
For example, there is this concept in marketing called the Net Promoters Score, which many people wouldn’t be aware of. The idea is that our best employees are in fact the best promoters of us as an organization, like the best customers are the best advocates of us in terms of the product market we are selling into. If we can find a way of measuring the number of employees who say, “This manager is the best person I’ve ever worked for and I would recommend that person as somebody other people should work for,” that is a pretty neat metric for actually gauging the quality of management that we are doing.
KM: Julian, it strikes me that in the past we saw the managers as the central person, it was all about them, and was almost a bit selfish. What you are suggesting is that managers are about serving and helping their people rather than about themselves?
JB: Yes, that’s exactly right. Of course the concept of servant leadership has been around forever and this is the analogous thing in some ways, which is to say that the good manager takes the time to structure work in a way that makes it engaging. Intuitively, we all kind of know what that involves, it involves giving people freedom in how they work, it involves making the work interesting, it involves lots of pats on the back when somebody does a good job, it involves giving them quite a lot of space, but coaching from the sidelines. All of this is stuff we kind of know, but we don’t do. Why? Because, of course, life is busy and we often get sidetracked. The best managers nowadays are the ones who make the time to give the people that work for them that space and that encouragement and that coaching.
KM: This has been Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, Talking Management for The Globe and Mail.