Thursday, November 18, 2010

Managing to Manage

A few days ago I was talking with some of my cousins. One of the blessings of funerals is the family reunion. It would be nice if the family was to get together for something other than weddings and funerals but we seem to have become slaves to our work schedules. In any case, numbered among the participants of this conversation were a CEO, two CFO’s and a couple division presidents. The only thing our careers really have in common, though, is that we’re all managers. For a brief moment the conversation turned to business naturally progressing from a short discussion on the economy and the various ways we are all coping with these difficult times. The economy has had a way of forcing some changes at each of the firms represented by the different family members.

Recently, the first thing my cousin did when he promoted an accountant to Accounting Manager was to take away his calculator. It was his way of signally that as a manager he was not to be accounting anymore; his job was to manage. If a manager spends his time doing his subordinates’ work, he isn’t spending enough time planning, organizing, directing, and controlling. The conversation moved on to other family-centric subjects; however, the seed was planted.

Does a manager have to know how to do the all work he is managing? I think a general disconnect between what people understand of the roles between lead employees, supervisors and managers and effective use of these positions interferes with productivity and cost effectiveness of the organization

What is a manager and what does he do? There is both an art and a science to management. The art is making employees more effective than they would be without the manager. The science is in what it is you do to accomplish that. Stemming from this science of management are the four basic pillars of management, which are Planning, Organizing, Directing, and Monitoring.

If a group of employees can produce eight units of product x a day without a manager and production does not change after the manager enters the picture, what good is the manager? If productivity increases to 11 units a day, the manager has added value. The value of management is making the group more effective.


I was once told by one of my supervisors that a manager should spend 60% of his time planning. I don’t know if that is entirely true. What is true is that management starts with planning. Good management requires good planning. Proactive planning makes everything more efficient and helps avoid pitfalls that might negatively affect the business.

Without a plan, success will be hard fought, hardly attainable. In fact, achieving a goal without planning will be by luck or chance and can hardly be repeated. It is by establishing goals and planning - deciding the best course, correctly utilizing employee’s strengths and those of other resources - that success is recognized. A good plan recognizes many possible scenarios and provides alternatives. Work out the best possible scenario and plan for it but planning for the alternatives allows for quicker, less painful adjustments. Always remember one of the most overlooked and underused planning tool may also be your best – the people doing the work. Ask those who do the work for input.


Once you’ve completed the plan, it’s time to make it happen. Get everything ready so the group will have everything they need. Prepare the group. Prepare those receiving your work. Make sure everyone involved has the proper training. Help them be motivated. In short, do the legwork, making sure everything needed to execute the plan is in place or will be by the time it is needed. Check back regularly to make sure everyone understands their role and everything is still in place.


Once everything is planned and organized the manager’s job is much like that of an orchestra director. Everyone understands their part of the plan or has the sheet music in front of them and are ready for the direction, when to go. Like the conductor directs each section, the manager provides the cue that helps groups know when they start their part.


You have to keep your eye on everything to make sure everything is going according to plan. When reality doesn’t match the plan, make the necessary adjustments. Just like the conductor, you’ve got to adjust the tempo, make changes.

No matter how well planned and organized, problems will happen. This is why the plan included contingencies. As the manager, you need to maintain awareness so you can make the necessary adjustments. The Iterative Process is the plan established for bringing everything back into sync after problems arrive. Adjust the plan, organize the resources, direct the adjusted plan and continue to monitor.


Early in my career, a mentor told me a manager leads people and manages product or processes. Leading people and managing the processes established to help ensure good productivity is not easy. When done successfully, it is very fulfilling. Management is a skill that needs to be honed continuously through study and practice. It can be very rewarding.

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