Thoughts on Management Style

Managing "up" the organization:

[light bulb] I believe that "managing upward" is an essential part of being a senior contributor or any sort of leader. As a leader, I think it's incumbent on me to do as much as I can to make the organization a success. Therefore, I believe it is important for me to help the organization set common goals and keep the goals in sight. This last seems to be a problem for lots of organizations as markets and technologies change. So-called "goals" that change or get replaced more than once per year are not goals but objectives and tactics. People need real goals.

It's too easy to fool yourself into saying you're "adaptable" and "resilient" and "agile" when you're actually being wishy-washy and indecisive. People will not be happy and enthusiastic and effective unless they can focus and see accomplishments. This requires that goals be held constant long enough for people to accomplish things. I believe a big part of any leader's job consists of de-mystifying goals for the team and making sure that everyone understands how the daily work supports those goals.

While goals remain stable, it's vital for people at all levels to understand that the objectives and details do change. In high-tech business, the details change very rapidly. The manager must instill values and build processes that accept and embrace rapidly-changing business needs. Think Lean. Make sure we know what value each process adds to the final product, and eliminate non-value-adding steps and processes. Be Agile. Work as an integrated team to deliver running, tested, useful features in small chunks, very quickly.

Managing people:

"A manager's job is to achieve specific business goals by planning, procuring, directing and monitoring a set of resources."

The majority of the resources are, in fact, people. My pet project is to stamp out the use of the word "resources" when the topic is actually "people". People are not interchangeable parts. People are not objects to be rearranged at will and discarded when we no longer need them. I would rather not have a "Human Resources" department; "Personnel" is much more respectful and properly focused.

I firmly believe that the most important factor for success in "high-tech" is brainpower. Not necessarily extreme intelligence (though that doesn't hurt), but rather motivated people using their brains to work together enthusiastically, toward a common goal.

People cost more and produce more than any other kind of resources. Therefore, as a manager, I need to spend the vast majority of my time and effort managing people, while letting the other kinds of resources take a proper secondary role. I believe the principal parts of managing people are:

  1. Communicate how each individual's work contributes to the organization's goals in a worthwhile way.
  2. Coach people in organizing their own work and their own teams.
  3. Help people to understand each other, cooperate effectively, and celebrate team success.
  4. Remove barriers that keep people from getting the job done.
  5. Find a way for people to grow. Give them opportunities for training and skill-building.

Some tools and techniques:

Facilitate teams. Search for people who will build their own teams. People want to use their competence and expertise. Experienced people know what they need to put together in order to do the job. Let them do it, and try to avoid telling them how.

Be inclusive. Ask for people's opinions, and use them. Respect experience and professionalism, but also respect "fresh eyes" and new ideas that break the accustomed patterns.

Communicate. Always, always, always let people know why. As a manager, you owe them that and must provide it in order to earn their respect. You don't have to make them like it, but you do have to make them understand it. "Because I said so" is never good enough, until and unless you've explained why and must agree to disagree about the reasoning.

Learn to like and enjoy all types of people. Learn to read what people want, even when they won't say it. Try to find ways to give them what they want. People work better when they believe their judgment is respected and their needs are being met. Buy good tools and equipment, and invest the time and staff to keep them up to date. Yes it's expensive - recruiting is far more expensive.

Let workers work. Keep bureaucratic BS and other time-wasting roadblocks out of people's way. Managers are paid to fill out forms and negotiate with bean-counters; workers are paid to do Real Work.

Decide. Don't allow "analysis paralysis" to creep into your decision-making. Don't wait for Word From On High, and most especially don't delay your people's work by pushing decisions up the management chain (pushing decisions down is almost always a good move). Most importantly, don't delay unpleasant decisions you know you're going to have to make sooner or later. Make the decision, deal with the consequences and move on.

Lead. Set an example of integrity, honesty, and optimism. Don't try to snow people, but if you're optimistic enough to keep coming to work, there must be some good in the outlook. Focus on making the good happen, instead of worrying about the bad stuff that MIGHT happen.

Show up early. Especially for those of us in the Pacific time zone, it's helpful to get to the office early. It gives us extra time to communicate with colleagues and vendors and customers in the rest of the country. And the peaceful, quiet, meeting-free atmosphere in most offices at 7am can be a great time for getting work done.

Start on time, end on time. It may be trite, but it's true - using up the time of a dozen people in a meeting is expensive. Not only in pure salary costs but in frustration and ill will. Hardly anybody likes going to meetings, so try very hard to minimize and eliminate them. But when we must have them, there is simply no good excuse for starting late or running long. Nor is there any good reason to hang around rehashing settled issues or digressing into side-issues after the meeting's purpose is accomplished. If you scheduled an hour but got the real business done in 35 minutes, shut up and leave.

Give away all the credit. Make your boss look good, and tell people how your boss made it all happen. Tell your boss and anybody else who'll listen how your staff did all the good work while you were busy shuffling budgets and surfing the Web. Don't blow your own horn - if you're doing things right, other people will do it for you.

A leader is best when people barely know that he exists.
Less good when they obey and acclaim him.
Worse when they fear and despise him.
Fail to honor people, and they fail to honor you.
But of a good leader, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled,
they will say, "We did this ourselves."

-- Lao-Tzu

Emulate Kirk with Kobayashi Maru. (why yes, I am a geek) If the rules won't allow your team to "win" (get the job done, achieve the goals...), then change the rules. This has to be done with due diligence and good timing and understanding of the consequences - you can't help your people "win" if you're fired. But a track record of knowing when and how to do this successfully is one of the most valuable career assets you can have. Your staff will love it, and your bosses will learn to respect it.

Be calm. Calm others. There are very, very few situations where anger and noise will accomplish more than solid calm professionalism and dogged perseverance. It's amazing how many people in highly responsible business positions don't practice this. Your calm can be an advantage over them.