We all know the golden rule: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  In general, pretty sound life advice—to treat others the way you want to be treated.  But the blanket application of the golden rule as a management style will often leave both managers and employees frustrated and unsuccessful.

LeanHealthcare_managementruleYour role or perspective in a given situation drives your perception of the quality of others’ behavior and output.  Take being a driver as opposed to being a pedestrian.  When you are on foot, drivers are crazy–they don’t stop when you’re in an intersection or pay attention when making a turn.  Conversely, when you are in the driver’s seat, pedestrians are the problem—they never walk fast enough, walk even if they do not have a walk sign, and don’t look both ways before crossing.

A manager/employee relationship has a similar dynamic.  When you’re in the employee role, you spend some time being frustrated with the boss: “She’s such a micromanager,” “Why does he yell so much?” “I don’t get enough respect.” For those who also manage people, you get aggravated by different things: “Why don’t people just do what I ask of them?” “How did he just miss that deadline?” “Her breaks seem to get longer and longer.”

Some of that is the natural bias that we all bring to the table.  But I think it’s also an example of those times where the golden rule is applied but not actually our best management option.

In Lean Healthcare, we talk about designing and optimizing processes from the perspective of the customer rather than from the point of view of those working in the system.  A core purpose of Lean management is to enable employees to perform their job effectively or better; employees are a customer of our management.  Furthermore, as one of my colleague says, management infrastructure is actually waste if it is not helping front line staff provide more value.

Too often, however, we optimize our management for our manager selves. We think employees should take the (obviously) great advice we give them.  We use a command-and-control model because we are more comfortable with that.  And even when we think we are applying a Lean management system framework and “coaching” our employees, we coach them the way we would want to be coached in the same situation. We apply a version of the golden rule—that is, we manage the way we want to be managed. Or we manage the way we believe is appropriate to manage.  And then we are dissatisfied with the outcomes, frustrated by our employee’s behavior and response.  But can that be because that is not the way that our people need to be managed?

Instead, we need to design our management techniques to be optimized for our employee customers.  In that way, we will provide more value to our ultimate customers.  Our job as managers is not just to figure out what works best for us or would work best for us if we were the employee, but rather what will work for our actual employees, and customize our approach to reflect that knowledge.  We need to manage the way they need to be managed to be effective (or more effective).

Some employees will require more intensive managing; some thrive in a more hands-off environment.  Sometimes you can be quite direct in giving constructive feedback, for others, you need to be a lot more sensitive in your delivery. Some people are best coached privately, whereas others are impacted more in a peer environment.  This doesn’t mean that there’s not a standardized management framework to apply (for example, “leader as coach” is a core component of a Lean management system), but rather that there is some customization that should be done.

It’s a mindset shift for many people, from, “People not doing what I want is their fault,” to “If they are not doing what I want, that’s on me.” Don’t presume that others should adjust to your management style.  Adjust to your customers, and value will increase.


WilsonJamieRSToday’s blog was written by Jamie Wilson, director at HPP.

Jamie has nearly 15 years of healthcare experience, spanning management consulting, hospital administration, business development, and hospital operations performance improvement. She currently leads Lean Healthcare transformations and performs specialized consulting for HPP.  Jamie received her B.A. in Sociology with a dual concentration in Health and Medicine, Deviance and the Sociology of Law, graduating Summa Cum Laude from University of Pennsylvania. She received a M.S. in Healthcare Management and Policy from the Harvard University School of Public Health.

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