Pavel Belorusskiy

How Do We Manage?

When we hear the word “reform” we immediately think of the government. It is the government’s prerogative to do reform, and sometimes even its solemn duty. We feel that “they” should do something so that “we” can live and work better. And so, sector by sector, industry by industry our government initiates reform – reform of tax, reform of education, legal reform, economic reform. We rejoice at the scale of reforms initiated recently, and we sometimes complain when reforms are slow or inefficient.

There are many areas however which are not regulated by the government, and therefore outside the scope of such reform considerations. And one of them is key – without reforming it most other reforms will be at most inefficient. I am talking about management: how we manage our organizations and how we lead our teams. All the progress, all the change is delivered by organizations – government, commercial, and non-profit alike. So how we manage determines how successful will be our organization, our industry, our economy, our society, and our country as a whole.

By now I have been living in Azerbaijan for five years, during which I built a successful company from scratch and helped transform management in a large holding and several medium size companies – both myself or with the help of the Adizes Institute for Organizational Transformation. So I would like to briefly share a few observations about how organizations Isaw were managed and what needs to be reformed in this area.

The first is the “problem yoxdur” (transl. “no problems”)phenomenon. You give your subordinate a task and you hear– no problem, will be done. When the time comes and the task isn’t done you enquire why. And you hear – but the task was too difficult, too big, not realistic to achieve in the time required. – So why didn’t you say so from the start? – You are the boss, how can I say no to you…

Almost 20 years ago Dutch psychologist Geert Hofstede studied cross-cultural differences in behavior and introduced the Power Distance Index which measures to what extent the lower-ranking individuals in an organization accept and expect that the power is distributed unevenly. When the power distance is high, superiors in an organization are respected and even revered, as opposed to organizations with lower power distance, where superiors are viewed more as equals and are not treated with as much reverence. The“problem yoxdur” phenomenon is one of the manifestations of the high Power Distance that we observe in many companies in Azerbaijan.

When I was doing layout of our new office I suggested open space format. You should have your own office, I was told, you are the Director. If Gods come down from Mount Olympus and sits with mere mortals, what are we to believe in? This will damage the morale…

One of unfortunate consequences of high Power Distance is difficulty in speaking truth to power. There is very limited information flow bottom up, subordinates often don’t dare tell the problems of the organization to their superiors. And this gets coupled with the old Soviet legacy – autocratic management. Most decisions are taken by executives themselves, there is very little decentralization of decisionmaking.‍

The so called Iceberg of Ignorance suggests that executives on their own know no more than 5% of all the problems of organization. So we as executives end up making many important decisions in an informational vacuum. And no matter how smart and experienced an executive you are, sooner or later the quality of your decisions will suffer and you are bound to make a mistake.

During his November master class in Baku famous American business consultant Doctor Ichak Adizes said: “A CEO needs big ears and a small mouth.” We as executives need to learn to listen, not just give directives. We should encourage a culture of open communication in our organizations, teach people to disagree without being disagreeable, so we get more democracy when a decision is being developed, cooked so to speak. However, when a decision is taken – no more talk! Each should know his part, just go do it! Dictatorship in implementation! Doctor Adizes even invented a word for it – we need to develop “DEMOCRASHIP” of Management: DEMOCRAcy in decision making, DictatorSHIP inimplementation.

This enables us to become not just bosses to our teams, but true leaders. To lead by example you need to come down from Mount Olympus, sit with the people, ask their opinion, hear them out, and demonstrate that they’ve been heard. This point was driven home for me during a diagnostic session in a large holdings in Baku 4 years ago. At the end of the session a middle manager from one of the factories who ended up sharing his opinions for three days side by side with all the top-managers and shareholders of the holding took the word in closing. He said, barely holding back his tears, that to him being asked for his opinion and having a chance to deliver it in front of all the “bosses” was more valuable than a salary raise!

The Azeri culture traditionally has very high spirit of entrepreneurship. This is the necessary ingredient of rapid economic growth. To speed it up we need more education on how to manage better, more managerial tools, more knowledge and skills. And to reform certain common managerial practices.

The bad news is that no one will initiate this reform and see it through but ourselves. The good news – it’s entirely in our own hands. So let’s roll up our sleeves and learn to lead and manage better!

TIP #1: Try to avoid giving direct answers to your subordinate’s questions. Instead use: “What do you think?”, “What’s your opinion on this?”, “How would you tackle it?”, “What is your preferred solution?” Making it a habit can work wonders in your organization. Just to start, it will improve bottom-up information flow, stimulate your employees, force them to take more responsibility and create a better learning atmosphere in your company.

TIP #2: When you give a task to someone don’t spell out all the details yourself. Instead ask them: “How long do you think you need to complete the task? What other resources/people you might need?” And give them a little more than they ask for. This is one way to solve the“problem yoxdur” phenomenon and make people really take responsibility for their task. That way they will try much harder to actually finish in the time they themselves asked for.

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