Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Non-intuitive Manager [How doing what seems 'right' can be counter-productive]

[You might wish to read the Introduction to the Series before you proceed...]

Managing people is easy.

Managing people effectively is not.

If managing people were easy and intuitive, Dilbert wouldn't exist. The fact that a cartoon strip about a disaffected white collar wage-slave not only exists but is widely read by the cubicle classes, is telling. Everyone knows or has worked under at least one PHB or been bombed by a wandering Seagull Manager, even other PHBs and SMs!

Of course, no one sets out to become a bad manager, so how come the corporate world is chock full of them?

The problem is fairly insidious. It seems to be that when people think they're doing the right thing, they're usually not. Our intuition about what is constructive behaviour is very often wrong.

A classic example is what I'll label the gratuitous walkabout:

The Gratuitous Walkabout

Description: This involves the manager in question sauntering up to his unsuspecting target on padded feet and ambushing him with a cheery "So, how're things going?". The surprised subordinate turns around and tries desperately to collect his thoughts, mumbling senselessly in the mean time. By the time he's managed to context-switch successfully, he's already succeeded in making a fool of himself and the manager has moved on in search of his next kill, smiling ruefully and shaking his head. Bonus points if he manages to squeeze in a heavy I-really-expected-better-from-you sigh.

The Problem: It's difficult for most people to instantly switch from problem solving mode to reporting mode, especially when they're tense and on the back foot from being surprised. Someone working hard at his job will find it difficult to context-switch and swap in the information required to answer your questions accurately and fully. Nervousness from being under the microscope doesn't help.

A Possible Solution: Instead of pouncing unannounced on your subordinates, it might be better to set up a regularly scheduled meeting to which they can arrive ready and prepared. Even giving someone a 5 minute warning before you go to meet them should be enough, if all you're looking for is a daily update. If you must insist on surprising them, then make some small talk for a few minutes to give them time to ready themselves and only then get down to business.

1 comment:

Jigar Gosar said...

hummmmmm, i know iknow where are u pointing. But i'll have to admit, i agree with you.
been there seen that.