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Saturday, November 19, 2016

When the Buck Never Stops

  “I never put anything in writing,” the boss said.
     That simple admission said volumes about his view of his job and his responsibility.
     He confided it as a revelation straight out of the secret handbook known only to the highest level of management and leadership.
     I saw it as something of the opposite: A refuge for weak people, a selfish risk avoidance strategy and a loophole to escape blame. Don’t believe everyone else in that organization didn’t know that about the top guy, even without sharing his secret.
     When the buck has no place to stop, a major group activity is to keep passing it on.

     A corrosive blame culture develops, chilling initiative and encouraging the growth of defensive conspiracies. Conversations become guarded and insincere. The organization softens and good people leave in a spiral of decline.
    Never recording and properly sharing proposals, agreements and decisions ensures differences in interpretation and evaluation, even among honest, sincere people. Suspicion and distrust are bound to arise.

     The never-in-writing thing sometimes is a cover for an executive who never learned skilled written expression. Almost always, though, it is a warning indicator for the entire cage of mismanagement monkeys: indecision, lack of preparation, ignorance, arrogance, incompetence. . . .
     On the other hand: Written communication has a very important effect, one that often is overlooked. Writing requires the writer to think through and create orderly and credible narrative.
     You find out how little you actually know, or how wrong you are, when you attempt to create external presentation of your ideas and intentions. Once you’ve seen the holes, you can do your homework and strengthen your position before revealing it.
      In that way, writing is a tremendous assist in coherent, critical thinking. . . and in job and career performance.
     It also provides a vehicle for sharing with others. The product of writing can be taken away, studied and understood in ways that verbal communication cannot.
     That great strength is also the great vulnerability of writing as a management tool: When you’re wrong, there’s no hiding it. Your mistakes are on display for all to see. Lying in writing, and such associated devices as selective inclusion, can be exposed by alert and informed readers.

     But it’s not all in the writing.
     Put most fundamentally, the manager’s job is to make it possible for good people to do good work, and then make it necessary and rewarding for them to comply.
     In nuts-and-bolts terms, that makes the manager a situation analyst, a goal setter, a process designer, a problem solver, an innovator, a leader, a hand-holder and a disciplinarian.
     There are no products in management. There is process, there are people and there are results. No deliverable you can hold and look at. Communication, prominently including written communication, infuses it all, but as an enabling factor, a catalyst.
     The point is what is to be done, and how.
     The parameters of the manager’s responsibility are established, of course, by his or her position in the organization. Within that arc, the essential requirements are the same as those of every other management position.
     The manager studies the responsibilities assigned to his/her unit: the demands, the assets and resources, the challenges, the intended deliverables, the collaborative relationships, etc.

     The manager designs the methods to be adopted and the way the assets, especially the people, are to be organized to best achieve the desired outcomes while meeting such requirements as budget and schedule.
     No process goes like clockwork for very long, so the manager knows how to track performance and adjust as necessary.
     Whenever people are involved, they constitute the manager’s most valuable asset – but the one most volatile and often most time-consuming. Many responsibilities of the manager may be easier to handle, but the people issues are the top priority.
     Those matters also are often the easiest to defer and/or neglect . . . and then the costliest when they become critical.
     The manager is chief problem solver of the organization. Anything that is not the way it should be is a problem. No matter where it is or who is directly affected or responsible, the manager is the senior partner in every such situation.

     The manager also is the two-way representative of his/her organization in all its associations, with senior management, other units of the company, its clients, the public and any other entity that affects it or is affected by it.
     So it’s a very busy job, and there’s no way it can be done perfectly. There always will be something that is incomplete or inadequate. You can get tired of blame, and be tempted to fudge a little in such matters as making specific, written commitments to plans and intentions.
     Don’t fudge. People can overlook mistakes, but they won’t forgive incompetence.
     Writing avoidance by a manager is a marker for failure not only in expression, but often in the broader range of responsibilities that writing represents. The reluctance to put anything in writing may simply arise because there’s nothing there to write about. 

     YOUR TURN: You’ve had admirable bosses, and you’ve had some not so much. Tell us about them in the comment section. I have a lot to say, but I learn a lot from the kind of people who read this far in a post like this. Let's hear from you.

SEE ALSO: Project Politician

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