UK: Taking guard on the Managerial Grid. (1 of 3)

UK: Taking guard on the Managerial Grid. (1 of 3) - Everyone gets double figures on Bob Blake's Grid, as Phil Neale of Worcester found out. Tom Lester reports.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Everyone gets double figures on Bob Blake's Grid, as Phil Neale of Worcester found out. Tom Lester reports.

Put a tried and tested American management development technique together with English county cricket and you might expect to get something of a cultural googly. The world of interface development goals and positive confrontation resolution is a million miles from fast wickets and slow bowlers. It is perhaps a tribute to the resilience of both that they can come together at all: for the result, we may have to wait a few more cricket seasons.

The technique in question is Bob Blake's Managerial Grid, still going strong 30 years after it was developed in the United States, and likely to show new life in the UK now that management consultancy P-E International has taken on the somewhat dusty licence.

The Grid's unchanging purpose is to demonstrate, in special training courses, how leaders can modify their own management styles to become personally more effective, and develop the synergy inherent in their teams. (However, P-E sees a special need for its application in these days of frequently changing corporate cultures and structures: for example, a successful predator might well want to stir up the management of a recent acquisition, and encourage its executives to start thinking along the same lines as their new bosses.) The cricketing connection is provided by Phil Neale of Worcestershire, one of the most respected captains in English county cricket. In the winter months Neale works as a P-E consultant, and recently went on one of the Grid courses that P-E now regularly provides.

"It's not how you think you are, but how others see you," says Neale, reflecting on both his course and his experience as a cricket captain. "If you are successful you become less receptive and less self-critical. I felt I was running a 9,9 system (see below), involving the team and getting the job done. But as the course went on I realised I'd backed off some decisions, and shut myself off from what my superiors were saying. We only came fourth in the county championship last year and we lost a major final at Lords."

The hows and whys of the Managerial Grid.

For those unfamiliar with the principle of Blake's Grid, the term 9,9 indicates that a manager scores the maximum rating on the two dimensions of his style which it measures: "Concern for people" and "Concern for production" (ie. for results, however defined). These two elements of a manager's job were picked out by the US organisation psychologists Robert Blake and Jane Mouton as characterising the leadership role, following studies that they made in the oil industry soon after World War II. They compared the distinguishing characteristics of high-performing and low-performing management groups, and concluded that the way in which people were handled and results pursued were what mattered most.

How far Blake and Mouton were pioneers in this field is open to dispute. Many psychologists credit Ed Fleishman with formulating the original concepts. He singled out "consideration for people" on the vertical axis and "initiating structure" on the horizontal. Blake and Mouton's main contribution, it is suggested, has been to promulgate the basic ideas through a well-thought-out and packaged training course. Blake's view is rather different. In "The Managerial Grid III" (over a million copies were sold of the first two editions alone) Blake and Mouton accuse Fleishman of "faulty formulation and lack of demonstrated validity".

In Blake's terminology someone scoring 1 on the "results" scale and 9 on the "people" scale is described as a "country club manager"; the opposite, 9,1 style is characteristic of the dictator. The unfortunate 1,1 executive does not deserve the title manager at all, having minimum concern for either results or people. A 5,5 score indicates an average, middle-of-the-road "organisation man". Blake and Mouton emphasised from the outset that managers switch from one style to another, or combine elements of several in running their operations. The successful ones adjust purposefully to achieve their ends; the less successful act involuntarily.

The implication, write Blake and Mouton, is that managers should aim for the 9,9 combination, a "goal-centred team approach that seeks to gain optimum results through participation, involvement, commitment and conflict-solving of everyone who can contribute". The authors go on to explain how, on their analysis, individuals can adapt their style to become more effective personally and, by working in a team, can build the synergy needed to raise output above the level that could be achieved individually.

Critics of the Grid complain that, being two dimensional, it inevitably oversimplifies a highly complex and fluid relationship between manager and staff. But the simplicity of Blake and Mouton's original conception has probably been the main reason for its success.

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