Monday, February 18, 2013

WAYS IV – THE MANAGER

Motto: Never point a finger where you never lent a hand.  Robert Brault



Today I decided to share with you some thoughts about what I believe should be the main focus areas of a good manager. To put the things into perspective, I would have to say that by ‘manager’ I do not necessarily refer to a boss and a professional life. Management is a part of everyone’s life just as much as air, food, sleep. We are all managers in our private life, when we relate to our families or circle of friends. The manager is basically a person which manages something or someone. You hear often ‘he/she manages well under the circumstances’ – referring to either state of mind or behavior or results.


What I will try today to put in writing may be seen as an oversimplification of management function. I love simple things and I believe all our life should be governed by simplicity. We are the ones who overcomplicate matters. And sometimes bringing them back to their initial simplicity is the shortest way to seeing their beauty again.


Why I have chosen to do this under the ‘ways’ series and not the ‘roots’ one? Simply because I have decided to focus more on the positive part – how it should be. Of course ‘the manager’ can be always re-written as a ‘root’ piece, by simply pointing out the negative side of things, the fact that current crisis is deeply rooted in management errors or pure mismanagement – on different levels.


Enough introduction, let’s get started. You will not find here any history of management trends or any definition of management styles, as this is really not the purpose of this exercise. Personally I believe that most of the things written and spoken about pluses and minuses of management styles have their fair share of truth and deceit. I will just share with you my personal view of various areas of daily business (or daily life) which a manager needs to address for success. And I will do so without separating personal from professional, as I believe in two basic ideas. First is that both the road and the destination are important. Second that there is no business ethics, but just ethics (there is even a book about this, by John C. Maxwell).


I will start with the results, because most part of management was (and still is) focused on this. It is natural, as the basic idea of ‘managing’ relates to a purpose, a destination. You can of course wonder around and do beautiful things out of luck and without any direction, but that is definitely not management. So, first thing we need to have when we start managing something is a purpose, an idea of what we aim to accomplish. Usually the definition of expected result is called target or objective. During the management journey, it may change and this is one of the most important (and beautiful) aspects of successful management – the dynamism of the objective. Because in normal environment, every manager deals with more than one objective and there is always a relationship between various results. Sometimes the relationship is clear and can be anticipated, other times it is hidden and therefore unforeseeable. A good manager recognizes if and when some of his/her objectives need adjustment and stops before following an unrealistic objective that can even damage the bigger picture which is pursued.


I will use a simple example: going by plane from A to B. Simplest way to optimize this route is to fly on a straight line - fast and efficient. However if you add the restrictions regarding no-fly zones for example, you may find that the plane needs to take some alternative routes which do not seem rational for someone who is not aware of such restrictions. Furthermore, unless you fly a charter, you may find out it is impossible to fly with just one plane and need to change 2 or 3 to get at the destination. Ultimately, once you are in the air, the pilot may need to go around a storm in order to be able to deliver you safely, at point B. You may remember the ‘Cast Away’ movie with Tom Hanks – the parcel gets delivered in the end; whether that is an acceptable result or not, depends of course on the way you look at it.
So it is obvious that the result may vary in terms of quality and therefore one of the biggest challenges of management is to describe as reasonably as possible what is expected. But I will put this aspect on hold for a while, as this comes a little later in my story.


Going back a little, the result is something the manager targets to achieve. Therefore it has to do with the future. Does it also have to do with the actual act of management? Yes and no. Yes, as it is the crucial element shaping the day-to-day actions. No, as it is about the future and we all know that if we want to make God laugh we should show Him our plans.


Then what is actually the manager expected to do? This is simple: to manage his/her way towards the result. How? Let’s take the points of intervention, one by one.


First a manager must efficiently manage available resources. What does ‘available’ mean? Simply what he/she already has, plus what he/she can get in order to accomplish the objective. How limited are those resources? Well, this usually depends on the type or resource but also on the creativity, resourcefulness and personality of the manager. A golden rule about managing resources is that there is a right place, time and purpose for everyone and everything. Sometimes exceptional situations can be managed with exceptional approach toward resources, however in the long run you must clearly understand the structure, strengths and weaknesses of your resources if you really plan to make them more efficient.


In an over-simplified manner, I can imagine grouping resources in material ones (from money, buildings and equipment, car fleet, to paper and coffee...), information and intellectual property, time and human factor (here I include the composition of the staff but also the network linked to it - in case of work; respectively the family, circle of friends etc. - in case of personal life).


The crucial resource proves to be always the human, the only one who can actually make sense of all the rest and is decisive regarding the quality of the result. For example, the same amount of information processed with the same material resources over same period of time but by different people, will translate into different levels of knowledge and will generate different interpretation and correlation paths, thus delivering various results.


Second aspect on which a manager needs to focus is management of situations. Throughout our daily life, things tend to happen around us. Few situations are really neutral on the participants, most of them represent either opportunities or threats for the future chain of events and the humans involved in them. Those effects are commonly referred as consequences. What is also interesting is the fact that every person notices different things from a similar event (that is if he/she notices anything at all). Therefore, a good manager needs to be as attentive as possible to the situations around and at the same time as assertive as possible, interpreting and correlating potential consequences which may arise (either threats or opportunities). A crucial part of the result delivery is translating the situations; playing them to one another, then adjust them to available resources. In this process, a good manager should be always ready to adjust expectations if this proves to favor an overall improvement in results.


And thus, we reach the third crucial focus pillar: management of expectations. A good manager must transmit with clarity, both downwards and upwards, the expectations regarding the result. The message must be tailored to the recipient and must represent a fair correlation with the other pillars. What does this mean? As managers usually depend on others for delivery, they must have a fair understanding of the tasks they cascade down (in terms of both resources and situations), so they can assume realistic result parameters. For example, when you know that one of your staff members has a sick kid at home, you should not expect him/her to stay until 10 pm to finalize an urgent report if this report can be delivered by another staff member or can wait for another day. If you however insist on doing so, you should be ready to ‘compensate’ for the exceptional management of the situation and also understand that by repeating this exercise you will damage the human resource attached to it, in terms of enthusiasm and commitment.


Fourth and somehow already introduced by above three focus pillars comes the management of intervention tools - actually the personal touch given by the personality of the manager. Here we could spend days talking about management styles, but this is out of the scope of today’s exercise. I will just stop on some ideas I have in mind and invite you to expand on your own with whatever fits your managerial profile: enthusiasm, knowledge sharing, prioritization, motivation, recognition, delegation and empowerment (always together!), fairness and ethics, understanding efficiency (always check both quantity and quality of results!).


There are still many things to be said in terms of management however as this is not intended as a lesson, I will move towards closing now.


I believe that human and time factors are amongst the most important for a manager. The rest are easier to attract and also manage, once you get it right with those two. Everything is then indirectly connected to the third pillar described above – the management of expectations.


At the end of the day, a good manager is the one who enjoys the way to the results and thus masters the resources with enthusiasm and fairness. If management is perceived as a struggle, it can sometimes bring results – but only on a short term and is definitely not sustainable. Of course life will put us in front of such situations every now and then, also as a test of our management abilities. We should be able to face such challenges as they come, and temporarily be ready to apply different tools than our usual ‘kit’. But we should also be strong enough to come back to the more sustainable way of managing situations, to that natural way which fits best our personality and life style and allows us to look to ourselves in the mirror with a smile before we go to bed.


Fairness and appreciation for the people, completed by deep understanding of resources and situations, for the benefit of the result – all that sustains a manager’s success in the long run. I firmly believe this is the way we need to approach management if we wish to overcome challenges - be it in our daily personal life or at work.


And remember: There is often less danger in the things we fear than in the things we desire (John Churton Collins). Be careful how you set expectations and do not allow them to corrupt your ways as a manager.


Wishing you a great day!
Georgina Popescu

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