Written by Clive Arlington, Consultant
It is very difficult to accurately describe which management practices are proper. It is a simple fact that because we are of the human species, we are, by definition, different from one another. What is a good practice for one person may not be good for the next. Each person must be judged alone and a particular method must be developed for that type of individual. A good manager is one that is able to adapt his management methodology to each subordinate. For some it perhaps requires a firm hand. For another, a more permissive climate cultivates the desired end result, which is of course, productivity. Some employees require a lot of supervision and guidance to bring about the desired level of productivity. Another worker may require little more supervision than to define the desired end result and deadline.
Managers of years past were not aware of the motivations that guide workers. It was assumed that people did not want to work and that a (very) firm hand or more money would provide the incentive necessary to get the worker to “produce”. Findings of the last half of the twentieth century have armed managers with an altogether different mind set. If the working environment is made comfortable and the basic needs (shelter, food, and clothing) are made available through adequate wages, the majority of the people does want to work and will strive to obtain the self satisfaction that comes about as a result of having done a good job and being recognized for it.
Unfortunately, there exist in management today a number of executives who still subscribe to the old theory. They rule their subordinates by fear. The employees are in a constant state of worrying for their job. They are threatened and therefore, do not take an interest in their job. Thus, they do not perform as they are capable. To these employees, the assistance of a collective bargaining agency is understandably welcomed. But now begins the snowball, for as more employees embrace the union, the stronger it gets. The stronger is the union, the more demands it makes on management and thus the divide between employees and employer becomes larger and more brutal.
Fortunately, we see a slow change taking place in the work environment. Managers are better informed, better educated and are sensitive to their subordinate’s needs and therefore, spend much more time and effort to ensure “creature comforts” are maximized. Today’s managers are also slowly coming to realize that the “old” method of surrounding oneself with people of lesser skills is a road to nowhere. Not many years ago, (in fact, I saw it in my career) executives did just that. By doing so-I suppose they thought they would stand out or would not be threatened. The reverse is true. The first time I was promoted to manager, I immediately sought out those who I thought would complement my areas of weakness and strengthen the group’s collective skills. Often they were much more skilled and knowledgeable than me in certain areas -but I never worried that they would take my job because of that. Those lower level supervisors were made aware of my management approach, so as long as I supported and provided them a decent climate in the workplace, they would work hard and knew I would include them when any praise was given.
One other change I have seen over the past 10-15 years is a (slow) move away from micro-management. It still exists, more in some industries than others. But a manager who dwells on details is one who loses sight of the big picture. Trust and respect your employees. Give them a comfortable working environment and they will come through for you. Assume initially that they have the tools and wherewithal to succeed in their job. Give them the benefit of doubt until they prove otherwise. I have worked for bosses who assumed the opposite; that all workers were worthless until they proved otherwise. They believed that only after an employee had demonstrated some measurable benefit, could they be “accepted” as trustworthy and subsequently, given much more autonomy. A characteristic that I valued in others when I was a manager is reliability or dependability. It was so satisfying to assign a task to a dependable employee and know it would be finished on time with little effort on my part.
My career spanned the range of responsibilities from electronic technician to executive management which of course, required different skills to be successful. In the aerospace (and other technical) industry, initially, ones technical capabilities are the major determining factor for advancement. Once you get to a supervisory or management position, one’s people skills are the important trait for success. In order to be successful at the executive level, political skills are absolutely necessary. And I think this applies to many other professions other than this industry where I spent the majority of my career.
There are planned events and unplanned events! And the latter seem to appear much more often than probabilities would suggest. During my career I was known as a “make it happen” type of guy. Even at the beginning of my career when I worked on the Apollo program, I would work hard to find an alternative way to a goal when reaching the dead end of the planned path. And it happened often! My advice to young workers is to prepare well and do not be afraid to take on tasks. Many working people are afraid to make decisions for fear of making the wrong one. Don’t do that. Once you have considered the pros and cons of an issue are decisive and set out on that path. Sure, you will make bad decisions occasionally, but if you have prepared well and addressed the pertinent information, you will be right more often than wrong! Always give your best effort. We have all heard about giving 110%-and that’s a valid comment. And do it with enthusiasm. Be known as having an excellent work ethic. Many workers do only the minimum required and display no passion with their effort. These people will not usually advance to higher levels of responsibility. Similarly I have seen well educated, ambitious and productive employees (and managers) reach a level where they realize that further advancement was not likely and they “went to cruise control”. They seldom made difficult decisions for fear of making the wrong one, don’t “rock the boat” appeared to be their mantra. This behavior only served to validate their lack of advancement.
Set career goals-but remember-you don’t get something for nothing-so the higher the goal-the more you must commit with your time and effort. There is always a price to pay. I saw the effects of stress and long hours on the health of VPs and other executives, and decided that I wanted no part of that. I saw young and eager men experience heart attacks and other debilitating health issues. In addition, extra time on the job means time away from family, church, etc. and the resultant deterioration of those elements of one’s life. Somewhere I read that 70% of workers don’t want to be a supervisor. And of the remaining 30%, only a third of them had the wherewithal to be a successful manager.
I have always believed that the ability to communicate well with both the written and spoken word is essential to be a successful supervisor. To those of you who aspire to be a manager, improve your communication and presentation skills by getting involved in local theatres and/or join a Toastmasters club.
Another important characteristic a manager should have is to treat others as he would want to be treated. There is nothing new here. That golden rule has been around for centuries. It always amazes me to see men (and women) attain a high level of management and forget where they came from. They are usually smart, well educated and well respected people, who suddenly, once promoted, think they are “better” than those working for them. It happens much more than it should -and that is a shame! When I became a manager I did my very best to follow the golden rule. Sometimes I was taken advantage of when I gave a person a second chance, but over the years, it allowed for more good than bad results. I initiated regularly scheduled “all hands” meetings where I explained what I was doing to make their working life better. I held a question and answer session and did my best to provide honest answers to (sometimes) difficult questions. I made an attempt to learn about the employee’s family and would circulate through their work area making small talk and complimenting them when they had completed a task or reached a major milestone.
Another important item from the “must do” list is to set an example. Do not ask someone to do something that you would not do. None of this “do as I say -not as I do” attitude. For example, if you want employees to be on time or to work beyond regular work hours-then you must be on time and be willing to stay late. Good staff relations begin from the top and I always tried to set an example. First and foremost, you have to treat your employees as individuals. When you say; “how are you?” to someone, you should mean it. Whoever that person is, whatever he (or she) is, he has a life to lead, as we have. He is another human being, with all the faults, misery, expectations and hopes that you and I experience. I think this approach means a great deal to most people and it served me well during the managerial portion of my career.
And finally, a subject that is difficult for all managers; dealing with low or non-performers. Most managers quickly discover who the top and bottom performers in an organization are. It becomes apparent in a short time. Managing top performers is easy; they take the ball and run with it-usually meeting or exceeding expectations. It is those employees who do not perform as hoped that test a manager’s aptitude. Obviously, more time must be spent with these employees to motivate, instill ambition, assign priorities and generally direct their day-to-day activities. But when it becomes apparent that these actions are not successful, you must get rid of the employee. There are three things that happen when a manager gets rid of a bad “apple”. First, you rid the organization of a non-performer. Second, those employees “sitting-on-the-fence’ are likely to be more productive. Thirdly, and to me the most important, the good performers in the group say “Yes, there is justice”. Employees in any organization are also aware of those colleagues who are not putting forth the effort and will admire the manager who makes the (difficult) decision to flush out non-performers.
In summary, a manager should be; honest, clear with his instructions or assignments, set an example, consistent, decisive, communicative, fair, and adaptable and obey the golden rule. If one does these things, I’m confident that he (or she) will be a successful manager.