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It falls to every manager to have to cope. Coping, often around the survival of the organisation, is just something circumstances force you to have to do. For example, the commercial company that needs to drive up sales to save its cash flow, or the organisation that is in the middle of a merger.

A common side effect of coping is that there is insufficient time to devote to building consistent processes, effective governance structures, or the capability of staff. In other words, when we are in survival mode, we are not mature managers.

The problem is that if we spend too long in a coping mode, we forget what management should be about. Lack of time makes it appear acceptable to defer improvements, disregard innovative ideas, and not develop personal relationships. And doesn’t that describe most of our organisations? Where mature management is rarely discussed, and even less implemented.

We have all sorts of effective ways of blocking improvements:

“Write your idea on one side of A4 and I will have a look at it.”

“We know we are not managing well, so why bother to measure how badly?”

“That’s a great idea, but we just cannot prioritise it just now. We will review it in six months.”

“We can do a pilot in a small area to prove the concept.”

Procrastination is the enemy of mature management.

To be fair, it is not always the fault of the manager. Sometimes, external circumstances continually force coping instead of managing. For a clear example, the UK government’s continual reorganisation of the NHS keeps its managers in survival mode, and rarely, if ever, do they get a chance to consider introducing mature management. It doesn’t even come up as a topic anymore, as people are so used to coping that they have forgotten that is not what management is for.

So what is to be done, if your organisation is stuck in survival mode, and not genuinely seeking to improve? We recommend a short scoping phase to raise awareness, including: measuring the current level of management maturity as a baseline to identify where improvements can be made; engaging senior managers in a strategic discussion to create an agreed vision of how to improve; and developing a draft plan to get from where you are to where you want to be. Then, the organisation is in a position to decide what priority it wants to put on the work, and what level of governance is required. If it becomes important, it will get done.

Do you agree with this distinction between coping and managing? Have you ever had experiences during your career where the immediate need to cope obstructed your ability to manage? Do you agree with our solutions? We’d be happy to hear your thoughts on this.


image: ‘close up of the thinker’, Brian Hillegas, CC BY 2.0