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Monday, March 30, 2009

Management 5

Q: Alright; I've reviewed all of our discussion so far and I admit I am feeling a little better about my Manager now. I do see that he did some good things in my situation.
I also realize that my criteria for “good management” aren't necessarily the ones his boss uses.
But what is this stuff about him being my “best customer”?

A: Well, before we get there I'll leave you with a little research: What is the Golden Rule as expressed in “The One Minute Manager”?

Q: Geez, I have to do some extra work? I thought I was going to get to ask all the questions and have you supply the answers.

A: Hmmm... If you think that learning doesn't involve work we have bigger problems than this discussion.
But anyway, there's some other loose ends to tidy up. One was your concern about what your Manager would do with a new employee who needed more help than you.

Q: Right! You dodged that one conveniently.

A: As you like; however, it's usually better to understand the optimum or normal path before we get into exceptions that require even more managerial skill.
Such as firing an employee.

Q: Hold on! How did we get to having to let some one go? We're only talking about a new employee.

A: Yes; but let's look at some more aspects of “executive, administrative, and supervisory direction”.
It's pretty clear that you expect your Manager to provide some contribution to you and your group producing their result. And you expect that your Manager will therefore help a new employee who is struggling.

Q: Right...

A: So it's reasonably straight forward in most organizations to arrange for help – training, mentoring, coaching, etc. - for an employee who needs it. That might even be provided directly by the Manager. At the very least it is initiated by him.
But how long should a Manager wait for a poorly performing employee to become effective?

Q: I don't know. That's his concern.

A: Is it? What happens in a group that includes a poor performer?

Q: Well, we all have to pick up the slack, and if there's time, try to help that person out.

A: So it does become a problem for you too – if we only look at the extra work involved (ignoring missed deadlines, effect on performance bonuses, quality, reputation, your personal life, stress in the group, etc.).
Pretty soon your Manager's boss is noticing that the group's results are suffering. Hopefully, before then, your Manager is acting to deal with this and has already alerted her and the Human Resources department.
And what would you like the Manager to do?

Q: Fix the problem, but without throwing that person out on the street.

A: And that's what a good Manager wants too. But if the “happy” solutions don't work out, he has to be prepared to let that employee go.
The Manager's job includes trying to find a productive solution – e.g. another job suitable for that employee. That's some of the “office politics” you noticed before. But at the end of the story, everyone's job – yours and mine – is a fair exchange of work-to-results for money. And if the results aren't there for the money paid to the employee, then the contract is in default.

Q: Whoa; I'm not liking where this is going.

A: Right – this isn't a happy time for anyone involved. And in a professional organization with professional Managers this situation is taken very seriously and requires all possible due diligence to get the employee's performance back on track.
Nevertheless, as explained beautifully in “Good to Great” every company needs the right employees “on the bus”. If there is a mis-match in performance, values, vision, etc. then some employees should not be on the bus. Some will realize that for themselves; some will need Management intervention.

Q: So we are just going to dump people who can't cut it?

A: Ideally Managers hire people who can perform well in several jobs, or who are trainable, or can be coached, mentored, and advised as necessary. Firing someone is a last resort and represents a failure, often in the hiring process.
But in a professional organization this isn't dumping people over the side of boat to the sharks. There should be support for those people to find a different bus going where they wish to go.
If the situation is actually very ugly, then there are other factors and variables at work that we can't solve here.

Q: Great. I'm suitably depressed now. How did we end up here?

A: By realizing some fundamentals about a Manager's job. That it includes the “life-cycle” of hiring, supervising, measuring, and maintaining or promoting or firing. It is acting on behalf of the company owner(s). It's about the “Golden Rule”. It's being your best customer.

Q: Oh, yeah! We didn't get back to that idea.

A: So do your research, and we'll continue next week. :)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Management 4

Q: As I recall, you were suggesting that we need to start at the beginning of the story?

A: That's right. If we are going to discuss “Management” we need to know what we are actually talking about.

Q: I feel some definitions coming at me.

A: Right. Let's see what some sources have to say.

Q: Is this going to take long?

A: That depends on you. :)
Here's the first one: Among Webster's offerings for Management: “the judicious use of means to accomplish an end” (1).
And for Manager: “to handle or direct with a degree of skill” (2)
and “to exercise executive, administrative, and supervisory direction” (3).

Q: So?

A: Well, for starters, your bozo Manager in our previous discussions seems to have fulfilled definition (1) - “the judicious use of means to accomplish an end”. Whether you perceive his contribution or not, he used the means – you – to accomplish an end – you produced your results.

Q: But he didn't contribute – he didn't help me at all.

A: Agreed, but he didn't need to did he? In effect he used definition (2) - “to handle or direct with a degree of skill”, with you as a capable employee. That is he handled you with skill by staying out of your way and letting you produce.

Q: But he didn't lead at all, and spent his time playing office politics.

A: OK. Will you give me an example of his “office politics”?

Q: Sure; he was constantly in meetings with the other managers negotiating priorities, and tasks, and who was going to do what, and generally sucking up.

A: Good; that sounds a lot like definition (3) - “to exercise executive, administrative, and supervisory direction”. “Executive” direction is about executing – getting tasks done. That requires working out and understanding priorities, and who is going to be involved. “Supervisory” direction is about arranging to have those “who”s – like you - actually do the tasks.
I do agree that “generally sucking up” isn't in the dictionary definition. :)

Q: So you are telling me that according to the definitions my Manager was actually doing his job?

A: Yup.

Q: But that just can't be right. Where's the leadership? Where's the getting involved and helping get the tasks done? I didn't see him contribute at all!

A: Right.
Based on your criteria he did a damn fine job – as a Manager. The definitions so far haven't mentioned leadership, or getting involved in your tasks.
And let's be clear about the record for your scenario. You said “I knew my job, I knew my objectives, I knew my boundaries, I knew how to get things done and I did them.” How did you know your job?

Q: Well, I was hired with the knowledge and skills I needed.

A: And who hired you, and checked that you had the knowledge and skills?

Q: My Manager and the Human Resources assistant with the skill tests and new hire paperwork.

A: And how did you know your objectives, and boundaries?

Q: They were part of the job description and my performance objectives documents.

A: Good! Definitely a better start than I've seen in a lot of companies.
How did you know “how to get things done”?

Q: I figured out who the important people were who knew the operation and the inside tips.

A: Excellent! Did anyone help make sure you got your job description, performance objectives, introduced you to key people with experience?

Q: OK, OK. Don't rub it in; my Manager set things up for me. But then I was on my own!

A: And it worked out fine from what you said before.

Q: But surely there's more to managing than what I saw him do for me.

A: Yup. There's lots, but before we get to that let me ask you something. How do you feel about your Manager now?

Q: Well I'm not about to give him a big hug if that's what you mean.

A: That's fine. There's probably some Human Resources policy about that. :)
Besides you don't even have to like him – just respect him by believing he is a smart, rational human being like you until you have solid data to the contrary. After all he is your best customer.

Q: Whoa! You might have wrangled me into accepting he's not as big a bozo as I thought, and in fact, according to you, did the right things for me. But my “best customer”? Now you are talking like the bozo. How can my boss be my customer?

A: Let's find out next week. :)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Management 3

Q: OK, let's try this again.

A: Good. Glad you are back - suggesting a break was a super idea.

Q: Yeah; better than punching you in the nose. So, we were talking about working for a bozo.

A: Yes; however “bozo” is somewhat imprecise and loaded term. Is it alright that we describe him as appearing to be incompetent because you didn't see the behaviour you wanted to see?

Q: Sure. I know you know what I mean, but your insistence on wording must have a reason so I'll play.

A: Good, because I chose my words carefully. I picked “appearing”, “incompetent”, “behaviour”, and “you”. First of all, I do sincerely appreciate that your boss in your example did appear to be incompetent to you. We've all experienced someone doing something that looked strange, unreasonable, unproductive right through to downright ugly.

Now in this scenario, You are seeing Behaviour that Appears Incompetent. To sort this out it would be ideal to know if it is only You (or everyone?), that sees Behaviour (consistently based on values and intent?) that Appears (or truly is according to the organization?) Incompetent (or just unexpected or unacceptable to you?).

Q: Jeez, you are picky. But I do get the point – there are a lot of variables at play.

A: Exactly, and you can see that we have just identified a few. Let's agree that a reasonable employee, such as yourself, thinks your manager is useless (another very precise term. :) )

If we look at those situations, in an organization, logically and objectively we can determine that a) this manager's boss is blind or unresponsive to this person's apparent incompetent behaviour, or that b) the manager's boss believes, or at some time believed, this person to be worth keeping in the company's employ.
Another possibility is that the boss herself is having a moment of temporary insanity, or has just used up her competence quota; however, either of these can still be covered in a) or b).

Q: Great, so both my manager and his boss are bozos?

A: Yes! - OR - our perception of the situation isn't accurate. Objectively we would both have to agree that it is probably the latter. We may not like what we see but the manager's boss must be OK with things, or if she isn't then hopefully is working to rectify the situation.
Either way, let's be careful we aren't making some bad assumptions. And even if we are correct temporarily, or permanently, let's get some facts before judging.

Q: Fine, I get your point – I shouldn't jump to concussions. So let's talk about the scenario where all my peers agree; that is it's not just my opinion.

A: Good. Do we have facts from anyone out there or is this still a group opinion? And before we argue over what's a fact and what isn't, let's just consider this. If your manager is a problem (we haven't uncovered what this problem is yet) it is his manager who has to get the facts, determine what the problem is and solve it. Ideally, that manager will do a great job and ask for your input.
But that won't be happening if your manager's boss is getting what she wants, no matter what you and I think about the situation.

Q: So we are stuck – that's just dandy!

A: Well, yes we are stuck, but not the way you think. We are stuck with common misconceptions about what “Management” is, and how it works, and where we fit in as employees.

Q: Ouch. That says that my opinion of my bozo boss is a misconception?

A: Not your opinion – that is what it is – but the cause of your opinion. Until we've been a “Manager”, or studied “Management” from those who have, it's really easy to misunderstand. It's just like every other skill or profession: if we aren't a trained pilot we don't know how to fly the plane. We can criticize a bumpy flight, but we can't be certain we could do better.

Q: This sounds like a “walk in the other person's shoes” moral.

A: Exactly.

Q: So how do we get past that obstacle?

A: Well one way is to start at the beginning of the story and see how we got to situations like you've experienced. Let's do that next week.