Unsolicited Advice

I am a manager of other people. Tonight, after listening to the unhappy men at the table to my left, I vow:

I will let you do your fucking job.
When I fuck up, I will admit it.

I’m pretty sure that will make me the best manager ever.

5 thoughts on “Unsolicited Advice

  1. I was at a party recently and one of the folks I was chitchatting with works for IBM. He had just been to a training in NY where the company went into great depth about what makes a great, motivational manager. He was ruefully comparing the ideal of the training to his return to a set of bosses who do the exact opposite.

    What makes me sad is that ala Pogo we have seen the enemy and he is us. I think (with no scientific evidence whatsoever) that 1% of bad managers are truly evil, but the other 99% are you and me and when we rise to that level we just “forget” ourselves. Of course the truly evil ones probably have the drive that boosts them to upper management anyway. And of course, some employees are laughably bad.

  2. IBM is the only place I’ve ever worked that truly had a vision for what they wanted managers to be, and the structure in place to help them get there. No other company I’ve been at is as serious about training managers. Now, it doesn’t always stick, but the company works hard at it. Or they did when I was there anyway.

    This is the manager that I try to be:

    – I define corporate priorities and goals as explicitly as possible.
    – I define roles and responsibilities in detail and try to eliminate as much overlap as possible
    – For people who know what they’re doing, I just let them do it. They define their own objectives, deliverables, and timelines. I just review it and work with them to make sure it aligns with the company’s and my department’s goals and priorities.
    – If they’re new at the job or they’re having performance problems, I’ll usually give them more explicit direction on deliverables and methods, but they’ll do the actual work.
    – I tell my employees exactly how I will assess performance. Wherever possible, I make assessment based on quantitative measures or yes/no achievement of goals. That way, there’s less interpretation.
    – My ideal is for everybody to have authority and accountability in their work. That’s really what all the above is about. A lot of companies talk about “accountability”, but until you have all the above, you don’t really have any way to achieve it.
    – In general, I look at myself as a remover of obstacles. If they have some political/logistical/managerial/whateverial problem, I try to remove it so they can do their jobs. That usually ends up being things like helping them make priority trade-off decisions; cajoling or arguing with other people on their behalf; lining up CEO support; etc. Other than that and the extra attention needed for new/underperforming people, I stay out of their way.
    – I do like to be informed, however. I’m held accountable for the performance of my team as a whole, including when they screw something up. In some cases, I’m more likely to get cannned for it than they are. I’m willing to take heat for my employees, but I don’t like surprises walking into an exec staff meeting. ;-) So I expect them to keep me apprised of what they’re doing and the likely outcomes of it.
    – I tell my employees that when they have a “personnel issue” that that is my highest priority and to use those words and I will drop whatever I’m doing and work with them on it. Basically that includes anything that adversely affects their performance. It’s hard to live by that promise sometimes, but that was an IBM thing that I carry around with me to this day.

    The biggest eye-openers for me when I became a manager: How high maintenance some employees can be; how many legitimate factors there are in raises and promotions besides the performance of employees; how employees “close off” to you once you become their boss (you have to get your info in different ways); how hard it can be to fire a problem employee.

    • My current employer is not that good about transforming non-managers into managers, but where possible they do offer career paths that allow people with no interest in managerial responsibilities to grow.

      Unless you’re the only full-time programmer in your department. Then the options are kind of limited. But I’m OK with that.

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