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Super subordinates: Turning the workplace upside down

The traditional top-down management style dictates that initiatives for improvement within an organisation come from the top. Employees higher up the ladder of authority are supposed to take on more responsibilities than those in lower positions. This has created the leader-follower chain of command. Typical roles of the leader are:



_ Making decisions on critical matters - The boss has to assess problems or potential opportunities and explore available solutions with members of his/her team. Example: the plant manager must decide whether an additional work shift is needed to fulfil an urgent order from customers.

_ Establishing challenging goals - It's the duty of leader to set "stretch" targets for the team and get rid of the inefficiencies within the organisation. Before setting higher targets, he/she may need to consult with subordinates. For example, the sales manager may want to increase the sales volume by 20 per cent when the competition becomes fierce in the market.

_ Initiating continuous-change systems - As operational change is increasingly part of the work routine, everyone in the organisation should be aware that changes are inevitable to ensure long-term survival. Our rapidly changing modern world is creating new ways of doing business either - online or manually - and organisations need to respond accordingly.

The above are some of key roles and expectations a practical leader must take on. However, from a subordinate's point of view, there are many cases where action ordered from the top is not carried through as planned. The problem is often caused by the bottleneck at the top of the organisation hierarchy, but it may need to be solved by worker intervention before time runs out. The following are approaches that a subordinate may consider applying with his/her boss in order to enhance overall performance.

_ Go and ask for advice from the boss - In order to maintain work-flow momentum when an obstacle presents itself, an employee may need to consult the boss for a direction or decision. This will not only help the responsible person to get the work done but also utilise the boss's competence and capability to contribute to the organisation. By also contributing alternative solutions of his/her own, the subordinate can aid the consultation.

_ Organise a meeting and include the boss - Don't wait for the boss to initiate important meetings. Problems often emerge at the operational level, so employees who are close to the issue are in a better position to call a problem-solving meeting. The head of the team should be invited to join and offer comments and feedback. Efficient running of the meeting is also a key factor for success.

_ Remind the boss with minutes - After each meeting, summarise the key points and items that need to be followed up on. This is an effective way to handle complex and difficult issues.

In Thai working culture, a subordinate seldom follows up on outstanding work left by his/her senior for fear of being viewed as impolite or lacking respect. Such deference is no longer so relevant amid today's highly competitive business environment. Decisions and action must be made together at high speed. As such, bottom-up thinking is a useful new trend in enhancing management efficiency.

Yanyong Thammatucharee is senior vice president for Accounting and Finance at Central Marketing Group.


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