Remember when you first became a manager? Remember when you first realised that management is a series of peaks and troughs: not a more or less straight line with occasional bumps in it? Did some sympathetic mentor help you out? Or did you have to find out for yourself that those peaks and troughs can be very tough going?
It’s A Social Skill
Management is a social skill. It is exercised only with people. And you can learn management only on the job: with people. You can undertake as much study as you like. But nothing can replace the day to day on-job practice of management. Good management is dependent on many variables that can’t be accurately replicated or simulated anywhere but on the job. It’s a social skill. It’s about managing performance.
What Managers Do
This isn’t easy to establish. When asked, managers tend to repeat what they’ve learnt on courses or read in books. They say what they’re “responsible for”. But saying what they actually do is hard to ascertain.
What a manager actually does depends on lots of things including
- how he sees his or her job role
- background, experience and training
- personal values and goals
- what he or she believes is expected of him
- perception of organization values
- whom he’s or she’s trying to please
- the amount of power he or she believes he has
- his or her judgement
- how others evaluate his or her performance
- his or her assessment of organization culture.
The manager is influenced by all of this as well as their day to day job demands. As I said, it can be a “tough gig”. Notice that there’s little mention of managing performance: the social nature of the job.
Notice too that there’s no mention of those 90 year old hoary chestnuts of management theory:, plan, organize, lead, control. Nor should there be!
Many managers have little control over what they do. They’re often merely responding to situations and influences. And the implications are often quite unexpected. Experienced managers realize that the only constant is change. The consequences of change may be totally unexpected.
Recognize The Reality
The manager’s job is not a smooth surface with occasional and predicable bumps. It’s an unsealed road with bumps, potholes, warning signs, hairpin bends, washaways, obstacles and occasional short lengths of level surface.
It’s a game where participants change, ignore or invent new rules, play with or without a referee and strike the ball with whatever’s available. Sometimes someone takes the ball and goes home.
It really doesn’t matter how technically skilled the manager is. How good he or she is at managing the performance of employees is the real issue.
Three Things To Concentrate On
- Develop your communication skills. It really doesn’t matter how brilliant, intelligent and visionary you are or how outstanding your product or service is. If you can’t convince clients, prospects and staff of the value of what you do, you’ll fail. I happen to believe that effective face to face communication is the core management skill. It’s irreplaceable.
- Grasp the Great Secret. One of the great Duke Ellington’s musicians once complained about an apparent error in an arrangement. The story goes that Ellington relied “you’re paid to play. I’m paid to think.” That’s the “great secret”. You’re paid to “manage”: employees are paid to “operate”. You’ll be unable to manage effectively until your staff can operate effectively.
- Produce perfect employees. That’s your first job. You’ll find loads of ideas about “how”, elsewhere on this blog. Remember this: until your employees are totally competent to handle all the operating work in your business, you won’t be able to manage effectively.
The work a manager does is dependent on many variables. The vast majority of managers respond as well as they can to circumstances as they see them. Effectively managing the performance of employees contributes to the variables. But it’s essential.
Accept the uncertainty of your role. The key is to limit the effects of the peaks and the troughs. This can only be done if managers understand the unpredictability of their roles, develop flexible responses to day to day events and of course, produce perfect employees. What a Christmas gift that would be!