Meetings – where you begin to be a more effective manager

A recent New York Times article “Building a Better Teacher” by Elizabeth Green((1)) told the story of Doug Lemov’s discovery that a large component of high performing teachers’ success came from their classroom management skills. While reading the article, and, especially watching the videos of teachers actually employing good class management, I was struck by an interesting parallel in the management world. Just as education schools do not do a good job of preparing teachers to know what to do when they first walk into a classroom, most managers learn their craft by trial and error. They have little help from mentoring or development programs in their companies. And, business schools seem to provide little guidance either.

Meeting management is to effective managers as classroom management is to successful teachers

Meetings are a great place to start to learn the management craft and a crucial platform for driving and sustaining high performance. Great managers and great organizations have great meetings. And, from the perspective of a manager interested in developing a high performance culture, meetings are a great starting point in building a high performance company. After all, meetings exhibit all of the important attributes of high performance organization and culture. And, no effective manager can be ineffective in meetings.

Good meetings:

  • focus on results ($s, people and values)
  • engage, empower and demand every participant’s energies
  • use fact-based thinking
  • orient to customer needs (internal and external)
  • devolve strategy into tactics
  • employ process and systems thinking
  • use well-developed problem solving tools and approaches
  • focus on adding value for customers (internal and external)
  • look for waste reduction
  • build on company and individual strengths
  • among the more important……

Meetings are a great place to start because they are a regular event in which the manager has significant control and can demonstrate, concretely, high performance principles and practices in front of, and with their direct reports.

  1. March 2, 2010 []

Leadership – “bringing people around softly” and speaking last

The other day I was talking with a business owner about her people management practices. In comparing some thoughts about how to effectively supervise people she noted that waving your finger and giving instructions was almost always a non-starter. She said that she thought that “people need to be brought around softly”. Continue reading

Learning To Be Effective – comments on Kelley’s How To Be a Star At Work

Learning to be an effective manager is almost entirely a self-guided learning enterprise. Almost no business schools even approach the topic despite the hundreds of courses they offer on almost every functional aspect of management((1))

No Significant Differences between Stars and Average in Intelligence, Problem-solving or Technical Skills

So it was with some anticipation that I read through Robert E. Kelley’s  How to Be a Star at Work: 9 Breakthrough Strategies You Need to Succeed (Three Rivers Press, 1999).  This book is based on research at Bell Labs in the 1980s, and 3M a bit later, on the differences between “stars” and average managers.  . Learning to be an effective manager is a multi-disciplinary-multi-modal effort. Clearly an important step is to understand what constitutes the approaches, practices, and skills of an effective manager. How To Be a Star at Work - KelleyBased on work with hundreds of managers, Kelley found that there was no significant difference between “star” and average managers in their raw intelligence, problem solving skills, and technical skill attributes.This may seem surprising until you remember that accomplishing real results in the business world is not a based on individual performance but on the collective efforts of a whole organization. There are almost no significant business problems (or technical ones, too) that can be solved by a single individual. In fact, it is the job of a manager to bring together all of the resources required to achieve real results, focus them on the task and push, pull, inveigle, cajole, lead, or any other verb that describes the persuading that goes on to organize groups in action to achieve real results. Viewed from this perspective it seems less surprising that being a “star” manager has more to do with attributes other than raw intelligence, problem-solving, and technical knowledge.

Better Strategies and Skills in nine areas

What Kelley did find was that the stars has better strategies and skills in nine areas:

  1. Initiative – working the white spaces of the organization
  2. Networking – knowing who knows what in the company’
  3. Self-management – managing your whole life at work
  4. Getting the big picture
  5. Followership – checking your ego at the door and leading in assists
  6. Teamwork
  7. Leadership – doing small-“l” leadership in a big”L”world
  8. Organizational savvy
  9. Show-and-Tell: persuading your audience with the right message

There is some overlap among these nine strategies. For instance Followership, Teamwork, and Small “l” leadership are clearly interdependent ideas. But I do not want to quible here. If you compare this list with the attributes of high performance organizations you will find useful correlations and synergies.

This book is widely available through your local library and from bookstores local and online.

  1. see Henry Mintzberg, Managers Not MBAs: A Hard Look at the Soft Practice of Managing and Management Development, 1st ed. (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2004) for more on this. []

Too Much Information – learn to control those interruptors

A continuing hot topic here is the surge of interruptions that consume our work day (and evenings, too).

I have talked about this earlier in these postings, Seize Your Time – gaining control over Too Much Information and Multitasking, Too Much Information, Interruptions, and High Performance

Many people see their emails, instant messaging, Twittering, Blackberries and iPhone (to mention just a few interrupters) as beasts that they must satisfy instantaneously and continuously. Everything is in real time.

The first question to be asked is, “Do all of these interruptions really have equal claim on my time?” If you work in a customer service call center, then truly that ringing phone does have claim on your next free moment. But, in reality customer inquiries can be filtered and sorted for action as appropriate.

A second point to be considered is how inefficient and unreliable all of these little interruptions make us. Despite all of the blather about “multitasking”, human beings really can only do one thing at a time. When we are “multitasking, we are really performing a whole series of tasks sequentially. The brain is expending lots of energy and taking extra time to keep track of which tasks are in queue and what the status is of the last one we worked on and the next one we pick up. Worse, in most ways, is the fact that all of this is making us perform at a lower quality level. All of the back and forthing introduces errors and the interruptions are preventing us from really devoting enough time to energize our creativity and problem solving aptitudes.

Multitasking is a fraudulent idea.

Lets take a line of thought about emails and see if we can develop some actions that you can take that will bring at least this interrupter under your control.

Look over the emails you have received over the last day to week. How many of these really required instant action –  did the sender expect you to be sitting at your computer waiting for the email gong to put you into action? Did the sender really think that they were emailing to the equivalent of a customer service center where they could expect that someone would immediately read their email and respond? What would have been a reasonable response time for these emails? Today? End of Business Tomorrow? Do all of the emails requiring response in less than a day come from a predictable set of people? If so, do they really need this, or is it just a bad habit that you have encouraged? Perhaps, you can set some new expectations for them.

But, lets say there are some people who require responses in less than a day. Set up an email filter (“Smart Folder” in the Apple MAC world) where these emails will automatically be sorted. Now when you go to your email application, you only need to look at that folder. Everything else can wait until one of your regularly scheduled trips to the email box.

And that brings us to the next step. Set up a schedule for checking and responding to email. For most, first thing in the morning and at the end of the day will do it. Then, you have to stick with it. For me the challenge is my iPod Touch. I carry it around in my pocket and there is an enormous temptation to take it out and look at my emails.

Take this one step with emails. Don’t worry about all those other interrupters. Rome was not built in a day and you will not change your multitasking habits over night. Prove that you can gain control over just your emails. See what the results are. Then, you can move on to the others.

Remember, time is the one resource you have that can not be bought or inventoried. To be productive and sucessful you must make the best use of this most valuable asset.

Getting the Right Things Done – the manager’s focus

Peter Drucker wrote a charming little book in 1967, The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting Things Done. I have now read it numerous times and each revisit rewards me.

Just this morning I was speaking with a manager about efforts to refocus a business on new services and the difficulty of dragging along the old, tried-and-true services that still have a customer base and generate revenues. Drucker had quite a bit to say about this problem of the past. In the chapter titled, First Things First, he wrote, “Systematic sloughing off of the old is the one and only way to force the new.” And, “Yesterday’s successes ….. always linger on long beyond the productive life.”

Drucker wrote in the same chapter, “It is more productive to convert an opportunity into results than to solve the problem — which only restores the equilibrium of yesterday.” This seems like quite a provocation to most managers. After all, managers and management are all about problem solving. Or so we seem all to think. But, from Drucker’s perspective, problems are always about the past. This is very clear from his notion that solving problems only reestablishes the status of the past, some sort of guarantee that we can reproduce the results of the past. Whereas, opportunities are about the future.  The future is where customers in the real world are, not in the past. Drucker sees the world as continually evolving and requiring new solutions to new problems, always defined by customers.

So, then, back to where I started. One of the hardest things for any manager to do is to look away from the products and services of the past. These may very well still be producing revenues and profits, though analysis and planning are telling them that future customers and revenues must come from elsewhere.