Tag Archives: management

Bring Value to Problem Solving

“What were the specific things your manager did that brought value to your problem solving and decision making?” I repeated. “We have already established that it is not barking orders, bossing you around or yelling at you when you screwed up.”

Kim had to think. She could easily tell me all the bad experience with previous managers, but, thinking about positive experience was much more difficult.

“There was this one time,” she started, “where I was working on a problem and I had no idea what to do next. After an hour thinking about it, I finally went to my manager, who I knew had all the answers. I expected to have the best solution right away, so I could get on with my job.”

“Apparently, that’s not what happened.” I said.

“Not at all. My manager asked me to describe the problem, asked me what I thought was causing the problem.”

“Sounds reasonable,” I agreed. “Your manager couldn’t give you the solution without understanding the problem.”

“Then, she asked me what the alternatives might be. She said I was closest to the problem, I probably had an idea how we might be able to solve the problem.”

“You said you had already been thinking about it for an hour and couldn’t come up with anything.”

“Yes, but that is because I was trying to come up with the perfect solution. My manager wanted a bunch of alternatives even if they weren’t perfect.”

“And?”

“Since I wasn’t looking for the perfect solution, I had four or five things that might work or might not work.”

“So?”

“So, my manager asked me, of all those alternatives, which had the best chance? Actually, I think they all would have failed, but if I put solution number two with solution number four, then it might work. So, she told me to go and try it, so I did and it worked.”

“So, your manager did not give you the answer. Didn’t tell you what to do, didn’t boss you around or yell at you?”

“Nope. Just brought value to my problem solving by asking questions.”

Just a Few More Simultaneous Projects

“Sounds like you are not so sure of yourself?” I asked.

“I know it’s just another project,” Andrew replied. “And, my experience is deep in project management. My company always gave me the tough projects, the ones with the longest critical path, where Murphy has plenty of time to play.”

“Then, why your doubt on this project?” I pressed.

“When I was successful at managing one project, my company gave me a second project. I did the second project the same way I did the first project and everything was fine.”

“And?”

“And, so my company gave me a third project,” Andrew said.

“How did you do the third project?”

“Same way I did project one and project two. Everything was fine, on-time, on-spec, on-budget.” Andrew paused. “So, they gave me 20 projects, all at the same time, and, six junior project managers to go along.”

“And now, what’s the problem?”

“Managing 20 projects is different than managing three projects. It’s a different level of work. It is a different level of problem solving and a different level of decision making.”

Process and People

“I feel a bit overwhelmed,” admitted Melissa. “There are so many things that can go wrong on this project, and I’m just not sure if I can manage it all.”

“You are right,” I replied. “You cannot manage every detail. Success consists of the execution of a hundred things, most of which cannot be managed.”

“Then how?”

“Most things we accomplish as managers consist of process and systems with elements that can be measured and managed. But that is only part of the story. Success also requires elements like focused attention, cooperation with team members and commitment to the result. Those are elements, difficult to measure, but more importantly, almost impossible to manage. You cannot manage focus, cooperation and commitment. This is the people side of management, and people don’t want to be managed.”

Melissa was silent, thinking. “The people side is more difficult than the process side, and maybe more important. I think I would take a mediocre process with some fired up people, over a spectacular process with a poor attitude.”

Success and Personality?

“But, what about personality?” Emily asked. “Doesn’t personality have something to do with success?”

“What personality does it take to be an effective manager?” I asked.

“Well, I don’t know. There are personality profiles, assessments we can take, that can tell us things about ourselves.”

“So, what is the profile of an effective manager?” I asked again. “I have seen hundreds of profiles of managers, different scales of dominance, influence, steadiness, compliance, introverted, extroverted, sensing, intuitive, perceiving, judging. I find little consistent pattern of what it takes to be an effective manager. In fact, I have seen unlikely combinations that yield high levels of effectiveness. I personally have submitted to those assessments, over time, decades, and while the output is always consistent (statistically repeatable), I would question there is a best profile to be an effective manager.

“The profile may indicate your tendencies in one direction or another, and that if you adapt away from your tendencies, you may place stress in your life. But who is to say, that one tendency is more effective than another. I am a visual person, quick to take in data, persuasive in moving people to my way of thinking. My brother is more kinesthetic, he has to feel something to understand, he listens patiently, subtle in his ability to gain willing cooperation and support. Dramatically different profiles, but it’s a thumb wrestle to determine who might be a more effective manager.”

Commitment or Compliance?

“I am not satisfied with things,” Emily said. “I know there is more to being a manager than management.”

“You have been a manager for a couple of years, now. What exactly, are you dissatisfied with?” I asked.

“There are times, when it seems, I am only able to get people to do what I want by forcing them to do it. By being a bully, or threatening. Not directly threatening, but, you know, do it or else.”

“And how does that work?”

“Not well,” she replied. “I may get some short term compliance, but as soon as I leave the room, it’s over.”

“Emily, the pressure that people are not willing to bring on themselves is the same pressure you are trying to tap into. If they are not willing to bring it on themselves, what makes you think you have the ability to overcome that?”

“But that’s my job, isn’t it?”

“Indeed.”

Getting Your Juice

“What is the hardest part about delegation?” I asked. Matthew winced. The more we talked about delegation, the more he hated it.

“Giving it up,” he said. “I was the best technician in the field. I could handle two more stops than any of the other service trucks. At the end of the day, I put my numbers on the wall, and they were almost always at the top.”

After a moment, he continued, “Now, I have to wait. It is really tough to know whether or not what I do, as a Manager, is really having an impact. Numbers will be down for a service tech and I wonder if it is my fault or is he just having a bad day.”

“You are pretty results-oriented, aren’t you?” I asked.

“I guess so,” Matthew replied.

“It’s more than a guess, Matthew. That is why you really liked being a technician. You got results (your juice) on a daily basis. You could stick your results on the wall and look at them. If you wanted, you could even pull your results off the wall, take them home to show your wife. You are in a different game now. The results are not so tangible. You don’t get your juice every day. The results have to do with growth and development of your team. Welcome to management.”

Life is Wonderful, or Miserable

“I am a bit overwhelmed,” Nancy announced. “Since my promotion to manager, there is more to do and people are pulling me in too many directions. I am having trouble keeping up.”

“Do you think this situation will get better or worse?” I asked.

“It seems to get worse, day by day. I get in around 7:30 in the morning, been trying to leave for home each day by 6:30p. Too much to do.”

“So, stop doing,” I said. Nancy looked at me sideways. “The most important thing you can do is stop doing.”

“Then, what will happen with all the work?”

“If you don’t do the work, who will?”

Nancy searched for the answer. “If I don’t do the work, then my team will have to do the work. But, I don’t think they are capable of doing the work, that’s why I am the manager.”

“There is certainly managerial work for you to do, but most of the work that needs to be done should be done by your team. You will only find out if they are capable by testing them. With project work. And, if it turns out a team member does not have the capability, what should you do?”

“I either have to re-assign the work or do it myself,” Nancy replied.

“The most important job for every manager is to build the team. Do this well, and your life as a manager will be wonderful. Do this poorly, your life as a manager will be miserable and for a very long time.”

The Managerial Fishbowl

Most managers are unaware of the fishbowl in which they live. Years ago, I received some sage advice from one of my scoutmasters as a young patrol leader. “When you look at your own behavior in front of the other scouts, remember, you can’t go take a pee without everyone knowing about it.”

Every move a manager makes is amplified and remembered. If a manager arrives at work and walks past the receptionist without saying, “Good morning,” well, then, the business MUST be going down the tubes.

Jules Feiffer, a famous cartoonist, used to have a series he called, Little Murders in which he depicted the little murders we each commit every day. Little Murders we commit, often without intention or even awareness. We may not be aware, but it is still a Little Murder.

Who did you walk by today, without stopping, without a cheery remark, without a smile? How many Little Murders did you commit today? Remember, amplification works in the other direction, too. A few moments, a kind word, a warm handshake, a listening nod may make all the difference in a team member’s day.

Cash Ain’t Cash Unless It’s Cash

“Where’s the money?” I asked.

Luis squinted. “What do you mean, where’s the money?”

“Look, you asked me to help you straighten out this mess. Where’s the money?” I repeated.

“We have a cash-flow problem, there isn’t any money,” Luis replied.

“Yes, there is a cash-flow problem, there is always a cash-flow problem. Luis, the first resource a manager has to manage is cash. But before you can manage it, you have to find out where it is. Sometimes you think you know where it should be, but if that’s not where it is, you can’t manage it.

Sometimes your cash is tied up in a machine. Sometimes your cash is tied up in unbilled work-in-process. Sometimes your cash is tied up in Accounts Receivable. Once you find out where your cash is, only then can you manage it. So, where’s the money?”

A raw nerve was struck. Luis shuffled some papers on his desk. “It’s here,” he said, pointing to the third column in his A/R aging report. “It’s over 60.”

“Well, now we know where it is, we can manage it.”
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Registration for our online program Hiring Talent – 2016 is CLOSED out. No worries. We will offer another class the first part of March.
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Today’s post was inspired by a quote from the late Red Scott, “Cash ain’t cash unless it’s cash.”

Somewhere in the System

“I know I am accountable for the output of my team, but we still have a ten percent reject rate. If my team would just try harder, the reject rate would come down,” Byron protested.

“Really? Just try harder means what?” I asked. “You told me your team was doing their best. Are you telling me, now, that they are not doing their best?”

“They seem a little down, discouraged. I know I have been on them. We need a 100 units of production each day and with a ten percent failure rate, that means we have to run 115, on average, to get our 100. If they would just try harder, they would get there.”

“I am going to make an assumption,” I said. “I am going to assume that your team shows up every day to do their best. If your team is doing their best, then there is something else in your system that is causing the failure rate. You are a smart guy. Get a big white board, draw out your system, get your team together and find it.”