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Azimuth: Solving Corporate Social Problems (Manual for Managers)

Andrey Skvortsov, general director of Merkator

First, a few examples of real problems discovered by «Azimuth» (ofen in combination with «360 degrees») and their solutions. All examples are based on actual events.

1. Assessment of managers performance by customers and employees: Assessing whether employees job scope takes advantage of his core competences

In a large IT company of more than 500 employees, the manager of a relatively small but important depart- ment, working a new proftable product, received conficting assessments from «Azimuth» and «360 degrees." On the one hand, he received very high scores from customers and upper management; on the other hand, his subordinates gave him rather low scores (for his leadership skills, and in particular for such indicators as problem formulation and staf motivation). Te egocentric network diagram, too, indicated that the manager is inaccessible and inefective per his subordinates.

What does this discrepancy in assessments mean? How is it to be interpreted?

problem:

Conversations with the department staf revealed that the manager spends a lot of time with customers (who are quite numerous), comes to work at the end of the business day and rashly distributes tasks, which he has a tendency to change quite ofen. As a result, his subordinates fnd themselves working under constant pres- sure due to time constraints. Many consider leaving the company, which could jeopardize the whole project. In other words, the assessment has exposed a potential problem within the apparently successful and proft- able department.

solution:

  1. It was decided that some of the managers responsibilities should be delegated to another supervisor.
  2. Te manager remained in the position of the project manager and retained responsibilities for dealing with customers. Another supervisor, who had received high ratings for his management skills («360 degrees») and informal leadership («Azimuth») became staf manager.
  3. Te project manager was to discuss projects with the manager of staf, and the latter was to communicate these projects to the programmers, distribute tasks and supervise progress.

result:

With minimal expenditures, performance of two managers was successfully optimized capitalizing on their core competences: an excellent salesperson became primarily responsible for customer relations while a great staf supervisor became in internal team leader. At the same time, potential collapse of the department had been avoided, and its efectiveness increased signifcantly.

2. Accountant and the staf: Dealing with work overload

In a small company of 70 or so employees, the egocentric network diagram indicated that the majority of employees, with the exception of the general director and the fnancial director, consider the head accountant inaccessible and inefective. In other words, while the management is pleased with him, the rest of the staf is not satisfed with his performance. What is the matter? How serious is this problem?

It turned out that many in the company make it a habit to turn to the accountant whenever they need any kind of personal documentation (such as pay stubs, fnancial statements, proof of income, etc.) Te accoun- tant, who was already overwhelmed with work, had not been enthusiastic about these requests, but had never refused to help.

problem:

Many employees expressed discontent, aggravation, felt unappreciated and under-served as their requests seemed to take too long to be processed. Te accountant was constantly distracted from his primary work responsibilities.

solution:

  1. Management explained the situation to staf and apologized for any previous inconveniences. Management asked staf to address personal inquiries directly to their managers rather than to the ac- countant.
  2. With many peoples input, a timeline for personal documents requests was created, and management cir- culated this information to all employees.
  3. Some of documentation responsibilities were delegated to Hr staf.
  4. result:

    Personal document requests are now given out with approximately the same speed as before, but now every- one is comfortable with the arrangement. Te accountant is no longer harassed and stressed out by every- ones demands and is able to focus on his primary responsibilities more efciently.

3. Who to count on:

Solving acquisition related challenges

A large grocery store chain acquired a smaller one; thus, bringing the inevitable process of restructuring. Work regulations had to be changed, new corporate culture implemented and diferent standards of account- ability established. As expected, changes were met with some resistance (sometimes clearly manifested and sometimes not) from staf. What could be done about it?

problem:

It is imperative to quickly determine informal leaders and people with a wide sphere of infuence in each store. How can it be done inexpensively, quickly and with minimal error?

solution:

«Azimuth» was conducted in each new location. It helped identify leaders in each store based on the highest ratings of «informal leadership» and «corporate integration» parameters.

result:

Conversations with these central employees revealed that many of them are dedicated employees, willing to make the necessary adjustments in order to adhere to corporate goals and improve per- formance. The few exceptions were let go of, which opened up positions for the new leaders. After training, many of them became managers and supervisors, saving the company time and money by minimizing its recruiting efforts. Integration of the new corporate culture happened very quickly in these stores.

Implementation of new culture took less than half a year, which is a very short period of time for such a mas- sive project.

4. Administrative Assistants: Fixing unclearly defined job responsibilities

In a company of around 150 employees, administrative assistants doubled up as managements per- sonal assistants and offce managers. While the management was content with their performance, the rest of the staff was dissatisfed. Egocentric net diagram of some assistants showed a clear misbal- ance in favor of the management.

problem:

Administrative Assistants prioritized personal requests from management over all other responsi- bilities, including customers problems.

solution:

  1. Separate ofce management and executive assistant functions and distribute each type of responsibilities to diferent people.
  2. Inform all staf of the job roles.
  3. result:

  4. Ofce management tasks got their due attention and the company was able to signifcantly increase the ef- fciency of solving ofce management related issues without any additional costs.

5. Complacent employee: Improving Personal Inefectiveness

Art director of a small but renowned design studio (20 employees, 15 years in the market) was surprised to receive rather unfattering evaluations from his staf. «Azimuth» revealed that almost everyone considered interactions with him difcult and inefective. Te only good ratings he received were in regards to his cha- risma and corporate leadership.

problem:

Te director admits that he has become «too comfortable» at work. being his own boss, he made his own schedule, came to work whenever he wanted, didnt spend much time with his staf, worked only on projects that interested him, and yet tried to control all that was done in the studio.

solution:

  1. Art director set up a fxed schedule for the time he would spend in the ofce. Te hours were not long, but very predictable.
  2. He made it his rule to reply to all his emails the same day he received them.
  3. Having discovered several promising leaders, he decided to test how to reduce his micromanaging control by delegating some of the management responsibilities to them.

result:

Paradoxically (in his words), the Art Direct discovered that he had now more free time because he could attend to his stafs needs when they needed him without having to bang on his door several times and get partial answers. His subordinates knew the directors schedule which allowed them to plan accordingly and received his due attention when needed. At the same time through the removal of his micro management tendencies, staf felt less pressured and become more innovative, resulting in creation of several highly re- garded works.

6. Inefective, yet in demand: Combating bureaucrats syndrome

In a large fnancial organization with over 300 employees, IT director scored very high on the Demand Index while exhibiting very low efectiveness rating. In other words, everybody needed him, but he was not very helpful and did not resolve the issues where his help was essential in a timely manner.

problem:

Afer a careful examination of the issue, it became clear that the IT director was more concerned with his status and reputation within and outside the company rather than with the efectiveness of his work. He made sure that the maximum number of questions was directed to him, demanded central coordination of all projects in the IT department, but at the same time did not hurry resolving these issues.

solution:

Surprisingly, the problem was resolved by a meeting between the general director and the IT director. Te lat- ter immediately understood the situation, and made appropriate conclusions. He even organized a monthly «Azimuth» assessment within his department in order to be better informed of arising problems, be able to fx them and report the progress to the general director.

result:

It took general and IT directors 20 minutes to fx a complex issue that created major inefciencies and serious employee dissatisfaction

7. letting go of a veteran employee: ensuring minimal damage to the company

For 2 years, the director of a small advertising agency with 20 employees fought to keep an old employee who has been with the company for over a decade and has done a lot for its development. However, lately his achievements became more of a burden: resistance to change, no desire to learn and improve, unwillingness to hire new people for his team, and no interest in trying new approaches and solutions. Te quality of his work had deteriorated, he seemed to be tired of it, and complained that he was under-appreciated and under- paid. Te director has tried to motivate him in all kinds of ways — through professional development training, delegation of responsibilities, new projects, business trips, etc but to no avail. Hence the decision was made to terminate this employee.

problem:

How can one fnd out the consequences of letting go of a once key employee? Will members of his team follow him? What about his customers?

solution:

Assessments conducted via «360 degrees» and «Azimuth» revealed that other members of the staf would be receptive to the employees termination.

result:

Te employee was terminated (with rewards and compensations). He started working as a freelancer, at times collaborating with his former employer on some projects. no member of his team has chosen to follow him. Key customers were content with the new solutions.

7. letting go of a veteran employee: ensuring minimal damage to the company

For 2 years, the director of a small advertising agency with 20 employees fought to keep an old employee who has been with the company for over a decade and has done a lot for its development. However, lately his achievements became more of a burden: resistance to change, no desire to learn and improve, unwillingness to hire new people for his team, and no interest in trying new approaches and solutions. Te quality of his work had deteriorated, he seemed to be tired of it, and complained that he was under-appreciated and under- paid. Te director has tried to motivate him in all kinds of ways — through professional development training, delegation of responsibilities, new projects, business trips, etc but to no avail. Hence the decision was made to terminate this employee.

problem:

How can one fnd out the consequences of letting go of a once key employee? Will members of his team follow him? What about his customers?

solution:

Assessments conducted via «360 degrees» and «Azimuth» revealed that other members of the staf would be receptive to the employees termination.

result:

Te employee was terminated (with rewards and compensations). He started working as a freelancer, at times collaborating with his former employer on some projects. no member of his team has chosen to follow him. Key customers were content with the new solutions.

8. unnecessary department: Following the demand

In a large company of nearly 1000 employees, Internal Project Management (IPM) departments egocen- tric network diagram showed practically no important interactions between its employees and employees from other departments (i.e. their demand ratings were extremely low). However, the egocentric network diagram also revealed that IPM departments staf initiated numerous interactions with members of other departments, who were not responsive to their requests. Tese employees in turn were assessed as not easily accessible and inefective. At the same time, employees of other departments had numerous important and efective interactions among themselves, while they had little to say about the staf of the IPM department.

problem:

Te entire department, created to improve communication and interaction among departments, turned out to be inefective. Te departments were communicating more quickly and efciently without the «middle- man.»

solution:

Afer consultations with several departments, the IMP department was reduced by 3. Te only function it retained was of control.

result:

Te structure of a rather large company was simplifed and adapted to its real needs. Tis restructuring freed up signifcant resources, reducing costs and improving efciency.

Conclusions

Afer a company had conducted «Azimuth," an individual egocentric network diagram had been created for each employee (even if there are thousands of them). «Azimuth» is so fexible that it allows creating an un- limited number of reports with various confgurations. For instance, one can pull a report for all employees from a specifc department, for all those, whose last names start with a «C," for all people performing similar job tasks regardless of which department they belong to, etc.

Corporate reports contain the whole social network of the organization and with the help of bSSls info design, you will be able to navigate from one employee to another, literally «surfng» through the companys social network (you can click on an employee name in the report and it will take you to that employees per- sonal report).

A few points to note:

  1. reports based on «Azimuth» as well as on «360 degrees» do not provide solutions; they diagnose problems. Te red color on the diagrams indicates problematic areas (see legend). Determining the nature of the prob- lem and fnding a solution is up to the management.
  2. Tere are three types of problems:

    1. Problem concerning a specifc person
    2. Problem concerning organization as a whole
    3. not a problem

    In the frst case, an employee is either inefective or inaccessible to his colleagues due to his personal qualities. Solutions to this problem ofen involve either changing employees behavior or replacing him.

    In the second case (which is the most common one), the problem arises from either (1) an employee focusing on the problem he believes to be a priority and ignoring his other responsibilities; (2) employee is asked to solve problems he is not authorized to or not aware that they fall in the scope of his responsibilities; or (3) he is asked to solve problems that he is not able to. In either case, this is not employees problem but a systematic one. employee may not be aware of the full scope of his job duties; others may have not been informed about the scope of his duties; or there have been new work relationships formed that do not fall in line with the organizational structure. Solution: redistribution of responsibilities.

    Finally, in the third case, it is possible that some employees single out problematic interactions, but, in fact, their importance or intensity are so low, that they can be disregarded. nevertheless, if the system has indi- cated a problem, it can at least be brought up with the participants involved.

  3. Afer a problem has been diagnosed and management has evaluated its signifcance, it is vital to discuss it with participants of the problematic interaction. In 90% of the cases, the essence of the problem becomes obvious — people are happy to discuss their problems. Ten it is time for consultations, consideration of op- tions and decision-making — depending on the style of problem-solving in the company and the urgency of the matter.
  4. 5. When a decision is made, it is crucial that all members of the interaction and others who may potentially be afected be informed.
  5. 6. It is a good idea to conduct «Azimuth» again (it only take 15–20 minutes of each participants time) in 6 month in order to ensure that the original problem has indeed been addressed and no other major challenges cloud the productivity. Since «360 degrees» takes more time, it is a good idea to conduct it once a year.
  6. 7. In addition to assessing work interactions, «Azimuth» measures ratings of demand, informal leadership, corporate integration, etc., and «360 degrees» measures 38 diferent competences. Tis information can sure- ly help companies make the right decision!

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