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By Peter Jordan, associate, Legitimate Leadership.

In a Legitimate Leadership project for a retail group, a local dealership was headed by a man who was always people-inclined, according to his subordinates. From the start of the Legitimate Leadership intervention, he found himself able to easily accept what it was advocating.

However, no-one is perfect, and this man had the fault that he was somewhat of “a control freak”. Over the years he had implemented a lot of rules, controls and paperwork in the dealership.

Some of these controls were home-grown by him; others came from head office.

With the rollout of the Legitimate Leadership project, this man began to take concerns about excessive controls, and concomitant disempowerment, to heart and to re-examine the controls in his dealership.

In fact, the retail group itself was aware that over 15 years it had become too bureaucratised and burdened with excessive controls. This might have been due to a severe top-down management culture reinforcing accumulation of rules and regulations.

Over-bureaucratisation was apparently reflected in high staff turnover across the group and a poor reputation for working there. For instance, applicants to advertisements of situations vacant sometimes withdrew when the name of the prospective employer was revealed.

Legitimate Leadership had been instructed by a newly-appointed managing director of the group to particularly look at over-control in the company generally.

Subsequently, four out of the six Legitimate Leadership modules which were applied in the company related particularly to accountability and empowerment.

In one of these modules, Snakekilling was a subsection. Snakekilling means looking at the red tape in the organisation and doing an assessment as to the extent that it is necessary and value-adding. For instance, the requirement that subordinates have a particular action signed off rather than that they approve it themselves, would be re-examined. If a control or rule is found to be unnecessary or limiting it should be removed – perhaps in stages rather than as one event.

But back to the dealership. The subordinates of the head of the dealership believe that his “aha moment” was when he realised that it was not enough to treat everyone with respect etc; that superior business performance could not be achieved without ensuring that the people on the shop floor were empowered and accountable.

He then set about implementing Snakekilling. It was obviously easier for him to begin removing controls which he himself had implemented. But he also challenged controls implemented from without.

This required him to have the courage to directly challenge the regional manager. No other dealer manager had had that kind of temerity.

In many instances the man successfully challenged the external controls. He survived in his job, and in fact thrived: he has now been promoted and has left the dealership.

The net effect of the Snakekilling exercise was that the subordinates felt much more empowered and their engagement with the business increased. This in turn led to much improved business performance.

The dealership had previously been plagued by customer complaints and low customer satisfaction ratings – in fact the lowest customer satisfaction ratings in the region (although this may have been because it is in an affluent region where customers expect more). Within a few months this was reversed and the dealership now has the highest customer service rating in the region and is performing well, although in a depressed market.

The subordinates feel that working for the man in recent times has been a very positive experience.

Looking more broadly, any organisation accretes more rules and controls as time goes on – unless there is a positive effort to combat it. Arguably Brexit and the election of Donald Trump reflect in part a rejection of increasing layers of rules in all spheres of life – and the desire to be more directly empowered.