Management style

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In the early 80's I was totally rocked by Tom Peter's book In Search of Excellence. Since then, I've enjoyed other buzz books that are used to decorate the book shelves of young execs: Good to Great... Seven Habits... Leadership Moment... Before trying to master the Five Levels of Influence, though, I had an epiphany. I'd considered these books intriguing and uplifting, but the phrase, "management style" had come to signify two things: manipulation and deceit.

Temple Grandin, a woman with extreme powers of visualization, redesigned the pens, corridors and ramps of a slaughter house to make the journey to the killing floor more peaceful. My thought here is that she might have suggested telling the pigs that it was an "opportunity". I've heard the term frequently in similar contexts. I'm embarrassed by that sort of talk; it means someone thinks I'm so far beneath them that I'd believe it and they're so far above me, they need to apply controls. How degrading.

There are places that require managers. McDonalds trains a large number of first time workers and requires a system of managers to pull that off. Walmart may need managers as well. Places with a time clock frequently need managers to ride heard on people who are just putting in time while waiting to be some place else.

Here in academe though there needs to be a different model. Intelligent, motivated faculty have a system called the tenure system: over the course of a lengthy probationary period new faculty prove (or sadly don't prove) that they'll work in Penn State's best interest. They are then given a good bit of freedom to do so. Their individuality is allowed-even encouraged- to be part of their contribution.

As staff in academe, we don't have tenure but do have a different model implied by the term "exempt." In this context, exempt means that Penn State is exempt from paying that staff person overtime. It's simple-exempt staff can't work overtime; it's impossible to work more than expected. The implication to me is that if a staff person is "exempt", they have passed a probationary period in which Penn State gained assurance the staff person will continue to work selflessly in Penn State's best interest. They have intelligence, a sense of commitment, and a selfless vision of what their own contribution can be. And it all exists in an atmosphere of both selfless dedication and personal creativity.

Selflessness and individuality is a difficult mix. A team may require different things of different members; from each according to their own abilities. Someone may need to track notes. Someone may need to create a timeline. All, though, are intelligent, and self-directed. None should require management. Those who are inexperienced require mentors, not managers. Any staff requiring management just don't belong.

With such a plan, there will be healthy disagreement; it needs to be openly discussed. If it's due to ignorance, it needs to be corrected with fact sharing. If it's a difference of opinion, discussion should move intelligent and selfless team members forward to understanding. Open doors, open attitudes, no secrets, no rhetoric, and no managerial "handling". Ever.

The design brief; first things first.So what does this all have to do with design? Actually no more nor less than it has to do with any of our work: The more clearly the work is defined, the easier it is to execute. The clearer the direction, the less "management" as a solution seems warranted. Be clear about what the work is going to be, create a path of adequate communication, involve capable colleagues. Coming up short in any of these in our environment implies something is being concealed: the work isn't clear, there's no communication, the wrong talent is involved.

It's not just design work that needs a design brief. All of us do. We need less management and better communication. The very best management style is no management style. The best team is a team of goal oriented colleagues doing what each does best, working towards a defined goal.


kevin said:

You saved the best for last IMO - the last line is spot on for me.

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