Managing Management

By Rick Forbus, Ph.D.

Management is an interesting term. The act of managing is filled with meaning, as well, such as:

  • Run
  • Direct
  • Supervise
  • Administer
  • Control
  • Cope

 “Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere as long as the policy you’ve decided upon is being carried out.”
Ronald Reagan

Stories of mismanagement and the challenges many face in managing effectively are numerous in my line of work. Some managers will reduce the problems to mere time management and others elevate the same issues to levels such as the depravity of humankind. In my experience as a coach, the challenge seems to fall somewhere in the middle. Usually the starting point to becoming a great leader begins with skill development called management training or coaching.

The opposite of strong management results looks like:

  • Chaos
  • Disorder
  • Bedlam
  • Anarchy
  • Pandemonium
  • Commotion
  • Disarray
  • Turmoil

As strongly as some of the above meanings may flavor the culture that exists, when poor management is taking place, they all taste about the same. Although there is a great distance between the feelings we have when the culture is in disarray versus total chaos, poor management skills are always in front of some of these cultural indicators.

Would it be safe to say that a less-than-desirable culture on your team or in your organization is possibly a result of your management skills? Of course, lots of things “war against” a good culture, but at least one ingredient may help or hinder the outcomes, and that is the management process. That process includes your choices and your principles. In this article we are going to address some needful basic management and process skills and the higher view, called leadership.

“In the age of participative management, it’s still important to remember that the workplace is hardly a perfect democracy. There are times when decisions must be made without the approval of the bulk of the employees, says Supervisor’s Bulletin. In such circumstances, don’t ask workers to vote, ask them only to voice their objections. Then strive to overcome those objections so management’s plans can gain widespread acceptance.”
Management Digest

As we look at this topic, we will address management through these top five skills necessary to manage properly. Of course, there are others but these are the important competencies.

  • Decision-Making
  • Delegating
  • Planning — Basic Process
  • Problem Solving
  • Meeting Management

Managers must first work at the skill called decision-making. This skill breaks down into these parts.

1. Defining the problem.

2. Looking at potential causes for the problem.

3. Identifying alternatives for approaches to resolve the problem.

4. Selecting an approach to resolve the problem.

5. Planning the implementation of the best alternative (this is your action plan).

6. Monitoring the implementation of the plan.

7. Verifying whether the problem has been resolved or not.

Managers who struggle with defining the “real” problem will also struggle with setting the correct course of action. So, looking at this list you could consider these in a prerequisite order. If you cannot define the problem correctly you certainly cannot manage the implementation of an action plan.

“Don’t equate activity with efficiency. You are paying your key people to see the big picture. Don’t let them get bogged down in a lot of meaningless meetings and paper shuffling. Announce a Friday afternoon off once in a while. Cancel a Monday morning meeting or two. Tell the cast of characters you’d like them to spend the amount of time normally spent preparing for attending the meeting at their desks, simply thinking about an original idea.”
Harvey Mackay

The next management competency that needs development is delegating. Delegation seems to be one of the greatest challenges for the managers I coach. Why is delegation so difficult? There are many reasons, but one of the most common is that we honestly think we can do the task better. Also, it is disconcerting to delegate with the potential of losing control. This skill is more complex, but for the scope of this article these practical parts comprise the art of delegation.

1. Select the right person.

2. Delegate the whole task to one person.

3. Clearly specify your preferred results.

4. Delegate responsibility and authority.

5. Ask the employee to summarize back to you.

6. Get ongoing non-intrusive feedback about progress on the project.

7. Maintain open lines of communication.

8. If you’re not satisfied with the progress, don’t immediately take the project back but monitor and recalculate the assignment.

9. Evaluate and reward performance.

Delegation is a little like a complex interstate intersection as you enter a sprawling city. The possibilities are before you, and even certain choices are apparent, but, how to move forward, which turn to take and with what speed to proceed are choices. Will you use the GPS, a map, and your passenger’s eye sight or will you just “feel” your way to the destination. Delegation is not easy and sometimes we just decide to hold on to the challenges ourselves. Delegation allows an organization to fly higher and longer with better results.

“No organization can depend on genius; the supply is always scarce and unreliable. It is the test of an organization to make ordinary human beings perform better than they seem capable of, to bring out whatever strength there is in its members, and to use each man’s strength to help all the others perform. The purpose of an organization is to enable common men to do uncommon things.”
Peter F. Drucker

The next management skill is planning. Sometimes we jump straight into planning without working on our decision making and delegation skill development. The result is the same lower level planning techniques. We plan so much in our work, that it is easy to neglect the need for its development.

“Management by objectives works if you first think through your objectives. Ninety percent of the time you haven’t.”
Peter F. Drucker

 Here are some things to consider regarding planning.

  •  Planning in its larger context is the first step to consider. In other words, examining a system that is in place and disassembling it is crucial.
  • Working backwards through any “system” is a foundational skill for any good manager.

Also, other competencies are necessary when becoming a good planner. Below are some highlights.

Basic Overview of Typical Phases in Planning

1. Reference and Elevate Overall Singular Purpose (“Mission”) or Desired Result from the System

2. Observe Challenges Outside and Inside the System

3. Analyze the Situation

4. Establish Goals

5. Establish Strategies to Reach the Goals

6. Establish Objectives Along the Way to Achieving Goals

7. Associate Responsibilities and Time Lines With Each Objective

8. Write and Communicate a Plan Document

9. Acknowledge the Finishing Point and Celebrate Success

Guidelines to Ensure Successful Planning and Implementation

1. Involve the Right People in the Planning Process

2. Write Down the Planning Information and Communicate it Widely

3. Goals and Objectives Should Be S.M.A.R.T.E.R.

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Acceptable
  • Realistic
  • Time frame bound
  • Extending
  • Rewarding

4. Build in Accountability (Regularly Review Who’s Doing What and By When?)

5. Note Deviations from the Plan and Re-plan Accordingly

6. Evaluate Planning Process and the Plan

7. Recurring Planning Process is at Least as Important as Plan Document

8. Nature of the Process Should Be Compatible to Nature of Planners

9. Critical — But Frequently Missing Step — Acknowledgement and Celebration of Results

Planning is a science and is a learned management skill. High-level planning is a necessary competency for all good managers.

The next management skill is problem-solving. Every manager faces problems if not on a daily basis at least weekly. Problems range from petty to gargantuan. Trove has a workshop that addresses each of these management competencies and a full-day workshop that deals with decision making alone. If you look at the previous management skills mentioned in this article they unfold in prerequisite order. For instance, one cannot manage properly through problem-solving techniques without some skill in decision-making.

Look briefly at some points regarding problem-solving. A manager must ask this series of questions when leading through problems:

1. What is the real problem to be solved?

2. What is the ideal solution?

3. What options do I have?

4. What might happen if I put these options into practice?

5. What is my decision?

6. How should I now address it?

7. Did it work?

The scope of this article does not allow for more commentary here, except to say that a key skill in management is evaluating and addressing the challenges of everyday organizational life.

Lastly, the management skill necessary to keep your team moving forward together is meeting

Again, Trove has a full-day workshop that addresses this valuable management skill. One way to look at meeting management is with a sports metaphor. Your next meeting is the playing field for team diversity, talent leveraging and interdependence. How a team “practices together,” dealing with their issues in a meeting, will also be the way this same team “plays the game” as company or organization. How you practice together will many times determine how you perform your metrics. A powerful team meeting becomes the practice field of your performance.

A committee (meeting) is a cul de sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled.
Barnetta Cocks

One key practice is establishing team operating principles for your meetings. Whether these look like rules of engagement or general boundaries for cultural patriotism, all good managers should establish the guidelines for successful meetings. For the sake of this article, consider these items as you work towards your next meeting being a success. Great managers are good at:

1. Selecting Participants (Does everyone need to be in attendance?)

2. Developing Agendas (Should there be cameo appearances by some on the team?)

3. Opening Meetings (How should the opening segment be presented for optimum engagement?)

4. Establishing Ground Rules for Meetings (Have you established team operating principles?)

5. Time Management (How should I “time box” the agenda?)

6. Evaluations of Meeting Process (Is there a way you should get feedback on the success of your meeting?)

7. Evaluating the Overall Meeting (Do you have a feedback system in place?)

8. Closing Meetings (What is a powerful way to close a meeting that brings positive synergy for the team?)

Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, father of the nuclear submarine, was skeptical of business school graduates. Having interviewed some 14,000 of them over a period of years, he found them fluent in the jargon of systems analysis, financial manipulation, and quantitative management (whatever that is). But he claimed that they just don’t know the score. He felt most of them had an unrealistic impression of what is involved in business and little appreciation of the importance of technical knowledge, experience, and hard work. ‘What it takes to do the job will not be learned from management courses,” said Rickover. ‘It is principally a matter of experience, the proper attitude, and common sense, none of which can be taught in a classroom.”

Managing your management is critical to your success as a leader. Leaders learn to choose the correct management style and process to put into play according to varying situations.  Management development is imperative for career success. Choosing the correct management style and strategy is a matter of situational leadership.


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