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Step outside the comfort zone – managers help banish workforce inertia

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 October, 2013, 5:07pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 July, 2014, 11:09am

Business schools often promote themselves as the place to groom business leaders. Well, I think they are doing an equally good job in nourishing great managers.

Human resources management is one of the essential subjects of all MBA programmes. When the strategic management of an organisation’s workforce can create and deliver business values, the people responsible for managing and leading this workforce hence play a very important role in ensuring value is being created from every level of the organisation.

You can easily name a few characteristics of a good manager which are commonly cited in most MBA literature. Examples include:

  1. Project and time management skills – also an eye for detail and to manage projects or assignments in an efficient manner
  2. Leadership and communication skills – the ability to communicate with both subordinates and boss
  3. Conflict resolution skills – to ease off tension between conflicting parties and to promote teamwork in harmony
  4. Industry experience and technical skills – to know the laws and common practices in his/her industry
  5. Personal charisma – the image of a good manager in the eyes of his/her subordinates

But above all, I personally believe a good manager should always step outside his/her comfort zone. Military forces from around the world host live ammunition drill on a regular basis. In the same way, fire drills are conducted regularly at our office building. The purpose of such exercises allows participants to get accustomed to emergency procedures under a simulated environment. Similarly, my managers review our company’s business practices and revamp our audit procedures in order to comply with the latest industry practices and regulations, and to carry out such procedures in a more efficient and effective manner. We critically examine each step and evaluate whether it is essential or redundant, and whether we can re-engineer it to save costs and deliver extra value. This regular exercise removes the inertia that tends to build up with time. The inertia is like grease in the turbine. You really need to remove it and add new lubricants. My managers have done a great job in the upkeep of this open minded mentality and corporate culture that are always ready for new changes.

I have recently assisted in conducting a Quality Review Assessment exercise for a higher education institute in Hong Kong. Internal and external members form the Quality Review Team responsible for validating the annual assessment reports and ascertain whether improvement actions as stated in the assessment reports have been undertaken. The team also performs a full day’s interview with different members of the institution and makes recommendations based on the findings of the interview. One can see how important it is to invite an external member to be bold enough to challenge an organisation’s existing practices. 

The world we live in is not a greenhouse or an ivory tower. We can easily fall behind competition if the workforce is not prepared for that. I believe the responsibility rests on truly great managers. Where did I learn all this? From my fellow MBA classmates.