Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Principles of Management

...because it always was my favorite class. (V'hamaven yavin)

Being in somewhat of a management position is a fascinating study of people in general and individuals in specific. What is particularly amazing is how easy it is to group people into types; someone remarked to me recently that there's a management philosophy that argues there are only four types of employees, and proceeded to list what they were. It was surprising how accurate those groupings were. A few notes I've made in the last few months on the job:
  • The people who everyone assumes are most averse to criticism are typically the least averse. The ones who assume are typically the most.
  • There is a dramatic split between those who take discussions related to work personally, and those who are able to completely separate themselves from the work in order to problem solve.
  • It is amazing how much one person can set a company back by simply not following up on the tasks they're assigned, and more amazing that even after some of those responsibilities are taken away, they still just won't focus enough on what's left, losing out on great opportunities to prove themselves for some short-term fun.
  • There's a surprising amount of hypocrisy among people who complain about how others around them act, and fail to see that they often act exactly the same way.
  • People who fight through their differences turn into stronger workers than those who sugarcoat them, nod and pretend they don't exist, or otherwise avoid dealing with issues they have with one another.
  • A well-placed line is a far more effective critique than a 10-minute talk.
  • A well-placed comment and thank you is a far more appreciated compliment than a big pump-up talk and thank you.
  • Management involves a lot of delegation; it does not and should not result in only delegation. Most of management work involves reading, studying, and preparing; the rest is rolling up your sleeves and actually working. Those who don't understand this or are unwilling to do it will never move up further and the people under them will end up passing them by.
  • Another key to management is believing in the people below you, showing them as much, understanding their strengths and how to focus them, and directing them appropriately. It is surprising how many people focus on what the people below them can't do instead of on what they can.
  • The best way to get something across is via a headfake. (V'hamaven yavin)
  • There is always something to do. There's no such thing as waiting: Prepare for the next step, push what you can to the edge and show it's ready to go, show that you're prepared for all the steps ahead, and if all else fails, find another project to start on. Or of course, go help someone else on their project.
  • People hate being sat on. Of course, those are the same people who don't work unless someone is sitting on them, however much they think the opposite is true. This is one of the most difficult things to show a person.
  • Perhaps the most difficult part of management is when you're dealing with factors that are not meant for staff, but they are pressing (properly) to move forward or to do things a certain way but you have to hold them back anyway. Balancing doing what's right but still maintaining that trust and reliability is almost impossible, yet necessary. To some extent, you're forced to rely on their ability to look back later and understand why you did something a certain way even if now they're going to be upset and frustrated. This is especially true when you're trying to also keep everyone motivated and positive.
  • Working with (and being forced to manage) friends and neighbors comes with a ridiculous set of difficulties, multiplying everything above by an incredible factor.
  • Managing people who are substantially older and who have many years of experience comes with another set of difficulties, but it's surprisingly far less of an issue than one might expect. Perhaps this comes from some of the advantages of an older generation: They are more likely to work regardless of what they like or dislike, they are far less likely to be distracted with other things (especially online), and they are far more cognizant of what is and isn't appropriate. They also recognize better where their strengths and weaknesses lie and are happier to pass along responsibility they're not comfortable with to others while taking ownership of the areas where they are.
  • There are some people who love to step up when things are rough or need to get done; there are others who love to step up when things are going well and take things to another level. But it's the people who step up when everything is just plain old normal who are the most valuable to a company: They make sure that things never get rough, and they create the opportunities for things to go well.
  • One of the interesting aspects of management is demonstrating to people what their strengths and weaknesses are - not necessarily so much to work on the weaknesses as to focus on the strengths and utilize them appropriately. Better to have lots of people who are good at specific tasks than lots of people who are okay at everything.
  • Basic psychology courses would probably be advantageous for people to take prior to managing. Advanced psychology courses could sometimes also be helpful. (V'hamaven yavin)
Those are the thoughts off the top of my head in the middle of two nights; feel free to add more.

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