Myopic Management

The quick fix

Managers are problem solvers. We spend our days finding issues and fixing them:

  • We solve the problem of low sales by offering discounts.
  • We solve the problem of high costs by cutting budgets.
  • We solve the problem of poor quality by extra inspection.

Our time is filled with discrete problem after discrete problem. Each one screaming for resolution.

The discreet problem

The discreet problem doesn’t exist. Our organisational woes are connected. They aren’t a series of separate issues but a mass of linked inputs and outcomes. We don’t manage functions and problems we manage systems and connections.

Like the tangle in your headphones. It is easy to pull the wire to get some slack, but all you do is create a tighter knot further down the line.

Myopic medicine

If doctors took the same approach to problem solving healthcare would be easy.

  • It would be easy to solve the problem of obesity. Gag people.
  • It would be easy to solve ageing. Start a euthanasia programme.
  • Sore ankles? Fit a wheel chair.
  • Bad breath? Gargle bleach.

Doctors can’t get away with being that myopic. But managers routinely do.

Why are we so myopic?

I can think of two reasons, perhaps there are more:

  1. Our objectives have short time scales —  we are tasked with making this months numbers.
  2. Our accountabilities are narrow and tightly defined – we only worry about our own back yards.

If we are tasked with improving a small area over a brief time span is it surprising we are a myopic about it?

Banishing myopia

Conversely the way to become more far-sighted is to broaden our objectives and change the environment:

  • Share responsibility – clear accountability drives short sightedness.  If you have shared responsibility for both costs and revenues your perspective will change.
  • Remove the blame – scared people hide and ignore issues.  If you remove blame, then people will face into problems not pass them onto others.
  • Incentivise the big picture – myopic bonuses result in myopic performance.  If you want long-term performance incentivise long-term performance (no really).
  • Formalise feedback – 360 degree feedback, from left and right and especially from below does marvels for teamwork.
  • Reward the cooperative – “not my problem” is a big problem.  If you want your staff to cooperate then show them that it is important.
  • Play the long game – make the solutions imposed by managers today their problems tomorrow.  Knowing you will inherit the issues you cause does wonders for long-term thinking.
  • Test and learn – if the fix wasn’t a fix, allow people to admit it and back it out.  Don’t make people stick to their guns if it is senseless to do so.  Give people the opportunity to admit mistakes without losing face.

Why is it so hard?

The solutions don’t sit well with our management ego’s.  We want to be in control and on top of the situation.  The way we do that is by setting clear targets and accountabilities.  We shout about our successes and hide our failures.  We reward the good and punish the bad.

A little self-effacement and cooperation would do wonders for performance.  But it is hard to smash your own targets when you are busy trying to help somebody else smash theirs.

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Image by Fabrizio Pece


  1. David Watkins says:

    Great article James

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