Iterate: Run a Fast, Flexible, Focused Management Team
October 08, 2018
Ed Muzio's new book is about "the importance of management acting as the feedback system of the organization," and provides five management practices to help build it.
Management is not a simple thing, in part, because management is not simply one thing.
Ed Muzio, in his new book Iterate: Run a Fast, Flexible, Focused Management Team, suggests we need more than one word for management—similar to how Inuit have fifty for snow, and the ancient Greeks had six to distinguish forms of love—to differentiate the various unique forms and functions of management. Having read my fair share of books on the topic, I agree. There are a lot of books about management out there, but it can be difficult to find the right one—for the right moment, for the challenges your organization is facing—due to the fact that the genre covers such a wide breadth of subject matter. And though we may wish we lived in a time in place so consumed with love that we needed six words for it—or, hell, even so covered in snow that we developed fifty words for it—we happen to live in one of increasing complexity and human organizations that need to be managed, and managed in different ways.
So, one of the first thing Ed Muzio does is tell you exactly what kind of management book he's offering: one on the "importance of management acting as the feedback system of the organization." Not change management, not managing, but the essential function of management to organize and process information and guide action—to borrow the final chapter's title, to "Understand, Assess, and Improve" what the organization is doing at all times.
He describes management as an organization's thermostat. "If the organization's strategic plan and objectives are what create the set point for a thermostat, and if the organization itself is what creates the heating and cooling," writes Muzio, "then it's the management team that keeps checking the temperature and adjusting what everyone is doing." Now, I've found that our general manager does a very fine job keeping the company's general temperature just right, but the actual thermostat in our building requires a high-level computer science degree to adjust. So I'll refer to one of his other metaphors, that of your brain and body working together as you walk to your car.
The process [starts] with a high-level goal from "above." But as soon as you start walking, things get complicated. As your feet move across the ground, they must deal with subtle variations in the surface. Is there gravel? Is the ground wet or slippery? Your front line workers—your foot muscles—compensate without any intervention from management to keep you upright and on track.
The difference in an organization is that the "head" usually can't see what the "feet"—where the rubber meets the road, as our founder and former president Jack Covert might say—are doing. But the simple act of walking to one's car can serve as an ideal way of managing an organization all the same:
You have information flowing up from the bottom of your metaphorical organization and information flowing down from the top. You have decisions being made at all levels, with escalations [adjustments like walking faster or avoiding obstacles that arise] when necessary. And you have a whole system—that's a key word, system—processing all of the information and decisions for one reason: so that in this moment you can take the most reasonable step toward your goal, and then in the next moment you take the most reasonable step from there.
Let me repeat that: you take the next most reasonable step from there. Not the next most reasonable step as you foresee it from here.
In other words, you Iterate.
What Muzio provides is a feedback system, and five management practices, that enables management teams to act as that link between different parts of the organizational body, and for individual managers to link their part of the organization to the whole. It is about incremental adjustments, allocating resources, accepting being "wrong" when unforeseen developments require you to make more adjustments and reallocate resources, and doing it again and again and again—making sure things get done and that the people you're managing are are developing and frontline employees are becoming self-sufficient to make decisions and adjustments on their own. It is, perhaps, not the most glamorous work, but it's necessary work, and it's human work, and it's work Ed Muzio's Iterate might be able to help you with.
We have 20 copies available.