the Unicorn Management Model

ImageFrom our three insights into the new ways of managing, we created Teal Unicorn’s approach to driving transformation to new ways of working: the Unicorn Management Model.

We package the following components together as “The Unicorn Management Model”:
• The improvement “cartwheel” model below.
• A four-tier evolutionary model.
• Principles and matariki.
• An Improvement Machine model.
• A management development programme.
• An experiment programme.

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Teal Unicorn provides consulting and training on new ways of working and managing, mostly in New Zealand and Vietnam, but no matter where you are, ask us.


UMM Improvement Model

Unicorn Management Model Copyright Two Hills Ltd Creative Commons
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The Unicorn Management Model honours the principle that you can't change a complex system, you can only create the conditions for it to change itself. Management creates and manipulates those conditions. New Ways Of Managing also honours the Agile principle of "Let the people doing the work design the work". The system gives them the values, ways, and means, and lets the work be emergent.

It is almost never the individual. Unreasonable systems make unreasonable people. Fix the system.
Staff get labelled as lazy, negative, obstructive, when they're actually frustrated, bitter, disengaged, tired, afraid, unsafe. Most blossom when you get the system off them.

Nor is it the process that is the problem. Trying to improve a process is like fixing one cog in a gearbox. Even if you overcome that analogy by making a process more efficient, effective, and usually easier, that will often be a local optimum which degrades the system flow.

And of course improving tools never fixed anything, in isolation. Tools come last. Improve the system to free the people to improve the processes to identify tool requirements.

So long as the organisation is in an explore mode, you can do everything grassroots, below the rader, guerilla. But in order to move to "The New Way Of Managing For Our Organisation", you need executive support: a mandate to incubate that new way and adopt it widely in an iterative incremental manner.
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As we adopt the new way of working, we pull new behaviour from the rest of the organisation, and we start to transform the operating model: new funding, strategy, planning, prioritisation, portfolio management, engagement between functions, governence, audit, measurement, reporting...

An explanation of the model:

Trying to change the way people work is futile. They work within a system. The system must change in order to allow the people to change the way they work. The system provides them values to guide them, ways of working to shape what they do, and the means to do their work. The system is built on people's behaviour and culture, practices, artefacts and tools, and suppliers / partners.

We change the system in order to change these inputs to the work. The way we change the system is by changing the way we manage the system. We do this in three primary areas: we change the people management, the governance and executive management, and the business management of the system.

The executive management provides the policy, priorities, vision, strategy, and funding, which in turn sets the values that the people use when doing their work.
We exclude leadership from this list: leadership comes from managers and non-managers alike. Not all managers are leaders. Leadership uses these same inputs, because leadership is part of the system to enable it.
The executive are themselves directed and monitored by the organisational governance, who should be concerned primarily with three system resources: people, money, and information - which they should govern equally.
The executive management receives feedback from the system, especially but not exclusively feedback on the risks present in the system, in order to allow them to manage risk.
In order to change the way executive management and governance think, we coach both governance and executive management in the new principles guiding the way they manage. There are 10 primary principles that we use and a number of subsidiary principles derived from them. For example, these principles include the ideas that success comes through failure, we should organise around products not projects, we need to do less in order to do more, and let the people doing the work design the work.

The people management function influences the system through KPIs, performance management, workflow definitions, and process designs. These shape the ways for people to do their work. People managers receive feedback from the system primarily around the performance of the work. The way that we influence people management is through introducing new models for behaviour, including kaizen cultural improvement, network management structures, servant manager (we don't like the term servant leader), agile management, and transformational leadership.

The business management function provides resources, capability, tools, and architecture, which practitioners use as the means to do their work. The business management function receives feedback from the system primarily but not exclusively around what are the constraints in the system that management can help remove.
To change the way business is managed we introduce new methods such as Lean, Theory of Constraints, value networks, Kanban, Scrum, Scaled Agile Framework or Disciplined Agile or Large-Scale Scrum or Scrum of Scrums, and DevOps.

An improvement “machine” drives a continual improvement programme to keep the whole thing alive and moving.

Here is an alternative view of the same thinking:

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it makes the same point that improvement is outside the work itself.


For more on this, see our new book, The agile Manager.
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