Gartner Blog Network

How can you tell when you are being administrative rather than action oriented?

by Mark P. McDonald  |  November 14, 2011  |  1 Comment

Every organization has administrative work.  It needs to be done and done right even if it is not directly touching the customer, creating value, or saving resources.

Administrative work can be characterized as work that follows a prescriptive process to produce a predictable result and a predefined value to the organization.

Do your job, your whole job and nothing but the job because there is no extra in it for you or the company.

While we all recognize administrative work, we often do not recognize when non-administrative work takes on an administrative tone, task and talent.  When this happens work that used to be exciting, value based and action oriented suddenly feels more like administrivia

Nowhere is that possibility greater than in IT where most of the work is action oriented, but enough of it is administrative to cause the same person to do both kinds of work.

This point came home to me when I was sitting in a meeting and listening to a speaker drone on discussing the specific approach they were going to follow on a project.

She was telling the people in the meeting exactly how she was going to do the work, in great detail.

When asked about how she was going to get results, she came back to the specific steps, repeating them like an incantation, as if simply saying the words meant that the result would happen.

Latter after the meeting I raised this point with her 1:1.  She said ‘Oh if that is what I said, then that is not what I meant.”  She then proceeded to say how she would get the result in terms that were based on understanding the issues and actions rather than reciting the process recipe.

That got me thinking, when do you know you are being administrative rather than action oriented?   Here are a few thoughts.  You are being administrative when you:

  • Put process before outcome/result, the result is why you are dong the process so it should come first
  • Use process as the answer to a question, even more so when it’s the answer to every question
  • See the process as overcoming human and situational challenges like differing skills sets, weak executive support, unclear objectives and the like
  • Draw their authority, power or influence from the process rather than from the result they are trying to get.   The process may give you temporary authority, but it is only vested in those that get results.

An old customer of mine, back when I was a commercial banker, told me something that has always stuck with me.

“People write checks”

What he was saying was the people do things, not processes, nor systems.  When we become administrative we lose sight of that and we lose the ability to get results.

So next time you find yourself talking about process, using it as a shield against questions and a sword to coerce your peers, ask yourself am I being administrative or action oriented.

Then adjust accordingly.

Category: leadership  management  

Tags: business-management  it-leadership  leadership  management  value-of-it  

Mark P. McDonald
8 years at Gartner
24 years IT industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a former group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-author of The Social Organization with Anthony Bradley. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on How can you tell when you are being administrative rather than action oriented?

  1. Ian says:

    Good article Mark, and an issue I am grappling with at the moment. I have just taken over a project to implement business process management within our IT organisation. This is somewhat challenging for a couple of reasons. First, the project has been going for 18 months and not delivered anything as too pure a view of process has been taken: we are trying to solve world hunger by giving away nutrition shakes even the starving won’t drink. Second, being a polarised Meyers-Briggs N-P, I have a strong aversion to process for process sake. Apparently this is why I was chosen for the role: if we end up with something I find useful the chances are that most of the rest of the organisation will be happy with it.

    What I am finding is that process has become a cultural handicap used to justify otherwise nonsensical positions. To my mind this happens because most processes offer too strict a prognosis for a given situation without consideration of context. The challenge is how to make process a valuable asset in a variable and fast-changing environment. I wish I had a clear answer. As of now, I don’t, but I do feel strongly that over prescription is more of a danger than under specification. My first step is to admit process won’t solve everything and that sometimes people can add more value from making decisions rather than being choiceless doers.

Comments are closed

Comments or opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors only, and do not necessarily represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management. Readers may copy and redistribute blog postings on other blogs, or otherwise for private, non-commercial or journalistic purposes, with attribution to Gartner. This content may not be used for any other purposes in any other formats or media. The content on this blog is provided on an "as-is" basis. Gartner shall not be liable for any damages whatsoever arising out of the content or use of this blog.