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Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Project: Rating Managers

     The best manager I ever had came in at 33 on a 60-point scale of excellence. Twenty others straggled down from there.
     But then, this evaluation was done many years ago, shortly after I went into consulting. I was in recovery from a quarter-century-plus career as an editor and manager in the newspaper business. In the words of wise man Bob Dylan, “Ah, but I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.”
     During those decades in the managerial trenches, it had never occurred to me to analyze just what I was supposed to do and how I was faring in doing it. I, along with everybody else, was just slugging away in a task-driven struggle to get things done – hoping that sometimes, somehow, quality would transpire.

     The introduction to management training/consulting involved courses, reading and videos that explore just how things were supposed to be conducted.
     This wasn’t entirely new to me, since newspeople go to conferences and have experts in now and then. But now this analytical attention to behavior and performance was the name of the game. It wasn’t just an occasional side trip, more recreational respite than serious skillbuilding effort.

     So, on one of those long car trips that were now part of my work, I practiced my new profession. First, I came up with a half-dozen practices that I considered the working parts of management performance.
     Uncertain memory suggests the six were listening/empathy, decision-making, honesty, consistency, professional knowledge and leadership.    
     Then I reviewed my 27.5 years of conventional employment (25+ in management), and came up with 20 people who had been my direct supervisors. When I was a kid reporter, there might have been several desk editors in some particular year. When I was an editor, I had the same boss for several years, several times. When I was an acting general manager, it was the president of a multi-newspaper corporation.
     Each of the six behaviors was to be measured on a 1-10 scale, with 1 for poor performance and 10 the achievement of perfection. So any of my past superiors who rated a 60 would have been the absolute dream of a boss.
     Well, as revealed above, nobody passed at all. If 36 would be a passing grade (60 percent of 60 possible points), then my actual top-scoring boss would have earned 56 percent.
     With the accumulated understanding of an additional three decades or so, most – not all -- of the “scores” would be higher. Working with managers in a variety of professions and disciplines, in all kinds of circumstances, produces much more nuanced judgment.

     It’s impossible to gain much of anything by attempting to apply the rating to oneself. It can be plenty instructive, though, to have your own manager do it for you. Colleagues, partners and those under your direction can be very helpful, too.
     Caution is advised here. There must be a healthy atmosphere of trust and openness if the rating is to really be of value. When it works, it can help you see a blind spot or two in your managerial skills . . . or a specific relationship that needs some work.
     Short of that, you can use the categories, not to rate yourself, but as areas to expand upon in your thinking. You pick up insights about behavior by looking carefully at those you know who display those behaviors at a high level, and quietly practice improvement in your own work.

     Wonder what my 33-rated boss actually thought of how I was doing.  

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