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Multipliers, Diminishers and Other Species in People Management

Multipliers, Diminishers and Other Species in People

By Isabella Groegor-Cechowicz

“So much of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to work.”

– Peter Drucker

Some managers are authoritarian or, almost worse, prima donnas; those managers, and perhaps a few of their favorite lieutenants, are always the “smartest people” in the room. Humbler team members hesitate to speak their minds and their potential talents and contributions are sidelined. Sometimes these high-flying managers are indeed very talented and driven people, and their organizations can flourish in certain circumstances; but with so much talent sitting idle in subordinate roles, and so much autonomy and brainpower squashed by top-down visions and campaigns, that success can be quite fragile.

This thesis was put forth by Liz Wiseman in Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in  the New Game of Work (you can get a quick gist by reading this HBR article). Wiseman terms such top-down managers as “diminishers,” and she contrasts them with “multipliers,” managers who see talent as something fungible that can be cultivated in all but the least promising employees, with long-term flexibility and strength the result for the organization. Diminishers see a zero-sum world of talent, power and resources, hoarding them and positioning themselves at the center to the exclusion of others. Multipliers liberate their teams to find resources that may not be immediately apparent: in the market, in the community, in the organization, in their colleagues and in themselves – they are real magnets attracting talent into their vision, team or projects.

I’d like to think that we all can transform from being accidental diminishers into multipliers, but this needs effort and people who give you honest and open feedback. Reading these arguments after Wiseman’s book was published in 2010 sharpened my own instinctive views on management and probably helped me nip any dormant diminishment habits in the bud. As a result, I have a simple vision: managers – true leaders – are not there to command, control, preen or position themselves for advantage. They are instead there to liberate the people around them to ask new questions, to present options, and to grow organically and cultivate a team’s collective talents. It sounds a bit squishy and new-agey on the surface, but Wiseman carefully points out that such leadership also has a sharp edge; providing employees with autonomy also challenges them to take responsibility for both successes and failures. Fortunately, at SAP our culture has long rewarded multipliers. With virtual global teams and many talented self-starters, it’s really the only sustainable model for us.

For better or worse – it is up to us to shape how it evolves – our global economy is becoming flatter and more decentralized. Virtual teams rapidly form and disband around projects, often collaborating with people outside the organization for whom they formally work, if they have such an arrangement at all. While this poses a very real problem of insecurity for some workers, many Millennials are somewhat accustomed to it and prize the associated flexibility that comes with it. This is a diminisher’s worst nightmare, and it means that they will struggle even more to attract and grow talent beyond themselves. Multipliers, on the other hand, have a chance to extend their style of talent cultivation beyond a core, fixed team and to create mutual benefit with a much wider group of informal collaborators. This kind of model has been apparent in the software industry for many years, with independent developers building on platforms developed by technology companies.  Now, of course, it’s spreading into every industry and sector, including public services.

A world of collaborative hacking and crowd-sourced projects will provide multipliers with an important opportunity to draw contributions from people far beyond the teams they formally manage. They will be able to tap talent from many people who don’t fit into the traditional work matrix, including people who sometimes struggle to fit into conventional organizations (for example, autistic people, with whom SAP is already engaging in a mutually beneficial partnership). Semi-retired people, freelancers, NGO partners, students, part-timers, creatives, and of course citizens and customers themselves…these new “species” of team member will provide incredible leadership growth opportunities for corporate managers who choose to be multipliers. It might be a pretty rough ride for the command-and–control diminishers, but I doubt many people will be shedding tears. 

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