Management and Organizational Performance Patterns


Why Some Enterprise Improvement Models
Have More Lasting Effects than Others

The Naive Side of Process Improvement

Many process improvement systems are behaviorally naive -- heavy on the rhetoric of "teamwork," "empowerment," "new paradigms," and "accountability" but lacking insight into workplace belief systems, values, motivations, and disincentives that underlie the behaviors targeted for change. Some management change models are precise and detailed about process redesign methods but vague and conceptual about behavioral dynamics. Sometimes they express behavioral expectations through new jargon or preachy admonitions, both readily construed by employees as "you’re not doing it right." These actually thwart lasting change, although people may wisely adopt the new parlance rather than appear out-of-step with the change program. Such models are unsophisticated about how to stimulate fundamental, sustainable change in the way an enterprise does its business.

Too Many Good Ideas!

The decade extending from about 1985-1995 saw a plethora of popular management books that advocated a variety of strategies and dogmas. Managers were urged to promote teamwork through reward systems and new organization forms, to pay for performance, to train managers and staff at all levels in total quality principles, to deploy cross-functional teams to re-engineer core business processes, to return to value-based management fundamentals, to adopt the Baldridge criteria, to enable various forms of employee empowerment, to foster and reward continuous improvement, to implement balanced scorecards, to derive and use customer-driven performance measures, to benchmark these measures, and to employ all these strategies while downsizing, outsourcing, simplifying, and producing just-in-time results. No manager could employ all these strategies without a large staff and an ample budget. Some management improvement programs that advocated simplification, streamlining, clarity, and accountability became obese, rigid, and even bureaucratic, violating their own fundamental precepts. The streamlining agenda needed a dose of its own medicine, although most enterprise improvement programs did not contemplate that improvements might need to be applied to the program methodology, itself.

To make matters worse, conscientious managers had little objective information to enable them to choose from an array of rapidly promulgated ideas. Most management "new ideas" were backed by little verifiable data demonstrating their efficacy. Many ideas were superbly presented not only in print but also by consultants who polished and added pricey legitimacy. Most new methods were promoted without attacking other strategies, but with a dogmatism that implied the superiority of new theories over their antecedents and competing models. Anecdotal evidence was used to extol new methods of organizing, managing, and rewarding people, buoyed by rising (warranted) optimism about the productivity and international competitiveness of American industries. However, the individual manager had insufficient evidence about the relative effectiveness of various improvement programs to enable an informed decision about where best to invest limited time. Which tools would lead most efficiently and assuredly to improved enterprise performance?

In fact, many of the enterprise improvement programs that surfaced (or resurfaced) in the past decade are un-validated models. They may sound sensible and appear to yield measurable effects, but limited evidence links, in terms of systematic cause and effect, management actions believed to be effective with desired group behaviors (such as teamwork, collaboration, and information sharing) or with overall organizational performance.

The Irvine Management Change Model

The University of California, Irvine "Model for Sustaining Administrative Improvement" was similarly un-validated. This award-winning program, which was recognized by the National Association of College & University Business Officers (Higher Education Awards Program first prize, 1996), by USA Today (1998 Quality Cup Award), and by a 1997 CAUSE (association for managing information resources in higher education) Best Practices Award, produced numerous process improvements and productivity results. However, no statistical evidence demonstrated that the program’s normative elements correlated with desired organizational performance or with long term change in the "administrative culture" -- an articulated, over-arching goal.

As a program dedicated to sustained, rather than episodic, improvement, UC Irvine’s Model for Sustaining Administrative Improvement contained strong, value-based behavioral components. These elements were considered necessary to change the patterns of a bureaucracy, through altering the dynamic of values, expectations, rewards, disincentives, and belief systems that define and perpetuate the administrative culture of the institution.

The Irvine model contains strong normative elements in three areas:

Teamwork principles, increasingly needed as administrative organizations become more "matrixed," the organization becomes less hierarchical and more networked, and process improvement becomes increasingly cross-functional and necessary.

Simplification goals and principles, to create explicit counter-pressure against the inherent tendencies of a bureaucracy to continually add more systems, program-variants, controls, specialized policies, and layers of complexity.

Effectiveness principles, an interrelated set of normative quality criteria -- centered around accountability and performance values -- that differs sharply from prior shared beliefs, conventional wisdom, and bureaucratic patterns.

These principles play key roles in the Irvine model, as they are intentionally crafted to alter values and status quo behaviors that have become comfortable. Bureaucracies' internal dynamics create strong drives to preserve or return to status quo conditions in the

face of change. These dynamics, rooted in rule-making and enforcement behavior, are typically entrenched because status quo practices embedded in policy allow accountability and responsibility to be comfortably fragmented in ways that are "safe." Such a system is stable and predictable in its behavior, yet inefficient when conditions shift and unresponsive when change is needed.

Individual, Group, and Supervisor Performance Expectations

The Irvine Model for Sustaining Administrative Improvement expressed normative behaviors for individuals, teams, and supervisors. Teamwork, simplification, and effectiveness principles and values were taught in workshops, folded into the performance evaluation process, incorporated into stated organizational goals, rewarded through incentive compensation, acknowledged through publicity and internal recognition, operationalized through delegated authorities, measured in numerous ways, and embodied in charts of guidelines that were posted in the workplace. Systems, policies, and practices that ran counter to the Model’s normative elements were dismantled or changed.

Since an administrative culture derives, in part, from workplace values, beliefs, expectations, and rewards that are embedded in human resources policies and practices, human resources programs were addressed early, as a foundation element in the Model. For example, classification policies pertaining to management positions had rewarded bigger budgets, hierarchical layering, organizational complexity, and bureaucratic rigidity. Analysis also revealed that some managers were reluctant to pursue downsizing, restructuring, or outsourcing due to classification disincentives or concern about the University's track record in re-employing displaced staff. Finally, performance evaluation did not reinforce team behavior, innovation, and process streamlining to the extent needed for consistent support of campus administrative improvement goals. Therefore, as foundational elements -- due to their precursor role -- a re-employment program was instituted to enhance placement opportunities for laid-off staff, a "size-neutral" position classification system was introduced (removing such factors as number of staff, size of budget, and number of reporting levels below a position under consideration), and the performance evaluation form and incentive award program were revised to emphasize process improvement, innovation, and teamwork.

The Irvine Model for Sustaining Administrative Improvement included goals for reduction in the number of administrative systems and system-variants, productivity targets in four service departments, goals for benchmarking and importing exemplary practices, and customer-driven performance measures. Implementing the Model required process improvement projects ranging from cross-functional "re-engineering" to widespread process streamlining throughout the organization. Teamwork, whether team-based problem solving or team behavior in terms of everyday cooperation, was essential.

The envisioned organizational effectiveness was value-based -- rooted in shared values characterized by particular desired patterns:

  • No one is rewarded for (intentionally) looking good at the expense of another. Team players are committed to each others’ success, and in a teamwork culture this value is understood.
  • Teamwork requires willingness on the part of individuals to enter into interdependencies involving risk, which require a foundation of trust. Supervisory practices, rewards, recognitions, and performance measurement systems must not undermine interdependencies or trust between individuals.
  • Innovation requires open debate about many "wrong" ideas. Complex process redesign starts with creative chaos and early mistakes in order to avoid late-stage errors. Management must make it comfortable to be "wrong" at the beginning of problem solving.
  • Teams, rather than individuals, are empowered to solve problems (rather than merely advise a manager's solution).
  • Respect for facts, data, and objective analysis is essential to foster teamwork. People are more willing to create interdependencies involving trust and vulnerability when they feel that facts and neutral data are valued.
  • A less authoritarian hierarchy reduces the risk-exposure of competent individuals, enabling them to enter into interdependencies because their ideas can be expressed through fewer layers that might involve filtering or inadvertent distortion. Misunderstandings can be corrected more readily in a less hierarchical organization.
  • Interpersonal problems are resolved effectively -- limiting the degree to which they undermine teamwork by distorting perceptions of others’ motives, which can easily occur when stakeholders struggle with change.
  • Innovation, continuous improvement, and a willingness to question and improve upon the status quo are valued by supervisors and co-workers.

These values and desired dynamics were operationalized into eleven normative workplace patterns that could be stated as simple performance expectations, fostered through training, included (to varying degrees) as performance criteria in evaluation tools and reward systems, and measured through employee surveys:

  1. People who seek better methods are respected and rewarded.
  2. People experience a climate of mutual respect in the workplace.
  3. Groups value member suggestions, including ones that are initially "wrong."
  4. Co-workers produce ideas that help solve problems when they surface.
  5. Problems with the way the group does its work are faced and addressed.
  6. Members can criticize the way the work group functions without penalty.
  7. People can discuss problems without fear of looking stupid to co-workers.
  8. Interpersonal conflicts are addressed and resolved in the work group.
  9. Differences of opinion about how to get the job done are discussed openly.
  10. Differences of opinion about how to get the job done are resolved using facts.
  11. Everyone shares responsibility for the results of group tasks (not just the supervisor or a few key participants).

Do Management Behaviors Affect Teamwork and Cooperation?

A number of supervisory behaviors and values were articulated in the Model because they were expected to reinforce the desired organizational performance, as discussed above. Again, these were expressed as performance expectations and incorporated into performance evaluations, reward criteria, management development workshops, and stated objectives.

Although these performance expectations were considered worthwhile on their own merits, it was important to discover whether they reinforce teamwork, problem-solving, and organizational effectiveness -- either individually or in combination. And if the latter is evident, how well do envisioned supervisory qualities work together as a coherent, mutually reinforcing set?

In order to research this question, employees were surveyed across the entire administrative services organization of the University of California, Irvine. They evaluated their work groups in terms of the patterns, behaviors, and values highlighted above, and evaluated their supervisors in terms of forty-five traits and behaviors. This survey was administered twice within eighteen months, and questions that generated apparent confusion and spurious results were either clarified or eliminated between the first and second administration of the survey. The survey, which carried the neutral title Survey of Management and Organizational Patterns in order to reduce any Hawthorne Effect responses had it been called a "climate survey," yielded a seventy percent response rate through management encouragement to participate.

Supervisory Effectiveness Model

Analysis of the survey responses revealed very strong correlations between many supervisory behaviors and self-assessed organizational effectiveness, and with desired group patterns of open communications, trust, and collaborative problem solving.

The thirty-five Supervisor Behaviors that evidenced strength in this model fell into four, distinct groupings:

Ethically and Emotionally Consistent

  • Supervisors model behavior they expect from others,
  • communicate honestly with employees,
  • keep promises and commitments to employees,
  • make important decisions based on the organization’s best interests,
  • act in ways that build employees’ respect,
  • act ethically even if personal sacrifice is required,
  • base their actions on a consistent set of principles,
  • earn most employees’ trust,
  • control their tempers under pressure, and
  • are emotionally predictable as experienced by employees.

Supervisors Communicate Respect for Employees

  • Supervisors communicate clear expectations,
  • trust subordinates’ judgement,
  • take time to listen and understand employee views,
  • help employees understand "the bigger picture,"
  • show respect when communicating,
  • care about employees as individuals,
  • involve employees in developing objectives, performance measures, and plans,
  • do not gain advantage by holding back information, and
  • do not make employees feel stupid when they disagree.

Supervisors Accept Responsibility and Act on It

  • Supervisors take steps to improve bad interpersonal relationships,
  • accept constructive criticism without becoming defensive,
  • reward the best performers,
  • make good decisions despite incomplete information,
  • admit mistakes and move on,
  • separate vital tasks from less important ones,
  • do the most important tasks first, and
  • accept responsibility if things go wrong, rather than blame others.

Supervisors are Open-Minded, Team Players

  • Supervisors work well with their peers (are seen as team players),
  • support equal opportunity,
  • seek a range of views when solving problems,
  • value perspectives from people of diverse backgrounds,
  • tend to find "win-win" solutions,
  • encourage employees to surface problems,
  • will praise an effort that was promising even if it failed, and
  • do not make some people look good at others’ expense.

The Workplace Respect measures included:

  • people who seek better ways of doing things are respected and rewarded
  • members can criticize the way the work group functions without penalty
  • people can discuss problems without fear of looking stupid to co-workers
  • people experience a climate of mutual respect in the workplace.

The Workplace Cooperation cluster of interrelated patterns comprised:

  • groups value member suggestions, including ones that are initially "wrong"
  • co-workers produce ideas that help solve problems when they surface
  • problems with the way the group does its work are faced and addressed
  • interpersonal conflicts are resolved in the work group
  • differences of opinion about how to get the job done are discussed openly
  • differences of opinion about how to get the job done are resolved using facts
  • everyone shares responsibility for the results of group tasks (not just the supervisor or a few key participants).

Finally, Self-assessed Unit Performance refers to employees’ responses to the question:

How effective is your Unit, in terms of quality and productivity, compared to its potential?

  • We perform at 90-100 percent of our full potential - consistently excellent
  • We perform at 70-90 percent of our potential - usually very good
  • We perform at 50-70 percent of our potential - average or somewhat better
  • We perform at less than 50 percent of our potential - below average

The Value of Coherence within Factor Groups

The groupings of Supervisor Behaviors, Workplace Respect, and Workplace Cooperation variables are tightly clustered, with strong intercorrelations (typically r >.70) linking many factors together. These tightly correlated clusters suggest that employees view these variables as part of a coherent experience.

Consistency and coherence are essential attributes of any management change model that aims to change an administrative culture. When people sense even the slightest inconsistency in the new rules of the game, they retreat to the safety of status quo behaviors. Coherence calls for a complete, fully integrated set of goals, foundations, and tools that together strike a balance between technical and behavioral dimensions. Coherence in a management change model means that no essential pieces are missing and that all components of the model -- symbols, premises, implicit values, rewards, communications, and improvement tools and protocols -- are painstakingly consistent, with no mixed messages. The strong intercorrelations within the Model’s factor groupings provide evidence of both consistency and coherence.

How to Interpret this Model

The management change model diagrammed above is remarkably simple, and its interpretation is therefore straightforward. Although canonical correlation analysis does not enable the assignment of causal arrows, they are hypothesized as follows: Management Behaviors provide the foundation (or lack thereof) for Workplace Respect; this cluster of measures is, in turn, the precursor to Workplace Cooperation, which then leads to Self-Assessed Unit Performance. The primary effect of Supervisory Behaviors is on Workplace Respect, which appears to enable Workplace Cooperation, which then yields unit performance.

Less obvious, perhaps, is that the Model’s simple linearity defines a critical path: Supervisory actions (at least those measured by the Model) do not affect unit performance directly. Rather, performance depends on Workplace Cooperation that can only derive from a foundation of Workplace Respect, which is highly dependent on the key Supervisory Behaviors. (However, in a setting where cooperation as defined in this model is not essential for enterprise performance -- where the summation of independent, individual efforts constitutes the work product -- this model might be inapplicable.)

Model’s Simplicity May Lead to Underestimation of its Significance

For example, it demonstrates that supervisors whose behaviors foster high workplace respect must rate highly across all four dimensions – ethical and emotional consistency, respectful communication, open-minded team playing, and willingness to accept responsibility and to act on it. Each of these behavioral qualities is a fundamental prerequisite to workplace respect, the critical-path linking supervisory traits and workplace cooperation, and -- according to this model -- the only pathway to unit performance. Simply stated, it is almost impossible for a unit to realize workplace respect, cooperation, and performance unless its supervision demonstrates all four sets of determinant behaviors. Strong performance along three dimensions cannot compensate for a supervisor’s weakness in a fourth area. A commonsense view is that a supervisor’s strengths can sometimes outweigh selective weaknesses but, as revealed by this Model, not when it comes to the key behaviors that lead to cooperation-based unit performance.

Can High Performance Teams Emerge Without Supervision?

Anecdotal evidence and popular belief suggest that teams, provided with appropriate resources and empowered by the authority to solve problems as needed to pursue an understood mission, can develop effective patterns with little supervisory influence. This view is heralded as "the organization of the future" by proponents who extol its value in enterprises that must meet rapidly changing market demands through teamwork, collaboration, and information sharing. However, the Irvine Model demonstrates the foundational role of supervision in enabling teamwork, collaboration, and information sharing, since the key supervisory behaviors are essential to foster workplace respect -- the necessary precursor to these patterns of workplace cooperation.

Are these Supervisory Behaviors Innate or Learned?

Are the thirty-five key supervisory behaviors learned skills or personality traits? The evidence from UC Irvine is that these behaviors are not inborn, because supervisors (as a group) improved significantly when provided with data indicating how supervision was perceived with respect to the key behaviors:

  • by their employees in the immediate unit,
  • in comparison to other units’ supervisors, and
  • in relation to organization-wide goals for each measured behavior.

Supervisors were assisted by a management consultant to improve in areas where they scored below that of other supervisors and the overall goal for a desired behavior. The excellent results -- significant improvement overall, across all measured behaviors as well as all measures of workplace respect and cooperation -- indicated that codification of performance expectations, measurement, feedback, and goal-setting had led to learning and improvement. (Whether a Hawthorne-like effect could explain such a significant and widespread measured improvement appears doubtful.) The conclusion is that these key supervisory behaviors -- including the ones that seem more like traits than acquired skills -- are learned.

Model Differs Sharply from Other Management Effectiveness Models

This model demonstrates that supervision can do little to influence directly workplace cooperation or outcomes. Rather, the main role of the effective supervisor is to excel in the thirty-five behaviors that lead to workplace respect -- the foundation on which desired organizational patterns and, ultimately, performance critically depend. If you re-read the behaviors you will note that very few are accurately perceived from a top-down, supervisory vantage; all require bottom-up evaluation from subordinates. This points to the essentiality of a "360" performance evaluation process or a survey instrument centered (in either case) around the determinant supervisory behaviors. These behaviors can be improved upon through goal setting, measurement, and feedback (as has been the experience at UC Irvine).

The Value of a Behavioral Model

Managers need to base their actions on a valid model of what employees believe and value and how they can be motivated, especially when innovation or improvement are needed by the enterprise. Intuition and common sense do not consistently provide complete and reliable management insights. For example, without an empirical model, would it be obvious to a supervisor that expecting and rewarding the behaviors in the Workplace Cooperation cluster of patterns might prove futile unless the supervisor evidences behaviors and qualities that (first) foster workplace respect? Without the Model, would it be apparent to the supervisor that teamwork is unlikely to develop without mutual respect in the workplace? These observations may seem intuitive and obvious after studying the Model, but these causal links are weakly developed in some improvement models.

Similarly, would it be clear that respect for views of people from diverse backgrounds or support for equal opportunity are key supervisory behaviors that affect unit performance? These are often viewed as supplemental supervisory qualities which, although important, are not essential to enterprise performance. However, these factors’ significance is understood when the Model reveals the critical-path importance of Workplace Respect as the pivotal, intervening variable linking Supervisory Behaviors and Workplace Cooperation.

A validated model provides some assurance that the organization is not rewarding the wrong behaviors, incentivizing the wrong values, or conveying the wrong expectations or conflicting messages. Whether intrinsic or explicit, every improvement protocol embodies a model of how people in a workplace lead, follow, solve problems, and communicate. Moreover, all improvement programs contain inherent values -- about what forms of leading, following, solving problems, and communicating are expected, tolerated, rewarded, or praised.

The Supervisor Behavior factors in the model, the Workplace Respect variables, and the Workplace Cooperation patterns are worth measuring, adopting as performance goals and expectations, valuing in mission statements, reflecting in unit performance objectives, evaluating in individuals’ performance appraisals, incorporating in workshops and training, and rewarding through formal and informal systems of recognition. These behavioral foundations balance and support (rather than supplant) the "technical" features of a management change model. This balance is important in a model to stimulate sustainable change. The most effective technical tools -- process redesign techniques, design principles, customer satisfaction and performance measurement systems, and quality standards -- become ineffectual unless they are balanced by behavioral elements centered around employee beliefs, values, rewards, incentives, and disincentives (of which many characterize the "informal organization" more than the formal organization).

The worth of a validated model stems from its likely effectiveness in stimulating improved enterprise performance as the values, expectations, and normative behaviors it embodies are fostered. Variables with little predictive value in the model can be essentially ignored, enabling limited resources to be concentrated on the factors that will most likely produce results. In a workplace with limited time and other resources to invest in improvement, especially given the imperative of uninterrupted production, the most efficient management change model is the leanest, simplest one. Moreover, extremely complicated management change models are likely to contain inconsistencies and non-coherent, mixed messages.

Remaining Work

The Irvine model demonstrates a strong causal lineage originating with thirty-five key supervisory behaviors along four distinct dimensions which provide the foundation for workplace respect, workplace cooperation, and self-assessed unit performance. However, the model would be more compelling if workplace cooperation could be demonstrated to correlate with external/customer measurements of unit performance. This focus will comprise the next step in exploring the further development of this model.

Also worth knowing:

  • Would the Model emerge outside the context of the larger management change model -- the Irvine Model for Sustaining Administrative Improvement? Said differently, although the supervisory effectiveness model discussed here emerged from the larger management change model, does it stand on its own?
  • Would this same management effectiveness model emerge if the survey were administered in a non-university, for-profit enterprise? That is, does the Irvine Model reveal fundamental principles of management effectiveness, or is it an artifact of a particular organization or type of institution?
  • Does the Model omit (other) key supervisory behaviors? The Survey of Management and Organizational Patterns did not measure supervisors’ behaviors in such areas as use of authority and strategy, or qualities such as charisma, influence, tenacity, competitive drive, or political astuteness. Whether these factors also affect cooperation and team-based performance remains to be tested in an expanded survey.

The Model’s robustness and significance can be evaluated only by testing it in different enterprises.

If You Adopt (all or part of) this Model

The Irvine management change model illustrates how organizational change in the critical areas of workplace respect and cooperation start from a foundation of distinct supervisory behaviors that can be codified as performance expectations. Do not attempt to implement this model without adopting these (or very similar) explicit supervisory and team performance standards, as well as measurement and reward systems to support new performance expectations.

Before implementing this (or any) behavioral model, examine the underlying and inherent values in order to determine whether they are valid in your organization, or your envisioned organization. Every behavioral model contains embedded values (whether expressed or not) that will undermine implementation if they clash with mixed messages from other behavioral systems, such as the human resources system (as discussed earlier). Inherent values need to be made explicit and evaluated systematically for both validity and consistency.

It may not be necessary to adopt a management change model as comprehensive as the UC Irvine Model for Sustaining Administrative Improvement. This model’s subset of value-based supervisory, cooperation, and respect expectations can be experienced consistently and coherently -- as necessary for sustainable change -- if integrated into performance objectives, performance evaluations, incentive programs, training workshops, measurement systems, recognition and reward systems, and stated goals for the enterprise. At its simplest, the supervisory effectiveness model explained above can be implemented by (1) measuring supervisory behaviors that foster respect in the workplace, (2) determining whether these behaviors lead to cooperation-based outcomes, and (3) if validated, providing data to supervisors and work groups to foster learning and performance improvement.

Sustainable Improvement

Sustainable change requires a model that is:

  • balanced, with complementary behavioral and technical tools;
  • empirically validated;
  • consistent with (other) belief and value systems of both the formal and informal organization;
  • internally coherent, with no conflicting elements that might trigger a retreat to status quo behaviors; and
  • capable of providing clear information about the behaviors that can be improved through measurement and feedback.

Models that fall short of these fundamentals or which fail to engage and influence employee belief systems about what is expected, tolerated, rewarded, respected, and considered "effective" will not foster sustainable change.

Sustainable improvement in enterprise performance patterns requires consistency and coherence in value systems and in all related reward systems because, until new behaviors are embedded in shared values, they are vulnerable to status quo reversion. This is one reason why some enterprise improvement models have more lasting effects than others. The other reason is that many improvement programs -- including ones that have the wrappings of sophistication -- lack an underlying, empirically validated behavioral model that counterbalances their technical features and engages (not merely explains) the dynamic of values, expectations, rewards, disincentives, symbols, motivations, and beliefs that affect individual and team effectiveness.

Wendell C. Brase
University of California, Irvine
01 April 1999
© The Regents of the University of California.