punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

Management - A Crash Course

I am not a manager at my company, nor do I wish to be one. I don't know how some of my managers put up with the bureaucracy. I am blessed that my boss is the way he is, but I haven't always had good bosses. I was a manager myself for many years, and while these were retail positions, a lot of the same truths apply across many types of jobs.

There are some really bad managers out there. Some are bad on purpose, some are just lazy, or some are bad but would change if they only knew how. Tons and tons of books have been written about effective management, and most are worthless. Most cover the obvious, or tell you lies that contradict what you see in reality (most sales books are like that, too). I could write volumes on this topic, but that's also part of the problem. Too much information. I break down effective management into three jobs in one. You are part leader, part psychologist, and part diplomat.

This is what most people screw up at. They think "leadership = personal power" like it's an asset. It's not. Leadership gives you nothing, really. Leadership = responsibility, and should be seen as a liability, which, like many things in life, is nonetheless a necessity. Leadership drains your resources, and while I don't want to make that sound like a "leadership = doom" statement, it should be seen as "leadership drains resources, and thus you have to be strong to do it well." Leadership means asset and talent management. To be a leader, you put your best people where they will do the best jobs to benefit the whole. You don't put an angry person to answer the phones, you don't put a person bad at math in accounting, and don't put your best and friendliest guy in some dark corner of the office where he won't get to talk to anyone. You put your friendliest person on the phones, the math whiz in accounting, and put the angry guy in the dark corner. Maybe it will soothe him.

Never, ever be afraid to hire someone better than you at something. You are a manager, not one of your employees. I knew a guy who was terrified of hiring someone who sold better than him because "it will make me look bad." I am not sure what kind of salesperson he was, whether he was good or not, but he would never get his store to sell more than twice what he personally could. If he made $10,000 in sales in a month, he didn't want someone to make more than that, so he hired people who made his sales look good in comparison. Such a plan can only double the sales he makes at most, which is a mere $20,000 per month for his store. I blame this partly on his district manager who said that a manager should be the best at everything, but imagine how much better his store would do if he hired a guy who made $50,000 one month? That's $60,000, which is a hell of a lot more than $20,000. He would have made quota AND bonus.

I have also seen people put the worst people in certain jobs because they think it's a "dumb job" or "maybe they'll quit." They "dismiss" some of the most important jobs as "lowly," and put "lowly" people there. Jobs like secretary, mail room, or "the person who answers the phones." You have to look at all your jobs, and see them for their raw value. Sometimes you have to imagine what it would be like if this job was unfilled. No one would answer the phones, file papers, or get the mail. That would suck.

I once knew a manager who tried to "be fair" by rotating jobs among his store staff. While some might see this as a good thing, it wasn't working for him. There were two people in particular who were problems. "Plain Jane" was a mopey girl with a stripe of red hair and a nose piercing who was not comfortable with herself. She was very anal and controlling. "Saucy Susan" was a girl who was terribly disorganized, flighty, and fit the dumb blonde stereotype pretty well. But Susan could sell. Boy, she could sell. Susan was all bouncy and jiggly, and had men nodding in her lap. Jane just grumbled and complained about how messy the back room was. The manager tried to get her to sell, but she just resented it. She also resented Susan, who was responsible for not putting stuff away properly, and then no one could find it. This manager bemoaned about Jane to me. The solution seemed simple. Make Jane's job to restock and inventory, do the books, and let Susan sell. "Oh, I couldn't do that," said the manager. "That wouldn't be fair." Why not? "Because then Susan would have to do all the hard work and Jane would be stuck with dull and meaningless tasks." Uh ... that's like complaining your sports car is too slow while off-roading and the 4x4 SUV keeps losing races. Dude. Manage. Manage your talent. This is not about how bigger a piece of cake your brother got than you. It's about putting the right people in the right places. The manager insisted how unfair this would be, and eventually Susan quit because of Jane, and Jane quit because she hated sales. What jobs did they get? Susan got a job selling, and Jane got a job in an office, managing supplies.

Most of the time, you don't have such clear-cut people. Maybe one person is great at programming software, but terrible at explaining it at meetings because he's shy. Maybe the guy who is great at making connections keeps forgetting to record his sales. Maybe you just have all grumpy and lazy people. Each situation and person is different. Sometimes you have to train them, and sometimes you just have to let them go. Leadership is knowing where to do each, and who to do it to.

That's why it's hard and draining. A hell of a lot of responsibility.

This part is hard, too. You have to guess between what someone is saying, and what they really mean. Some people are easy. They always mean what they say. Some people say one thing, but mean another. And some people are outright liars. And not only do you have to figure out why, but how to get around it or even use it to your advantage.

I had a boss who was really good at this. He never wanted to fire anyone if he could help it, even though he was not in charge of who he got. Even though he got people HR decided was good for the team, he still believed everyone had a purpose under him, and by gum, he took even the most annoying or no-talent people they gave him and found something, anything, they were good at. We had a guy who was an arrogant pathological liar with a big mouth and patronizing sneer whom everyone hated pretty much openly. My boss found out he had a talent for a certain Macro language no one wanted to learn, and so made him in charge, and put him in a pod far away from anyone else (actually, he was put among people who could not talk to him because they were on headsets, talking to customers). He thrived there. He ended up going to another company, and becoming a brilliant programmer under a guy who did the same thing: gave him tasks, and kept him away from people. Too bad his big mouth got him fired later on, but some things can't be helped, and at least he has a lesson to learn from.

Some people do best when given sub-deadlines for every step and strict rules on how to do everything. Some do best when told to work whenever they like, as long as they get the job done on time. Most like a little of both. That's why you have to constantly communicate with your workers. Build up a loyalty instead of a people who fear you. People will work longer hours, produce better work, and provide a more pleasant work environment if they think they matter. Catch them doing something right more than doing something wrong. If the only communication you have is when they screw up, they will associate you with humiliation and embarrassment. This turns to anxiety, resentment, and poorer quality work. You have to kind of understand how people tick, and understand that everyone is different. Don't assume every one of the same cut of cloth is the same pattern, as they say. I had a boss who hired Asian people because "they have some sort of Samurai honor thing, and genetically they have bred themselves to be hardier workers for less pay." Kind of like reverse racism, almost. Except in his ignorance of "all Asian people are the same" he hired a lot of Vietnamese (Samurai is Japanese ... much farther north), and didn't keep his mouth shut about his "ancient Chinese secret" at hiring people. Too bad the Department of Labor didn't agree with his practices when a "Samurai employee" filed a discrimination suit. Everyone works differently, and hopefully you can figure out if they'll work out during the interview. And by checking references, the most valuable and overlooked tool on a resume.

But don't go too far and "be their friend," either. That backfires almost all the time. Some managers don't want to be the bad guy. I once was asked to fire someone else's assistant because she couldn't bear the thought of firing her new "best bud." I refused, and so she didn't fire her bumbling assistant for months until our boss finally fired the assistant. That's why I never hire friends to work under me directly, unless I am totally sure they will do a good job. I have been burned far too many times. I knew this one guy from a former job, and when I left, we still remained friends. I was totally sure would do a good job because he did a good job at the old place. What I didn't know was since the last time I worked with this person, they got hooked on drugs and I often had to do this guy's work because he was always "out sick," and when he did work, he was always goofing off. I grew red in the face when my boss said, "Why did you recommend this clown?" Luckily for my pride, we all got laid off, and so I never had to fire him. Another time, I hired someone as a favor to a friend, who convinced me this girl was really a great worker. This girl, while nice, turned out to be a complete flaky psychodramatic, who claimed all manner of ailments that prevented her from doing her job properly (like, say, showing up on time ... or all day without warning). Just before I was about to fire her, she quit, but tried to save face by saying she was being a martyr for "taking this sacrifice" because my boss obviously had it out for her (totally untrue), and I had a family and all, and she understood why I was "selling out to the man." Huh. An employee is not your friend. He or she is an asset. A valuable asset, yes, but ultimately has to be replaceable. Leave the friends to your social life, and keep work and social life as separate as humanly possible. Someday, you may have to tell that "friend" that their job has been eliminated due to cutbacks. Can you look them in the eyes and say that without remorse?

They say the true art of diplomacy is letting other people get your way. Diplomacy is best described as a go-between of two or more possibly opposing sides. As a manager, you will always be this diplomat. It's usually between your employees and the upper management or your employees and the customer. There are so many ways to approach diplomacy, and each situation is so unique, I can only give you examples.

One-on-one meetings are very good diplomacy. Especially in a private room. Bad diplomacy is reprimanding an employee in front of others. Even worse is to compare one employee to another in front of both. It's rarely a compliment to say Susan is a better seller than Jane, in front of both, because Jane will hate Susan, and Susan will feel awkward. Gifts are also dicey. I have found that just being a nice guy with a firm set of rules and a genuine care for the employee pays off a lot better than a free keychain, tee-shirt, and coffee mug in the long term.

Never, ever, ever, no matter how much you want to, gossip about an employee to another. Some of the worst diplomatic blunders happen when a boss says to you something like, "Your coworker Bill sure sucks." I had one boss tell me that a guy I worked with had herpes. That was none of my business. And even though you think it makes you look like "the good guy" to your employees, never badmouth your management. Even if you totally disagree with them, and think they are living scum that smell like lung tar. It's bad for morale in the long run, and if that doesn't convince you, let me scare you with one hard fact: someone will snitch. Everything you have ever said bad about someone gets back to them, even if you don't know it. Even if they never heard the words, "smells like lung tar," they know. Body language, averting eyes, and subconscious behavior give away a lot more than you think. They don't even have to be conscious of it, they will just "feel uncomfortable" around your workers.

Some people don't get along. I recall one company I worked at, the software development team and the marketing team HATED each other. If development would have their way, they'd sell the same software, over and over, as long as it suited them. If marketing had their way, everyone would be assured Godlike powers and continuous looping orgasms for eternity. And possibly their own pony. Marketing kept promising to customers what development didn't want to give, or in many cases, couldn't give. "Sure, we can do that," they to any customer without checking to see if we actually did. I think if development could sum up marketing, it would have been "do what I want, not what I ask for." Marketing summed up the development by saying they were slow-moving, cranky bastards who didn't play nice with others. My team was in the middle: we tested the software before it was released. Quality Assurance. QA. I don't know what they call it now. Our job was to take what marketing wanted, what development gave us, and try and make it work. Often, development sent us stuff that didn't work, and we had to send it back, pointing out explicitly where it had failed. Marketing would balk that we didn't give it a thumbs up fast enough. Once, they tried to "cut out the middleman" and released a software build that had a HORRIBLE bug in it during a trade show as a "preview of what is to come." Any Mac user that got our software at the Macworld Expo in 1997... I am sorry. Nearly one-third of its most vital design needs did not work, and even worse, it corrupted your virtual memory and crashed your OS if used repeatedly without rebooting. Dev laughed. Marketing blamed us, until it was exposed the build number was one we never received (which is how we found out). Oops. But I saw first hand how this opposition worked, and what my managers had to deal with. They not only had to keep perfect records, but had to explain why this happened without making a fool out of development or marketing. Our team looked good, and even valuable after that incident.

Worst line? Friend of mine who worked at large software company during its downturn and buyout said a new manager asked, "Who are these Beta Testers, and why are they so down on our software? We need team players, not complainers who bitch about bugs, and point out every obvious flaw they find. Who needs these Negative Nellies?" Uh ... isn't that their job, by definition? And those "Negative Nellies" were right in front of him.

The worst crimes of poor diplomacy seem to be when a manager loses sight of where the money comes from: the customer. Sometimes the customer is actually the customer who bought your company's product or service, and sometimes the customer is another department in the company (like employees are to the company mailroom).

Good Customer Diplomacy Example: Rewarding employees who fix customer's problems, whatever it takes. Settings soft time limit goals to reduce customer hold time.
Bad Customer Diplomacy Example: Specifying tech call times with a maximum average, and punish those that go over.

One term I hear a lot is "micromanagement." These are managers who control everything their employee does, down to where they put the stapler on their desk. I have been debating if this is a leadership problem, because it's poor talent and asset management: you are left doing all the work and decisions. Why have employees at this point? It's also very bad psychology, because it kills employee morale, and makes them feel stupid. But it the end I have put it under diplomacy, because it affects the whole company. You cannot be a diplomat if you have no common ground with the worker. My wife used to work for a company that handed out a "desk template" of where one puts they keyboard, pencil cup, stapler, and did not allow anything personal on their desk or cube like photos, plants, or art. Guess how gloomy that place was to work. Guess how they treated the customer. Diplomacy was so far gone, that people openly insulted each other, the customer, and management. No one felt like they had to deal to get anything, it was everyone for themselves.

This goes two ways, you know. You have to show upper management why your team is valuable, and ensure they know what kind of work they do, and

You can always find common ground, even if the sides hate each other. The company wants everyone to wear suits and ties. The employees want casual. You can make those that interact with customers wear nice things, and those that work in the mail room have more casual and comfortable clothing. Have casual Fridays.

If you are diplomatic, and give where you can give, employees will receive you much better.

That's it. I hope this wasn't too long winded.

This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000223.html
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