Monday, August 16, 2010

Management: The Unnecessary Evil


Thanks for the post on “Life without Management,” and glad to hear that you took a little family time. We have been squeezing in some weekend trips as summer winds down and those have kept us pretty busy as well. I have been thinking a lot about your post and I agree that accountability is a big part of the equation here, but I have decided that I am going to hold fast to my original argument. Management is an unnecessary evil.

In thinking about this issue, I keep going back to something Clay Shirky said (disclaimer: I have a huge professional crush on Clay Shirky).
“Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.”
Management does not want accountability because then it loses the power advantage, and the hard truth of this whole thing is that we still have a philosophy of management based on power.

There is a great deal of talk about the new leadership and leadership 2.0 and yadda, yadda, yadda…you and I both know there are some of those folks out there and some of those organizations out there, but I think they are the exception to the rule. You do not have the recent financial debacle with real leadership and individual accountability…you also do not have Enrons or the recent outcomes we have seen from BP and Toyota. Hell, with real leadership and individual accountability Congress would get a little work done.

Academics and consultants talk about it like it is the reality but it is not. The business world is dominated by managers who believe in power over, rather than power with. There is no room or reward for personal accountability until management goes away.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Life without Management


I am sorry for the radio silence lately.  Thankfully, I got to take a time off to spend with the family.  I'm now back in the saddle and ready for action.

Thank you for the tasty post last week where you posed the question: What about, rather than fixing management, we do away with it?  It is a great question and it seems to be an idea that resonated with a number of people.

As I've thought about the notion of eliminating the role of people supervisors, I realized that by doing that, we'd do away with a number of other things that we know and love:
  • Performance Appraisals. There would be no one to administer them.  No loss here because I can't seem to find any real evidence that they work.  
  • Management Development Programs.  Perhaps now we can re-task our training folks to develop individuals on interpersonal and influence skills.  
  • Management Meetings and Retreats.  No more golf outings or long days trying to stay awake in a hotel conference room.  
  • Strained one-on-one Meetings.  Instead, we can meet when we have a reason to meet.
Imagine all of this recaptured time and energy.  I have to admit, it does sound appealing.  

I think that there is one major problem with this concept.  If we do away with management, each employee must become more personally accountable for their own performance.  And, from what I'm seeing these days, if there's one thing we like less than management, it's being held accountable.  BP didn't admit any responsibility for the oil spill until they had no other options and no one left to blame.  In politics, it seems that the strategy for any situation is always deny any wrong doing and blame the other party.  Being held accountable or (gasp) accepting accountability is treated like the plague.  

In fact, if each individual chose to be more individually accountable, we might help minimize our current management crisis (if we don't eliminate the profession).  Individually accountable employees help their managers to be successful by owning their own results and experience.  Individually accountable managers embrace their impact on others and realize that their job is to facilitate others' success.  

Maybe instead of a management issue, we have an accountability issue.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

You Are Not The Boss of Me!


Good stuff on dealing with a bad manager. Bad managers is probably a topic that we could spend a lot of time on and our Bad Managers Suck series could probably go on for a very, very long time. I think that a big part of the reason that things like The Office and Dilbert resonate with so many folks is that as ridiculous as they often are, they are also hit very close to home especially regarding our relationship with supervisors. There are a lot of things that contribute to bad management and we could spend a lot of time and energy cracking that issue open, but what about this…

Why don’t we just get rid of it? Why don’t we do away with management as a title, as a role, as a philosophy, as a source of so much unnecessary drama? In our manifesto we tell leaders to "get out of the way"...maybe they should really get out of the way?

What would happen if did some real “re-engineering” and let all managers go? We could of course allow them to apply for other open positions within the company, we’re not complete a-holes! Would things grind to a halt? I kind of doubt it. I am sure that there would be some initial confusion, but there would also be a lot less management related dysfunction.

What would a world without management look like?

What if “the organization” became a network of self-organized teams?

What if we went to an organization and took everyone that was in a supervisory role and we changed their role from supervision to resource coordination…they would have no authority over anyone but were responsible for helping the team that they were assigned to coordinate with other teams and access to the tools that they needed to be successful…whether it be budget, training, equipment, policy change, etc. Their purpose was solely to coordinate and make available resources and support for the department or team that they were assigned to.

What about, rather than fixing management, we do away with it?

Friday, July 23, 2010

6 Ways to Handle a Bad Manager


As we've been talking about bad management behavior over the past couple of weeks, a question was raised by one of our readers, Chris Fleek, that I will paraphrase as this: "What do you do if you have a bad manager?"  He was specifically asking how you get a bad manager to read a blog post like those we've been writing lately in hopes that you can improve their behavior without getting yourself fired.  There are thousands if not millions of people all around the world who work for bad managers and who feel hopeless that change will come.  So, I thought perhaps I'd brainstorm a list of things you might do if you find yourself in this situation.

Below is a list of things you can do if you find yourself working for a bad manager.  Not every approach is going to work for every situation, but hopefully there's something here that might help.

  1. Call out the bad  behavior.  Depending on your manager, just being courageous enough to bring up the behavior to her can result in some change.  Despite what we like to think, most of the time our manager isn't trying to make our life miserable, she is just clueless.  Help her out by sharing with her how her action had a negative impact on you.  Example: "The other day, when you did X, it caused some issues for me.  I'm sure you didn't mean for this to happen, but when you do that, it causes Y and Z to take place, which is really frustrating . . ." 
  2. Clarify expectations.  Sadly, most managers have no freaking clue how to set goals or manage performance.  That means that we have to help them along with this.  It's important to ask your manager specific questions about his expectations of you.  Ask questions like:
    • What do I need to do this year to be considered a top performer?
    • What are the most important things that I need to accomplish this year?
    • What things am I not doing today, that I should be doing to ensure you see me as one of your top people? 
    • What am I doing today that's not what you'd like me to be doing?
  3. Model the behavior you'd like to see.  Ghandi said that "We must be the change we wish to see" so another way to help your bad manager is to show him how it's done, particularly if you are a manager of people yourself.  Do the thing that you think is right and then share that with your manager and explain why you did it.  You don't have to suggest they try it.  If your way gets results, she will pay attention and just might try some of what you are doing.  This approach doesn't always work because many bad managers are not great learners, but it does work well in cases where you have a younger or newer manager who maybe just isn't that skilled at managing.  
  4. Ask questions. Sometimes, asking a non-threatening question to seek further clarification on a decision or action can lead you into a productive conversation with your manager.  Generally speaking, managers do have reasons for what they do, but they aren't always good reasons.  Making them explain their reasons can help improve their decision making.  Example: "The other day, you did X.  I have been asked by a few others why you would make that decision and I wasn't sure how to explain it.  Can you share with me why you chose X as opposed to another option?"
  5. Be a squeeky wheel.  If nothing else seems to work and there's a particular behavior from your boss that must change, bring it up frequently and pointedly to reinforce how important the issue is.  If there are others on your team who share the same concern, have them squeek as well.  This means sending emails with questions/comments.  Raising it in any one on one meetings you have with your manager.  It could mean leaving it on voice mail if you are getting the silent treatment.  Make the issue one that your manager can't avoid.  If you create enough discomfort, there will be motivation to change.  Note: in order for this approach to work, you have to be a top performer who's delivering the goods.  If you aren't pulling your weight on the team, the manager will fix the squeeky wheel by replacing it.  
  6. Quit.  Sometimes, it's best to move on.  The reality is that most bad managers aren't going to change unless their managers make it important for them to do so.  And sadly, bad management is an epidemic.  So, you may need to move on and find a better manager to work for.  If you chose this path, invest time in thinking about how you will interview potential new managers to determine if they are the kind of person you want to work for.
Good luck out there!


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bad Managers Suck - Chapter 4


Enjoyed the “Chapter 3” post, and I especially like the four things that courageous managers do…I think those things are overlapping and go pretty well together.

My inspiration for this post comes from a comment on your post by Chris Fleek:
This is a good series of articles - well done Jason. The question is, will the managers who need to read these articles the most see them? And how can an employee tactfully direct their manager to them?
Good question. Really good question. It often seems that it is the folks most needing some additional insight, awareness and development that are the least likely to seek it out.

The sucky management practice I’d like to shed the light on in this post is “Expertise.” I am not speaking here of any actual kind of technical expertise that could be of real value, but rather the belief that you do not need to be actively learning and seeking out new ideas, models, examples and candid feedback.

A couple of my favorite quotes speak to this well:

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
-Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all argument, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance. This principle is, contempt prior to examination.”
-William Paley, Anglo-Israel

It seems to me that if you are serious about a body of work (whether it is management, farming or pottery), you have be committed to being a student of that work…for as long as you do it. When you stop being a student of your work, you stop learning about your work (and yourself in relation to your work) and then things start to get stagnant and dysfunctional.

A big part of this as a manager, is seeking out honest, candid feedback about yourself. This is probably one of the Jedi mind tricks for great managers and it requires a fair amount of courage and humility...which is probably why it tends to be fairly rare.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Bad Managers Suck - Chapter 3


I have to admit, it's a little depressing how easily these posts are to write.  There is a lot of bad manager behavior out there to write about.  So far, we've written about:

  1. The Silent Treatment
  2. Illusion of Interest  
The next bad manager behavior I'd like to highlight is one of the most common: Being a wuss.  

Wuss may not be a technical term used in most of our formal management training programs, but I can't find a better word to describe this kind of behavior by managers.  Here's short list of the kinds of things you might be doing that would qualify you for the wuss list.
  • Not confronting bad behavior by a direct report or another employee for fear of how he/she will react.
  • Unwillingness to step up and fight for a promotion or raise for your best and most talented employees.
  • Putting off actions to get rid of employees who shouldn't be on your team due to bad performance or, worse, a bad attitude.
  • Throwing one of your staff under the bus when things go wrong rather than taking the blame on yourself.  
  • Blocking your direct reports from building relationships with people higher up in the organization for fear of what they might say.  
  • Inability to hold people accountable for what they committed to do or are responsible for
Each of these behaviors reveals a lack of courage.  Managers need to be fiercely committed to their people and demonstrate that commitment through their actions.  

In my experience, great managers are courageous.  They do these things really well.
  1. Great managers reward high performance handsomely.  They go to bat for their best people by fighting for promotions, bonuses and opportunities for them.  
  2. Great managers confront bad performance immediately.  There is nothing more demoralizing than to work with an incompetent, unmotivated, slacker who isn't getting it done.  The quickest way to lose the confidence of your team is to allow these slackers to exist within the team.  Have the courage to hold these individuals accountable to the level of performance you expect.  You have to let them know that they either step up or step off the bus.  And you have to mean it.  Great managers have a zero tolerance policy for low performance.  
  3. Great manager eradicate bad attitudes from their teams.  The only thing worse than a poor performer is a person with a bad attitude.  They are poisonous and destructive.  One bad attitude can destroy a team.  They need to go, even if it requires you as the manager to go out on a limb to get it done.  If you've ever been in this situation, you know that your team will be really grateful once the person is gone.  As uncomfortable as the process of getting them out might make you, I can assure you that they are making the people around them daily about ten times less comfortable.  Get 'em out.
  4. Great managers will take a bullet for their people.  If you are encouraging growth and development of your team, they are going to take some risks.  Some of these risks will backfire and there will be failures along the way.  When this happens, courageous managers take on the responsibility for the failure themselves rather than passing that to their people.  When the call comes from a higher up in the organization with the message, "What the #@&! are you guys doing over there?" you have the opportunity to both protect your person and get feedback on what went wrong. This sends the message to your team that it's okay to take risks and fail.  This doesn't mean that you don't then debrief with your team on what went wrong and treat it as a learning experience.  It just means that you make sure that these failures don't derail the individual's career.
Managing requires a backbone and some guts.  If you can't look a person in the eye and tell them that they aren't cutting it, then you shouldn't be in management.  If you can't make the decision to let someone go, you shouldn't be in management.  Management isn't only about these tough conversations, but if you don't or can't take these issues on, none of the rest matters.  Don't be a wuss.


Friday, July 2, 2010

Bad Managers Suck - Chapter 2


Bad managers…a favorite topic of mine. I got spoiled early in life by spending four years in the Marine Corps where not all, but most of the leaders I worked with were very good and a couple were off the charts amazing. I have not since seen a work environment that has as favorable a good vs. bad management ratio.

I have seen my fair share of the silent treatment that you mentioned and another one that I see frequently is the illusion of interest.

Managers who want to appear to be interested in what you have to say, but they actually could care less. For example, the manager who comes to visit with you about a pending change to “get your feedback,” but the decision has already been made. Or the manager who solicits input, but then explains away or disagrees with everything that is offered up, never really considering or exploring any options.

I personally am in favor of banning those managers from society, but that is probably going to be viewed by some as extreme.

The actual solution is probably a bigger piece of work. I think this is actually one of many symptoms of an underlying problem, and that is that we are still using a 20th century approach to management in the 21st century world of business, which is very, very different.

How we create value has changed, how we communicate has changed, how we organize resources has changed, but very little has changed about our understanding of and approach to management. There are some exceptions, certainly, but you and I both see a lot of command and control, manager as parent type of organizations.

Most managers are not truly interested in the ideas and perspectives of their employees because they have somewhere along the line bought into the belief that being management means that they know best.

Managers rarely know what is best. They might know the inside scoop from the board room and they might know the latest budget numbers, but they rarely know what is best. It is almost impossible for managers to know what is best because they are further removed from the front line products and employees.

If you are any good at hiring people, you will end up with a team that together knows far more than you do. This is just reality and you should not pick a fight with it or pretend other wise.

Managers that are not willing and able to really tap into and value the perspectives, ideas and questions of their employees will eventually quit getting any of them and that is horribly wasteful.