Managing People: Your Most Difficult, Most Rewarding Task

Dec. 28, 2000
undefinedYou have five, 10 or 15 years of marketing experience behind you. Or you've headed one or more successful departments. You've reached the point where you can no longer say, "If I were boss...," because you are the boss.

Your decisions, policies, programs and recommendations are the ones to be carried out, and by now, you've also learned that although we live in a democratic society, there's nothing democratic about business. Only one person retains ultimate authority, sets the direction of the organization and makes the ultimate decisions.

Isn't it funny how it always appeared that the boss really had life easy, but rather than the utopia you imagined, you're now faced with a never-ending series of interrelationships. Your days are filled with talking, listening, e-mailing, telephoning, meeting, pleading, negotiating and compromising. On top of that, you are probably the first to arrive and the last to leave, and you have to worry about all departments instead of just one.

Your organizational chart clearly shows that your firm is hierarchical in nature, yet you spend most of your time dealing with people and departments over which you may or may not have direct authority. For example, marketing continually interacts with accounting, to ensure that customers are current; and with engineering, to solve customer problems. Yet these areas are the concern and responsibility of others.

Having the responsibility and getting the job done don't always mix. There must be a better way to manage your job. Your people expect you to be decisive, and you are ... somewhat. But all too often you feel as though your time was wasted and nothing was achieved. So, what's missing? To be an effective manager you must know yourself by examining your motivation for working and wanting to own or run a business. Unless you feel people can be enhanced, developed and "grown," you will undoubtedly be unhappy and unprductive, and more importantly, you will be counterproductive to those you manage. Personal attributes and beliefs affect your every action and can't be separated. While this is fundamentally true, there is not one particular style or set of characteristics that is guaranteed to produce a good manager of people.

The better you understand your own personality, character, goals and limitations, the less likely these aspects or traits will interfere with your management style and capabilities.

Define Your System
How do you proceed to control or manage your system, now that you've learned how to manage yourself?

Unfortunately, few managers or potential managers have been taught what they should do and how they should do it. "Experts" explain what should be thought and final results, but not how they can be achieved. However, for your organization, your people and yourself to succeed, people need to clearly understand their tasks and the boundaries of authority and responsibility. Unfortunately, these areas blur because jobs and responsibilities overlap.

Even in the smallest of organizations, partial authority and responsibility is assigned to others. No one-not even you-can be all things to all people.

So, the first things to be established are the rules, policies and standards that give your staff a feeling of safe boundaries to accomplish certain goals and objectives.

A strong manager is probably better than the best boxer in the way he constantly shifts and dodges, going from one subject to another, one problem to another, one opportunity to another or one person to another. In less than a half hour, you could discuss a proposed change in operating procedures with staff, negotiate with a customer on the terms and conditions of a contract and provide telephone assistance with another customer.

Reality is diametrically opposed to the studied, analytical work pattern you developed and used early in your professional career. At one time, you could complete one task before starting another. There always seemed to be ample time to do each job in a careful, controlled, thoughtful manner.

There are many reasons management requires such fragmentation and interaction including the three key reasons listed in the sidebar.

Matching People to Jobs
With an increase of such programs as Quality Circles, management is finding that sharing responsibilities and matching job needs with personal needs is not only desirable but very beneficial. In doing so, management is finding that people feel they are sharing more in the activity and will take on more responsibility for their tasks.

Unlike our ancestors, people today do not work just for monetary remuneration. They are fulfilling other needs such as the need for recognition, a sense of belonging and a sense of accomplishment. Unfortunately, mismatches occur if we don't really understand the necessary skills, knowledge or basic tools, or if we didn't realize the individual didn't possess the requirements. Other mismatches occur because of poor communications. You may tell someone exactly what the job will entail, but they may be hearing or picturing something totally different. This is why absolute agreement with your people on the goals and objectives of a job before they begin it is important.

All too often, people are mismatched, or never get an opportunity for a job because management superimposes its own values and value judgments on the person seeking the job.

Once you are absolutely certain this is not the case, then you can make a judgment based on your own expertise and experience. If the job is offered, make certain that you understand that their success or failure is a shared responsibility of both parties. You have to work to make certain they succeed.

Part II of this article ran in the February issue.

About Author
G.A. "Andy" Marken is president of Marken Communications, Inc. in Santa Clara, Calif. He may be reached at [email protected].


Three Keys to Management Fragmentation

Management is a contingency activity. You act only when the system or routines break down because, before a situation can be resolved, it will involve a number of people. At times you feel that the problem is insidious because one solution caused another problem.

People want and need contact. The best managers rely on face-to-face meetings and discussions rather than written reports and analysis. It is important to have the give and take discussion with others to find out exactly what is going on, to assess attitudes and convictions properly and to negotiate with others successfully.

Management problems aren't quantitative and can't be solved by systems. The problems of tuning your business, whether it is a solution provider or solution user, have to be solved ultimately by humans-humans who grasp and understand the various objectives that are involved, as well as the personalities, needs and biases of the people involved. Decisions are never antiseptic and made in a bubble. Instead, they require a number of interpersonal contacts that involve getting advice, negotiating, persuading and building a consensus or agreement.

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