12: The Elements of Great Managing

This summer I’m transitioning into the site director role at BUILD after three years of proudly serving as the incubator manager. Yes, I’ve known for a while, and we have been making announcements here and there in the BUILD community (during our after-school incubator sessions and a big announcement during the Business Plan Competition back in May), and I suppose now is as good of a time as any to make a general announcement about it. Indeed it is a promotion, and one that I am extremely excited about because not only will it be a huge opportunity of personal growth and professional development, but I get to do it in an organization I love, with a team a really care about, and with a mission that I value.

After speaking with our management consultant, Linda, I realize that one of my biggest hurdles will be shifting from the role of individual contributor to that of a manager / leader. Coincidentally, tomorrow is my final year-end performance review in my role as the incubator manager, and it is so neat to reflect back on my value-add as an individual contributor. I will never forget the trials and tribulations of creating and implementing my first Business Boot Camp (and only now am I truly seeing it objectively… yes, after two years, thanks to Karla‘s Results-Process-Relationships triangle), the collaboration with Randy and Adriana on “The Bridge” (one of my proudest accomplishments), and the painstaking task of creating an expansion manual for my programs (don’t get me wrong, I love creating processes, but somehow I really just love to keep them in my head, so this was a good project). Through it all, I’ve been stretched, stripped, and developed, but now it’s time to move on. Just like our students move from one phase of our programs to another, so too will I move, and entrust our excellent site program assistant, Amber, to innovate and improve the program in my place as the new incubator manager.

Oh, and I also wanted to add a book to my booklist, and it is somewhat related to my transition into my new management role: 12: The Elements of Great Managing.

by Rodd Wagner & James K. Harter, Ph.D.

The book shows the importance of employee engagement through several real-life business accounts (a la any other business-y book out there), and argues that you can manage people successfully if you implement these twelve essential elements:

  1. Knowing what’s expected
  2. Materials and equipment
  3. The opportunity to do what I do best
  4. Recognition and praise
  5. Someone at work cares about me as a person
  6. Someone at work encourages my development
  7. My opinion seems to count
  8. A connection with the mission of the company
  9. Coworkers committed to doing quality work
  10. A best friend at work
  11. Talking about progress
  12. Opportunities to learn and grow

Some of them are kind of, duh, obvious, like “materials and equipment” (who doesn’t need a computer, desk and chair these days?), but I thought some of the more interesting chapters were regarding the “best friend at work.”

Something about a deep sense of affiliation with the people in an employee’s team drives him to do positive things for the business he otherwise would not do. Early research that identified the 12 Elements revealed a very different social bond among employees in top performing teams. Sebsequent large-scale, multi-company analyses confirmed the 10th Element is a scientifically salient ingredient in obtaining a number of business-relevant outcomes, including profitability, safety, inventory, and — most notably — the emotional connection and loyalty of customers to the organization serving them. (page 140)

In short, friends watch each others’ backs. And having that culture is invaluable because not only is it good for individual and team morale, but your constituents (or customers) can feel and see it as well… And with the staff modeling it, they will then start to mimic it — e.g. If you are friends with your coworkers and show it at your youth-serving organization, your students will probably be more friendly with each other. Sounds easy enough, huh?

Maybe my first order of business as the site director with my team will be some forced bonding time. 😉

Read on for more quotes from the book:

Regarding expectations-setting:

The greatest pitfall of this element is that managers assume the simplicity of the statements means the issue requires only a basic solution: “If people don’t know what’s expected, I’ll just tell them.” This is analogous to American tourists who, not knowing the local language, speak English more slowly and loudly. And it’s just as ineffective.

“Knowing what’s expected” is more than a job description. It’s a detailed understanding of hot what one person is supposed to do fits in with what everyone else is supposed to do, and how those expectations change when circumstances change. A good team, some say, is a lot like a great jazz band in which each player listens to the other instruments as he plays his own. The better they pay attention to the rest of the band and work their way into the music, the better the result. (page 4)

Regarding natural talents and the opportunity to do your best:

Imagine that a large group has plans to meet for lunch at the top of a mountain. There are three routes to the top. The first option is a slow, winding path, none of it is very steep, but it requires several miles of walking. The second alternative is steeper and goes through the woods; it requires more stamina and the ability to use a map and compass to avoid getting lost. The third route is almost straight up, climbing the rock face of the mountain; it requires technical climbing skills, but is the shortest of the three possibilities. If each person in the group chooses his or her own route, and if each makes it safely to the top in time for lunch, none of the routes can be said to be better than the other two. The same phenomenon occurs in business… “I have worked with leaders whose style is so totally different to my own that I have found it incomprehensible that they achieve results, but nevertheless they do.” (page 41)

Regarding ancient tribes and the new organizational tribes:

The encyclopedia definition of a tribe — a “group of people sharing customs, language, and territory” with “a leader (and) a religion teaching that all its people are descended from a common ancestor” — is eerily close to what outsiders notice in a large corporate headquarters. Reverence for company founders susbtitutes for that toward a common ancestor. While it does not have a religion, every business develops its orthodoxies and powerful legends. Every close-knit organization develops its own exclusive vocabulary, inside jokes, chants, symbols, and wardrobe that reign inside its security-badge-protected territories. The differences between an ancient clan and Thomas Waton’s army of white-shirted IBM emplyees in the 1950s were more stylistic than organic. (page 69)

Regarding mentoring:

    When Odysseus departed on the long journey that would take him to the Trojan Wars, he left behind his wife Penelope, his son Telemachus, and all his property. The poet Homer wrote that matters were left to “an old friend of Odysseus, to whom the King had entrusted his whole household when he sailed, with orders to … keep everything intact.” It’s assumed that among his duties, the trusted friend was to advise , counsel, and nurture Odysseus’s young son. The special counselor was said to have “regulated the whole course of the life of Telemachus in order to raise him to the highest pitch of glory.”

The advisor became symbolic of a basic human need, an idea that reverberates through the halls of business today. His name was Mentor.  (page 79)

And humorously appropriate given that my review is tomorrow, regarding performance reviews:

…But these self-evaluations have instead been put on the list of annualized torments, ranking up there with taxes and dental probes.

…”Ostensibly,” he continued, “you rate yourself on a scale from one to five, usually in preparation for a follow-up interview. But let’s be frank. You really end up portraying yourself in one of two ways: A) Self-flagellating lummox dumb enough to enumerate weaknesses that can be used against you at a later date. B) Self-aggrandizing egomaniac who thinks ‘no’ means ‘yes,’ insults are a form of flattery — and you’re pretty good-looking to boot.” The caveat given by “Dilbert” creator Scott Adams has plenty of truth in humor. “The key to your manager’s strategy is tricking you into confessing your shortcomings. Your boss will latch on to those shortcomings like a pit bull on a trespasser’s buttocks. Once documented, your ‘flaws’ will be passed on to each new boss you ever have, serving as justification for low raises for the rest of your life.” (page 157)

And last but not least, on what motivates managers:

…”People are more important than facts and figures.”

“These are people’s lives. I have an obligation,” said Pete Wamsteeker… “I can’t make mistakes with that. I really have an obligation to to it right, and I’m going to invest the time to do it right.”

Therein lays the irony. The managers who are best at getting the most from people are those who give the most to them. Those who create the greatest financial performance start with the least pecuniary motivations. They work hard to do the right thing for their people, and they up doing well.

That is the heart of great managing. (page 203)

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