Flip your thinking on its head

We are all familiar with the traditional management model. Managers sitting in their offices receiving reports, making decisions and then handing down orders through the ranks to the staff on the front lines. So far, so familiar; but for some years now a rebellion has been quietly growing. There are now a number of managers who have followed a radically new path, taking this model and turning it on its head. And they’re doing very well on it.

The evidence to support the cost-saving and service-improvement results is now so considerable that the government has taken interest and a large number of local councils are independently turning to it in hopes of staving off the worst effects of their budget crises.We call this upside-down thinking.

Studies cite examples of organisations successfully achieving goals as varied as the Glasgow Housing Association (who saved £2m), Velux windows (which reduced staff turnover in their UK call centres by 16.3 per cent) and E.on (which jumped from the bottom of the energywatch league tables up to second place). Organisations following suit include blue-chip companies like Mercedes Benz and Standard Life, as well as a mass of public bodies including Lothian and Borders Police, City of Lincoln Council, The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency and many more.

So what does it involve

Upside-down thinking ousts senior management from cosy offices and gets them back to the floor. We’ve all seen programmes like Channel 4’s Undercover Boss and the impressive results gained as a result of managers working at the front lines, experiencing the real problems of customers and staff and then solving them. But what baffles me and others is why, having seen what a difference it makes, they then stop and go back to their old ways?

Getting managers out of their offices is just the start; the next step is changing the way managers think. Managers need to rebel. If you follow traditional management methods, you’ll be focused on targets, industry standards etc. So the policies you set will be too. This can seriously get in the way of your customer service, competitiveness and ultimately your costs. You might find this strange but if you stop and rethink how you design and manage your business from just the customer’s point of view, you’ll soon find that swathes of non-value adding work can be removed from most organisations, with obvious cost and customer-service benefits. Suddenly everything starts to get better.

Of course, like everything, it’s not going to be as simple as just moving your desk and thinking like a customer but it seems that there is method to the madness: standing traditional management practices on their head might turn out to be very good for business indeed.

Stuart Corrigan is MD of management consultancy firm Vanguard Scotland

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