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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Management 8

Q: So how are we going to ask my manager what he means when he asks me to “lead the group”?

A: Why don't we do a little role play?

Q: Jeez, here you go again with the roles thing. Is this going to hurt?

A: Only if you don't want to play your Manager.

Q: Do I get his salary too?
But really, how do I know what he's thinking? Not knowing that is what got us here.

A: Sure; but we can try some different possibilities and see how things work out. You be him, and I'll be you. Here we go:
Hey, thanks for asking me to “lead the group”! I'm always up for a new challenge and appreciate your faith in me.

Q: Whoa! That's already too much sucking up – let's get serious. I would never say that!

A: Hmmm; too bad. If you don't show some sort of appreciation then you shouldn't expect to be asked again. And if you really don't want the challenge then you should say so right away.
Anyway, my next question (as you) to you (as your manager) is:
What exactly would you like me to do to lead the group?

Q: But this is the problem with this playing roles thing: I don't know what he – er, me – wants.

A: You are having a bad day, aren't you. Will you imagine what he might say? There's lots of choices – just start with one.

Q: OK.
I want you to take charge of the group to get this project completed on time. And under budget. And make me look good, too.

A: Good one! Now you're in the spirit of this. And then I say:
Completed on time, under budget – anything else?

Q: Er... not right now. I'll probably dream up some other stuff in a while.

A: OK. Is this a formal appointment, that is a change in job?

Q: Uh... No, I'd like you to try it out, see how you do, see if you've got the right stuff, show us what you've got, carry the ball down the field and make the big slapshot, go for gold!

A: (Easy tiger, don't get crazy on me.)
Alright. What are my boundaries? For example, am I supervising the work, or managing the group?

Q: How about you manage the group?

A: Got it; that means to me that I will be doing your functions of
  • planning
  • organizing
  • staffing
  • directing, and
  • controlling
for the people in my workgroup. Do you agree on that?

Q: (Ooooh. You just pulled the Manager's essentials out – cute. Now I see why those are good to know. So how do I play that shot?)

A: (Great observation – that is why they are good to know! And for your reply, imagine what your manager would say)

Q: Ah, well... er... not staffing. You can't hire or fire people because we're just trying this out.

A: OK. So if the project needs more people to be done on time, I need to come to you for your help on that?

Q: Uh... sure (I think) (This making manager's decisions is getting tricky – what if I mess up?)

A: (Yeah, interesting isn't it? If it makes you feel better it's OK to be wrong. Your boss will usually be happy if you at least get things right more often than you are wrong. Actually, the most important question is what you do when you are wrong.
For our role play you can be as right or as wrong as you like. We can always rewind and try again.)

Q: (Good! This is kinda neat being able to see things from the other side. I guess all that management office politics I complained about before was out of line.
Let's keep going.)

A: So far I understand you want me to manage the group but without authority for staffing. That means I am accountable for planning, organizing, directing, and controlling – right?

Q: Sounds fine.

A: OK. Then I can re-plan the project? Re-organize people's assignments? Direct their daily work tasks? Measure their results to control their productivity and quality?

Q: Uncle! Stop. Can I be someone else now? I don't know how to answer all those questions. How does my manager know?

A: Fine – we can stop. I think you got a sense of how this might play out.
The key is knowing the definitions – the essential elements – of the manager's job and recognizing that words like “leading”, “supervising”, “directing” need explanation.
The best thing one can do is ask: “What exactly do you mean when you say...”, and to not make assumptions. That's why we have spent so much time on the words and the details – there's just too much at stake for confusion.

Q: Yeah, and you really nailed me with your questions. I was feeling really pinned down.

A: Exactly. When you have thought about the essentials, and you have a list handy, then you are better able to ask the strong questions that clarify the requirements and the boundaries.
It's often most helpful to ask what is not included – what are the exceptions. For example, the staffing element in our role play.

Q: OK. I know you are a big fan of Ask for Help, and I can see why. And why you like to be clear on the words used.
But you didn't answer the question about how does a manager get to know this stuff?

A: Right. :)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Management 7

Q: So we were talking about things that were part of job descriptions – the essentials – and then you added this “roles” thing. Why do you keep making this complicated?

A: Well, it's actually simpler when you can keep the bits and pieces clear.
It's important to know what the minimum requirements of a job are – the outcomes of that position for which one is hired and paid. But we all quickly realize that there is much more to a job than that. We end up doing all kinds of things that weren't covered in the hiring interview or the position description.

Q: Ha! Tell me about it. And so?

A: Well, we need to meet our job description requirements to get paid. And we need to fulfill many roles to get the job done and be successful. Some seem to naturally be part of the job and others are opportunities to try something new, based on our manager's requests or our own initiative. We often talk about wearing a variety of different hats.
The job description requirements are normally word-smithed to be clear and exact; the roles are much more informal and based on tribal knowledge and experience.
For example: from a job description perspective, “directing” is more precise than “leading” for a management job. Leaders (as a job) determine which forest to manage, Managers direct their staff to which trees need to be harvested.

Q: That seems to be a scope or big picture vs. smaller picture question.

A: Exactly.
And also, as our teamwork sessions keep showing, leadership is not restricted to a particular job and can be done by anyone. So while Leaders need to demonstrate leadership regularly, as part of their job, anyone can, and should, demonstrate leadership when they have the best idea.

Q: Well at least we're getting back to the leadership question. But why are you concerned about job descriptions vs. roles?

A: The job description concept is simply a way to describe the essentials required in a job – the minimum set of activities for a given role. Our summary for a Manager is:
  • planning
  • organizing
  • staffing
  • directing, and
  • controlling
These are the things that a Manager must do at the very least (their job description). These aren't in your job description, and they aren't differentiators in a Leaders job description.

Q: But surely some, or all, of these activities are done by the Leaders – the senior management or whoever you mean.

A: Yes they do in their role as Managers of others. It's when we don't recognize the roles people are playing – which hat they have on – that we get these things muddled up.
That is why it is best to think of the role each person is playing at a given moment to recognize what activities they should be doing to fulfill that role well.

Q: And roles are different than jobs?

A: For sure. Your job is a description of what you are hired to do – the results expected – and the skills and knowledge required to get the results. To get that job done you may play many roles including manager executing management activities (even with your manager), and leading when you have the best idea in your team or workgroup.
One way to look at it is:
  • you have to do your job to get paid;
  • the various roles you can play to do your job - get it done faster, smarter, with higher quality, with more value, etc. - make you a more valuable employee.
Q: So if I am just fulfilling my job requirements, that's my job, and if I need to exercise some management skills with my peers or my manager then at that moment I am acting in the role of a manager?

A: Sure. For small work transactions you may just describe it as exercising some management skills or activities, but for more extended time periods – for example, when your manager is away on vacation – you would say you are filling that role on their behalf.

Q: Got it; but again why are we fussing with all this definitions and categorization stuff?

A: Because, in my opinion, based on how people write about this and discuss it, we easily get messed up and off track. We think we understand and then realize it was all about something else.
For example: when the manager of a group asks you to “lead the group” what does that really mean?
Often it is assumed to mean “be in charge”, “provide direction”, “organize the work”, etc.

Q: Yeah; that seems OK to me.

A: So now you are being asked to “lead the group”, is that a new job? Are you now the group's Supervisor? Team Lead? Manager?. In other words is that a job assignment or a role?
And what responsibility, accountability, authority do you have?

Q: I don't know; I just get to come in late and put my feet up! Just kidding.
More likely I get to deal with all the problems.

A: Right. You would usually end up with more questions in your mind than answers. And not about the work itself, but about the people stuff. What are your boundaries? How directive can you be? What do you do to lead?

Q: Hey; didn't we agree already that anyone on the team should be able to lead when they have the best idea?

A: Yes!
So what does your manager want when he tells you to “lead the group”?

Q: Beats me.

A: Me too! When we get together again let's ask him. :)