How to make management tools effective – 7 practical tips

5 minutes read

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Management tools, frameworks or models – such as Porter’s 5 Forces, the Value Chain, or the tools entailed in our Organizational Structure Kit – are management knowledge in crystalized form. Typically they capture a management topic by defining key elements and showing the interdependencies between those elements. For example, in the case of the value chain network, this is demonstrated by showing how value is created through a sequence of functions or by differentiating between core functions and supporting functions. Such concepts can help managers grasp their business challenges and come up with innovative ideas to set up their organizations.

Translate innovative tool-based ideas into shared understanding and collective action

Thinking through and better understanding the business challenge, however, is not enough. Inspiration and ideas are only one step towards effective management action. This is where a tool typically fails. An idea might make perfect sense in the business school lecture hall, during the contemplative business book read on a long-haul flight, or in a consultant’s sales pitch (all of which, of course, may be welcome opportunities for inspiration and reflection). But then the organizational routines, conventional certainties, past successes, and established language take over and the chance to take a fresh look at your business challenge has passed.

Thinking must be socialized and to be effective it must be translated into decisions and action. That means that a management tool can only be as good as its deployment, i.e. the process of organizing that supports collective sensemaking and coordinated, distributed action.

Based on our experience training clients to use our kits and guiding managers through workshops, here are seven practical tips:

1.     Framing and giving your work the right focus: Focus the tools explicitly on issues the organization is facing (for example, the need to foster innovation or to open new markets) and balance novelty of concepts, language, and goals with given semantics that people can recognize and relate to.

2.     Provide a protected space: In order to escape the ‘normalizing’ forces of an established organization, it is often prudent to protect management innovation work with novel tools, e.g. in terms of space (going off site), time (a period reserved for thinking and socialization before decision points are tackled), and a blessing from ‘above’ (that is senior management sponsorship, and the more hierarchical an organization, the more important).

3.     Gather the right (and only the right) people, using the following criteria: Select based not only on the background and experiences of people, but also with regard to their relationships and networks within the organization. Balance representation of divisions, units, and functions as per the scope of the work (the more siloed an organization, the more important). Check for the overall number: a working group of more than 7 to 8 people may require sub-structures to be effective – while not practical in all cases, sub-structures can foster ownership and allow for self-selection and engagement.

4.     Prepare key inputs to drive thinking and design: Make sure to leave enough room for the immersion of people into the frameworks and content provided and support this immersion with training if required; prepare and discuss business cases for inspiration and data for benchmarking, as applicable.

5.     Provide skilled facilitation that guides people through the process while creating opportunities to voice and elaborate upon ideas.

6.     Test ideas and outputs early on: Find ways to solicit feedback based on outputs from the early tool-based management work (e.g. a new strategic initiative, a new organizational structure, a new process) and make it tangible by showing how it would work in practice, what it would look and feel like, and what would happen as a result. Gather feedback and loop this feedback into the team. Management concepts are often abstract but organizational reality is concrete – make sure your work pays tribute to this reality.

7.     Capture and socialize learning and prepare decision making: Document the process and outputs, and make them presentable: in other words, tell the story. Define and anchor next steps in ongoing organizational processes. Consider the decisions that are required to move forward and drive the process accordingly: e.g. pre-sounding options, winning over key stakeholders, getting on the agenda of the right meetings.

Management innovation in practice

Take some of the cases where our Organizational Structure Kit was used to help address critical business questions. In one case it was about changing the long-grown set up of a family business facing the succession challenge. For the first time in its history, the owner family, triggered by newly onboarded management, systematically reviewed its organizational structure. While the Kit provided critical inputs and tools, the guidance it gave for the process and involving stakeholders was key in defining a work process that produced legitimate and actionable results – not least in coming up with solutions that integrated the intimate knowledge of the owners.

In another instance, the Kit was the basis for a training course of high potential managers in a large healthcare provider. The key to an impactful training experience (and a valuable outcome of the accompanying project work) was the connection of the materials to the organizational issues the managers faced in their day-to-day business, and formats and spaces to make work on those issues part of the learning journey. In order to facilitate that connection, for example, the tools are equipped with practical lead questions that focus the work and trigger group sensemaking.

We invite you to check out a free preview of the Organizational Structure Kit:

If you wish to learn more about supporting the deployment of the kits at your organization, shoot us a message at