My Management Guidelines

Since the title of this blog is “manage by walking around”, I thought I’d share a few examples of how I personally use that philosophy in my job.  By background, I have a fairly large team that resulted from the combination of multiple, somewhat competing, teams in the last year. About half of my direct reports are in nearby buildings but the other half are as many as 10 time zones away.

I describe myself as a better leader than a manager.  By that, I mean that I manage more by influence (suggesting direction) than by control (enforcing rules).  I also believe in management by exception (tell me about exceptional successes or unexpected issues) than management by status (tell me about what you accomplished). I’ve used this style since I was a first line manager and regardless of whether I was in development, sales, services, or marketing.

Although I’ve never formalized it, my general management guidelines revolve around three pillars:

Focus on outcomes, not on activities
This is the heart of my performance management philosophy and I’ve written about this extensively in this blog.  While it’s easy to trivialize this as “focus on results”, it’s important to remember to track impact (how much change occurred) rather than output (how much we produced).  Unfortunately most people miss this distinction.

In my management meetings, I usually avoid discussion of red/yellow/green items and instead focus on trends.  To me it’s more important to discuss a green objective trending down than a red one trending up.

Reward people for a focus on results
When it comes to individuals, I apply the same discipline.  I don’t like to reward people for trying hard if they were working on the wrong things.  While congratulatory emails have their place, I prefer to catch people doing the right things and provide them with instantaneous feedback.  At my last job, I handed out ‘Becher bucks’ to reinforce behavior but there are many ways to reward employees that aren’t financial.

When things go wrong, I adopt the posture of “hard on the issues, not on the people”. Failure is rarely the fault of a single individual or team. However, if you are going to be late/over budget/fail, don’t make it a surprise. Another reason to focus on trends, not current status.

Hire good people and let them do their jobs
I want my employees to be able to do their job better than I can do it myself.  If I think and act like I can do it better than they can, I don’t really need them around. Without this ability to let go, employees become less productive and willingly wait for you to tell them what to do.

As a result, I prefer to hire talented and motivated people than to fill specific positions.  Job requirements change frequently; I want people that can adapt too.  This means I invest in people – not just functional training – but an education of the business surrounding their current responsibilities.  If they are successful, it reflects well on me; I don’t need to take credit directly.

If anyone reading this has worked for me, please share whether my actions reinforce my beliefs. Is this theory or practice?  Feel free to stay anonymous if that makes you more comfortable.

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14 Responses to My Management Guidelines

  1. Robert E March 2, 2009 at 11:07 am #

    This is very useful. It is important to understand what is important to your boss – how they look at managing a team and what you can expect from them.

    I would bet that most of the people that report to you would know about 80 to 90% of your management style without having read this blog. BUT, it’s that 10 to 20% they have not figured out, which is articulated here, that can really help! Especially since it can be easy to misinterpret actions by basing them on previous experience with other bosses or other companies.

    I was wondering how my actions and attitudes might change if my boss and my boss’s boss wrote out their own management guidelines. I think I’ve figured out 90% of my boss but only about 60% of my boss’s boss.

    Hope your team reads and benefits from this. Too bad my boss and boss’s boss don’t have their own management manifestos.

  2. Mary March 4, 2009 at 12:38 pm #

    I haven’t thought much about management by status vs management by exception. I fill in a weekly status report and send it to my boss. I’ve done so for 4 or 5 years. I don’t know if he reads it or his boss reads it (etc – lots of layers until we get to you). It would be great if you remove this weekly requirement.

  3. Jen March 4, 2009 at 6:27 pm #

    I look forward to learning how you do this. Those who hire well and have capable, motivated and flexible staff give me the drive to push myself to excel. They provide an atmosphere where I’m constantly surrounded by those who I can learn from.

  4. anonymous March 13, 2009 at 7:15 pm #

    Your management guidelines are ideal, but it sounds like fiction to me.
    The biggest problem I find with managers is that they are so focus on themselves that they forget the main purpose of their job. They make decisions that will benefit their own career, rather than benefit their company. The thought of a manager who treats all of their employees the same way is far from reality. They tend to reward workers they get along with and often forget the ones who are so busy working that have no time to socialize with them.

    Money and status loose their meaning to employees when they are neglected and don’t receive credit for what they do. The best reward an employee can get is to be respected and to feel like is being treated equally.

    If a company is interested in retaining their employees they should choose their managers very carefully. People leave their managers more often then they leave their jobs. Hiring a manager who will work on behalf of their employees is a difficult task for a company because managers are humans before they are managers. They have the same fears of loosing their jobs.

  5. Jonathan March 17, 2009 at 10:17 am #

    Anonymous,

    Sadly, it doesn’t sound like you’ve had very good managers in your career. While I’ve certainly met some managers that look out for themselves, I’ve been lucky enough that this has been the exception rather than the rule. You would have to talk to my team to decide for yourself whether my guidelines are fact or fiction.

    The one point that I do resonate with is that managers tend to reward workers that they get along with. This is indeed human nature and a good reminder that success should be based on outcomes achieved, not similar styles.

  6. paimeiitguy April 13, 2009 at 9:59 am #

    Hi there,

    This is a great – simple and clear – write up of the MWBA management style. I too also adopt this as best as I can under the circumstances (organizational, cultural, human factors). This style is hard work because you often need to be on the front lines all the time with the troops. It also takes a certain amount of maturity, seasoning, professionalism among the team members to make this successful.

    Am glad to have come across your blog from the Crossderry Blog by Paul Ritchie.

    Look forward to reading more!

    All the best,

  7. Don Bulmer February 8, 2011 at 11:49 am #

    Nice blog post, Jonathan. The principled approach to managent and leadership resonates with me, very much. I can say having observed your style over the last few years at SAP you do hold true to these principles.

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