Monday, November 07, 2005

Introducing the Non-intuitive Manager

In this series of articles, I want to explore some of the practices we as managers follow because instinctively, we think they're effective. Unfortunately, a little experience and thought quickly shows that many of these practices are actually counter-productive and occasionally, down right destructive.

People spending far too much time chatting on the intranet? Log every key press and word sent across! Getting the feeling that people are wandering the halls with far too much abandon? Restrict access to the various parts of the office! Want an update? Drop in unannounced and demand it on the spot!

The basic problem is that of a lack of empathy. We forget - usually because it's been a while since we've been in a similar situation - how we'd feel if placed in the same spot as the one we've just stuck someone in. At other times, we lose sight of the fact that not everyone comes from a similar background as us, and so an incident which we may shrug off as being insignificant may actually be taken quite seriously by others.

As straight-forward as the problem is, it's solution is simpler still. Just about every philosopher, religious figure and ascetic has expounded some version of the Golden Rule; Do unto others as you would have done unto you. In other words, place yourself in the situation of your hapless team members. Would you like to have someone breathing over your shoulder, eyeing your every move? Or tracking every keystroke of your messaging activity? Probably not. And if something like this would make you uncomfortable, chances are, it makes other people uncomfortable as well.

There is a danger here though. Not everyone is the same. As I mentioned earlier, people come from varied backgrounds and have varied expectations and tolerances. For example, behaviour that you might consider intolerable micro-management might be comforting to someone who's less sure of himself and wants a little hand-holding. You have to make allowances for things of this nature and that's where experience helps, I suppose...

Anyway, that's why I decided to name the series, "The Non-intuitive Manager" since good management is sometimes about going against what your gut tells you is the right thing to do. You can't always rely on your intuition or your instincts to guide you, since these are often completely off the mark. If managing was something that came naturally to most people, there wouldn't be so many horror stories about the "supervisor from hell". The only way to be sure about what you're doing is to test things out and then measure the effects.

The only way to be sure that what you're doing adds to the teams well-being and overall happiness is to implement your policy and then see if it's had the desired effect. If so, continue to refine it, taking constant feedback from your victims team members as you go. If not, take suggestions and feedback and try something else. You have to implement a constant loop of innovation, testing and feedback if you want to be sure that what you're doing is having the desired results. Relying on whims and fancies and ruling by decree is for tin-pot dictators...

It isn't the Non-intuitive manager you've got to be worried about, since he understands the dangers of relying on instinct. It's the natural, intuitive ones who are completely confident about their inherent talents who are terrifying!

Articles in the series

  1. Introducing the Non-intuitive Manager
  2. The Non-intuitive Manager [How doing what seems 'right' can be counter-productive]
  3. The Non-intuitive Manager: The Semantic Weight & Half-Life of Words

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of a theme at one of the cultural sensitivity training sessions I attended at my company (my employers like to have a lot of those). The long version of the theme ran something like this:

"Do NOT do to others as you would wish done unto yourself. Instead do unto others as EACH of them would like to have done unto him or herself (while still be equitable to all, of course)."