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Sunday, March 27, 2016

When Management Is Excellent

     All the marvelous skills of the topflight manager teeter delicately on one old-fashioned essential. That's the skill we’re tired of talking about because it depresses us. It never ceases to demand attention when we really would like to focus on much more worthy matters.
     When we neglect it, though, the punishment is swift and cruel. It will put our most treasured desires out of our reach, if it doesn’t damage or destroy them.
     This harsh taskmaster: Time management.
     We think of time management as a nutsy/boltsy thing, and it is. It’s also, though, the gatekeeper through which everything must pass. Even, or especially, our most important things.

     Take relationship management, for instance. Good managers put a high priority on building and maintaining effective relationships with those who work under their direction, and with those peers they collaborate with, and with the senior people upon whose support they are so dependent.
     How do they meet all three of those entirely different challenges? At the same time all the time, of course.
     Start with their staff people. This is the big one. All the expert studies conclude that different workers cannot be treated alike if each is to contribute up to his/her potential. The leader must account properly for different backgrounds, attitudes and competency levels.
     If there could be a single formula to apply to all such relationships, it would really simplify management. Well, it doesn’t work that way. Individuals respond to different kinds of direction, and rewards and disciplines must be tailored if they are to be effective.

     Every group of people also has a generic character, so the manager – no matter how experienced – is going to have some kind of learning to do over time.
     During the development process, there always will be missed moments and at least a few missteps. The manager needs to recognize those jolts and work to recover from them. Undetected or untended, they can have disproportionately negative results.
     But no group of people can be managed totally en masse, so this getting-to-know-you period must be carefully nurtured with each of the eight/ten/whatever number the manager is responsible for.
     What goes on during that time – and indeed throughout the life of each of the individual relationships in the work group?
     While the manager is determining what needs to be done, and how assignments are to be made among the various staff members, each staff member is watching how the manager behaves.
     The working staff members are very sensitive to how they are being treated as individuals, and they are continuously making comparisons with the perceived differences in the treatment of others.

     Many of the managers of your experience may have come off as insensitive and/or uncaring about all this – and many indeed conduct themselves that way. But not the good ones.
     When people are asked to describe the best managers of their experience, these are the traits/behaviors that lead the list:
     Good listener. Fair. Knows the work. Makes good decisions. Takes responsibility. Fixes problems. Stands up for people. Is always ready to help. Patient. Never too busy.
     Try meeting any one of those standards when you’re “druv up” (Maine talk) with workload and problems in a typical workday.
     Then visualize your manager’s situation: coping with an endless stream of hotter potatoes, often in bunches, while producing quality results in management situations you know nothing about.
     And, simultaneously, your manager is devoting attention to those other relationships whose occupants are making their own judgments regarding many additional and different expectations about him or her.

     How do they do it?
     It all takes time. In order to perform well in such a busy, multifunctional job, a person must be competent in several levels of time management.
     Most noticeably, the person must get things done on time, and well. That means you make sure you understand what you’re taking responsibility for, and you make sure you specify to yourself what it will take to get it done. Then you do it, well and on time.
     Underlying that most obvious performance of good time management are the practices of thoughtful judgment, research, estimating and action planning.
     Priority management is part of it. That’s knowing what to do first, how to line up everything else and how to not do what just doesn’t make the cut. So delegating is a vital companion skill.
     The entire process can become less burdensome over time, but it will never be automatic.
     You have to make thinking, judging and deciding efficient as well as effective. Perfecting that absorbs time, the most important fundamental of management.

     Even with all that, this business of getting good things done right on time – that’s the “easy” part.
     Somewhat more demanding and time-consuming, with much less ease of measurement along the way, is the careful investment of sensitive attention it takes to build truly productive relationships. Without this part, the others don’t work.
    Every moment you are in the presence of another person, and every time that person has reason to think of you, the relationship between you gets either little stronger and more productive . . . or a little less.
     Those movements, either tiny or significant, come from a word, a look, a favorable response (or a favor) or a supportive moment. Or the opposite. When you’re a manager, people are watching, so your success or decline is broader than anything you can immediately affect.
     Momentary lapses and successes are an uncontrollable fact of life, but your real, sustainable ability to influence other people comes from the center line of your consistent direction. That’s the one you create because you think about it, understand it and act on most of the time.

     And that’s the most difficult – most powerful – arena of time management.
     What do you think about when you think about your job? Are you tangled up in problems, regret, resentment, frustration?
     Or are you reflective, thinking of your people as positive assets, each of them capable of contributing and enjoying participation, individual and human? Are you developing plans for problem solving?
     Project Managers are people accustomed to being busy, to handling a lot of tasks. They are action-driven people.
     Now we’re saying they must freeze their busy lives for reflective periods, perhaps lengthy ones, conducting the  less-accustomed process of thorough and repetitive study of unfamiliar factors – and then inventing scenarios rather than just acting them out in the moment.
     To do any and all of this, the manager must have a grip. 
     You have established in your own mind, and in your clear and explicit understandings with whomever you answer to, just what you are supposed to be accomplishing. And your level of authority to do so, as well as the limits on what is expected of you. And what you can depend upon your own boss to do.

     All of this is openly negotiated and, equally important, is consciously tended and revisited in ways small and large, with all pertinent actors, all along the way.
     So, in the moment-to-moment life of the productive workplace, that person at the trustworthy center of competent management didn’t get there by being a nice person who doesn’t get things done.
     That person gets it all done by getting the first thing done: Managing time to meet priorities – most especially the ones that don’t show on the surface.

    I say time management is the essential foundation stone of management. I'll bet there are a lot of other opinions on that subject, and I'd love to hear them all. What's yours? Share a comment, to the benefit of us all.


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