Saturday, August 2, 2014

A General Approach To Learning Management Skills

In management there is always a distant tune playing in the background. 

Once you hear this tune, you will start humming it to yourself: in the shower, in the boardroom, on the way to work, when watching the sunrise. 

It is a simple tune which repeats again and again in every aspect of your managerial life; if goes: 
 
PLAN - MONITOR - REVIEW 
Before you start any activity you must STOP and THINK about it: what is the objective, how can it be achieved, what are the alternatives, who needs to be involved, what will it cost, is it worth doing? 

When you have a plan you should STOP and THINK about how to ensure that your plan is working. 

You must find ways of monitoring your progress, even if it is just setting deadlines for intermediate stages, or counting customer replies, or tracking the number of soggy biscuits which have to be thrown away, whatever: choose something which displays progress and establish a procedure to ensure that happens.


 But before you start, set a date on which you will STOP again and Re-THINK your plan in the light of the evidence gathered from the monitoring. 

Whenever you have something to do, consider not only the task but first the method. 



Thus if there is a meeting to decide the marketing slogan for the new product you should initially ignore anything to do with marketing slogans and decide: 

1) how should the meeting be held, 

2) who can usefully contribute,

 3) how will ideas be best generated, 

4) what criteria are involved in the decision,

 5) is there a better way of achieving the same end,

 6) If you resolve these points first, all will be achieved far more smoothly. 

Many of these decisions do not have a single "right" answer, the point is that they need to have "an" answer so that the task is accomplished efficiently. 

It is the posing of the questions in the first place which will mark you out as a really great manager - the solutions are available to you through common sense. 

Once the questions are posed, you can be creative. 

For instance, "is there a better way of producing a new slogan?" could be answered by a quick internal competition within the company (answers on a postcard by tomorrow at noon) asking everybody in the company to contribute an idea first.

 This takes three minutes and a secretary to organize, it provides a quick buzz of excitement throughout the whole company, it refocuses everyone's mind on the new product and so celebrates its success, all staff feel some ownership of the project, and you start the meeting with several ideas either from which to select a winner or to use as triggers for further brainstorming. 

Thus with a simple -- pause -- from the helter-skelter of getting the next job done, and a moment's reflection, you can expedite the task and build team spirit throughout the entire company.

It is worth stressing the relative importance of the REVIEW.

 In an ideal world where managers are wise, information is unambiguous and always available, and the changes in life are never abrupt or large; it would be possible for you to sit down and to plan the strategy for your group. 

Unfortunately, managers are mortals, information is seldom complete and always inaccurate (or too much to assimilate), and the unexpected always arrives inconveniently. 

The situation is never seen in black and white but merely in a fog of various shades of grey. 

Your planning thus represents no more than the best guess you can make in the current situation; the review is when you interpret the results to deduce the emerging, successful strategy (which might not be the one you had expected). 

The review is not merely to fine-tune your plan, it is to evaluate the experiment and to incorporate the new, practical information which you have gathered into the creation of the next step forward; you should be prepared for radical changes. 

LEADERSHIP

There is a basic problem with the style of leadership advocated in this article in that nearly every historic "Leader" one can name has had a completely different approach; Machiavelli did not advocate being a caring Protector as a means of becoming a great leader but rather that a Prince ought to be happy with "a reputation for being cruel in order to keep his subjects unified and loyal".

 Your situation, however, is a little different. You do not have the power to execute, nor even to banish. 

The workforce is rapidly gaining in sophistication as the world grows more complex. You cannot effectively control through fear, so you must try another route. 

You could possibly gain compliance and rule your team through edict; but you would lose their input and experience, and gain only the burdens of greater decision making. 

You do not have the right environment to be a despot; you gain advantage by being a team leader. 

A common mistake about the image of a manager is that they must be loud, flamboyant, and a great drinker or golfer or racket player or a great something social to draw people to them. This is wrong.

 In any company, if you look hard enough, you will find quiet modest people who manager teams with great personal success. 

If you are quiet and modest, fear not; all you need is to talk clearly to the people who matter (your team) and they will hear you.

The great managers are the ones who challenge the existing complacency and who are prepared to lead their teams forward towards a personal vision. 

They are the ones who recognize problems, seize opportunities, and create their own future. 

Ultimately, they are the ones who stop to think where they want to go and then have the shameless audacity to set out.

Gerard M Blair is a Senior Lecturer in VLSI Design at the Department of Electrical Engineering, The University of Edinburgh. 

His book Starting to Manage: the essential skills is published by Chartwell-Bratt (UK) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (USA). He welcomes feedback either by email (gerard@ee.ed.ac.uk)

1 comment:

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