Active management is a concept that most CEOs and leaders recognise and agree with, though it can be difficult to conceptualise. A key way to demonstrate active management is to find an operational problem before it finds you, and work collaboratively to solve it.

Every activity requires active management on some level. From a CEO’s office right through to the cleaner’s store cupboard, an operating problem will be far more costly, disruptive and cause a lot more pain if it finds you first. Searching for operational problems proactively is a form of active management that pays dividends.

Active management is about behaviour

Active management is firstly about behaviour; the word ‘active’ is not there by accident. Secondly, its frequency depends on the immediacy of the work being managed. Good contact centres, for example, actively manage their queue on a constant basis. Front line managers, who immediately supervise work being done, are where active management has the most positive effect. Project work generally requires less frequent active management.

Active management is also about regularly checking on the progress of things in order to stay on schedule. For example, when we get our car serviced, we are taking action when there is no discernible mechanical problem, avoiding the inconvenience of breaking down somewhere on the road.

CEOs, to actively manage the areas of responsibility you have, ask yourself: how often do I respond to events or crises popping up that need my urgent attention? If the answer is ‘often’, this is a good indicator that there is a problem needing to be addressed.

However, this doesn’t mean that people forced to respond to events are bad managers. Indeed, those who never experience such events are almost certainly carrying far too much contingency as a buffer to operating problems. In fact, without active management, opportunities to enhance productivity and reduce costs are limited.

With this in mind, here are 6 key ways to achieve good active management in your business.

  1. Have a standard and a goal to measure against

    Lasting change requires a holistic approach. If you don’t know how much work you expect to get done in a day, you can’t measure how you are tracking.

  2. Make sure your active management is about getting work done and not checking up on your people

    This is really important. People don’t like the boss constantly looking over their shoulder as it sends the message that they are not trusted. So the required style is to get people on board with the day’s or week’s target from the outset, ensuring that you are all working together to succeed.

  3. Focus on barriers and problems if work is off schedule

    Most people come to work to be successful so if they are not, something is stopping them. Focus on supporting and helping your people through operating problems rather than policing their behaviour.

  4. If there are barriers and problems, fix some of them

    There is nothing more encouraging than when a worker speaks to their manager about a problem in their task or project, and management fixes it. This exchange powerfully demonstrates to the workforce that management listens to their people and commits to driving positive change.

  5. Maintain and focus on lead indicators

    A lead indicator is how much product was despatched on time and a lag indicator is the complaints from the customer for late delivery. Many customers won’t complain but will simply move their business elsewhere, so ensure you have a good suite of internally generated lead indicators measuring progress in critical processes.

  6. Encourage active management at every level

    Invest in building a culture of active management in your business. This means encouraging active management at every level, driving deeper engagement among your people.

Active management enables you to steer down the middle of the road where the ditch on one side is a high-cost business that delivers the required service but with a lot of waste, and the ditch on the other side is a low-cost business that delivers poor customer service. When managers take an active interest in transparent targets committed to in advance, business performance is significantly enhanced, with a better focus on the work itself. A balanced approach to active management creates enormous productivity and service benefits.