PART 2: The Big Cheese – Who makes the cheese?

Oh, to be a manager/leader!  When you are still junior, you have all the answers to being a good manager, but oh my, when you are appointed in the position, a whole new world opens up (mostly a political world) and you are flooded with complexity. While swimming through the rough seas of budget, performance, return on investment and team dynamics, CHANGE is required.  The top brass gives one direction, the team runs into the opposite direction and the consulting firm comes from “who knows where” with some jargon and processes and suggestions that is not always practical. 

Most of the time there is alignment from top management and the consultants that the CULTURE must change.  But based on the argument in Part 1 of this series – we should ask: is that really the case. How will you know?  You are in control of the Cheese – you are the Big Cheese.

 Firstly you need to understand yourself in this position you are responsible for.  Do you have the passion for this job?  If you do not like to make cheese and prefer to make pasta, do not be a cheese maker. If you do not like the department, the job, any of the people, maybe you should not be the cheese maker.  If you prefer to only make Cheddar and are not interested in Brie/Feta/Blue Cheese, then move to the Cheddar making line. You cannot lead your team to do something you are not willing to do. You are supposed to be passionate about your product and be the expert at how to make it, don’t go in half-mast and expect your team to be the magic to bring it all together. 

And that brings me to the next point. You need to understand the details. The Cheese maker don’t always have to do all the steps him (her) self, but have to have a very good understanding of the details required in doing the job. You cannot manage if you don’t know the details. You need the correct knowledge, skills and experience to be a cheese maker and to know the details of the people assisting you. 

I was asked as part of my job in corporate to manage the group of ladies that took care of our engineering documentation. It sounds simplistic, but you cannot imagine the pain and fights and labour it took to align all parties. The contractors said they are going to double up the price of their engineering due to the cumbersome process to book the engineering documents into our systems.  This is typically the last job an engineer wants to tackle, but I decided to use my engineering skills to unravel this conundrum. Engineering surely must be more complicated than booking documents into a system! Quickly did I realise that the fault most managers make when they try to manage the document controllers and Engineering Document Centre processes, is that they don’t have an idea what the reality and problems are. It gets complicated. I needed to go on the floor, look at the physical documents, and understand step by step what all the issues were about. I had to bring the arch-enemies together to talk through what is non-negotiable, what is preferred, and what is acceptable. After two months of intense document understanding, I could step back and only manage the systems and people without getting my hands dirty, because I understood.  I learned their reality, their language, and their obstacles. I was not leading blindly any more. At the end I needed to spend little time with the details, I could just lead. But, I would have been very poor leading if I did not spend the initial time building up relationships and understanding.

As the leader you need to give your employees a chance to be heard. Most of the time there is a major gap between the executives and employees. They just do not use the same dialect (sometimes they talk two remotely different languages!). Do not underestimate the valuable insights you as leader can gather by listening, listening attentively, without judgement and preconceived ideas to what is happening on the shop floor. Don’t make assumptions and think you have it all figured out. 

My one client needed to take their graphics business to the next level and had a few ideas for marketing the business. The day the two owners sat around the table with their design team, they were astounded by the fresh, new ideas of their workforce. That sparked even more ideas and an amazing commitment from all employees to assist with the marketing over and above their existing roles. 

You will get very valuable insights if you get to know your ingredients better. Find out which part of the old and new culture is or is not aligned with the values. Which ingredients mix and which does not mix well together. Take it seriously, this is not only an exercise to tick the box, this WILL add value. Ask the question: What can I do as a leader to change and support the people? Try to find out if there are any underlying beliefs, feelings or mindsets that are limiting the productivity and effectiveness. Maybe change is not required if you got this far.

The cheese maker must have the bigger picture in mind the WHOLE time. He must know the recipe from beginning to end – keep the equation in mind.

Here is a list of critical behaviours for the leader amid change:

  • Resource the positive behaviours
  • Select the ingredients, know the recipe and gather the equipment
  • Follow through with promises, good and bad
  • Identify and reinforce positive and negative boundaries
  • Changing and enforcing controls that will assist the process
  • Increase feedback
  • Evaluate performance
  • Take remedial actions where required
  • Ask for feedback
  • Integrate formal (new rules, metrics, incentives) and informal (networking, coffee sessions) interventions
  • Measure/monitor the underlying beliefs, feelings and  mindsets (like a cheese maker should measure the temperature and pH throughout the process)

If you want to read all the articles, here are the links:

If you rather prefer to read it in English, here are the links:

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