Managers are often stuck in a very hard place. Organizations depend upon them for their ability to manage the teams, but at the same time, they are often called upon to be the escalation point when a problem inevitably goes sour. This is quite difficult as managing people often means giving up managing technology simply due to the pace of change.
Some of this can be mitigated by offering tiered support levels where agents with increasingly more complex and technical skill sets handle customer issues prior to the management level, but unfortunately, not many companies can afford this level of complexity or cost.
I’ve worked in a variety of industries around the world and this pattern tends to repeat itself in almost every organization I’ve worked in. Frequently businesses assume that by promoting managers from the team working the issue, then the problem should solve itself. After all,
“the individual was a great technical resource so they should easily make the transition to management – right?”
Management & Technical Skills
Unfortunately, this rationale simply does not work. During the time the manager was simply a technical resource, they were rewarded for gaining new and more complex technical skills. This reward could be in the form of compensation, but it could even simply be by the peer recognition of skills. While continued growth in technical skills might work in lower level management positions, it simply will not suffice in more senior positions, where managers are expected to demonstrate more strategic abilities. If managers demonstrate conceptual and human skills as well, their promotion prospects and, more importantly, their performance potential are both greatly enhanced.
A great example of this from the early days of my career was working with a senior network administrator – the manager of that team. As the leader of the support organization, I was frequently forced to interact with him when dealing with complex customer issues. I quickly learned to dread those conversations as his initial reaction was always the same:
“It’s not us! The customer is doing something wrong!”
Internally we started to call him Dr. No. However, he was simply doing what he was used to which was defending his team and department, instead of realizing the larger issue. The customers pay all of our bills and if we lose them, we have no team or department, or company! With Dr. No, there was a simple solution – have him meet the customers. Once he understood the problems and could actually see the impact our service (or lack thereof in this case) had on their business, he was able to conceptualize it in different terms.
Over time I’ve come to realize that many organizations have a “Dr. No” or the equivalent. Someone woefully lacking in people skills but a superstar in the technical department. Unfortunately, individuals like this tend to reduce a firm’s operational effectiveness.
Perspectives on a Manager’s Job
We’ve talked previously about a manager’s role and their importance in greasing the wheels of operational effectiveness. Businesses in today’s more decentralized workforces need these skills even more than in year’s gone past and manager’s need to evolve from an authority-derived ‘issuer and interpreter of rules and orders’ to a role responsible for creating an entrepreneurial work climate that facilitates teamwork regardless of where a person physically sits while doing the work.
As someone interested in management and managing teams in general, I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you that research has stated a manager’s day is “a series of discrete, fragmented episodes.” What this means in simpler terms is that managers are often pulled in hundreds of different directions at the same time! Managers are often unable to spend more than 5% of their time on a single discrete task and technology in the modern office with tools like Slack, Chat and Chatter only make the interruptions more frequent.
To understand what managers do, it’s important to realize their job comprises the following:
- Managing employee performance (supervising).
- Guiding subordinates (teaching and training).
- Representing one’s staff (advocacy).
- Managing team performance (facilitation).
- Allocating resources (decision making).
- Coordinating interdependent groups (collaboration).
- Monitoring the business environment (scanning for adaptations).
Regardless of where you are in the management hierarchy, these tasks are common across all companies. What does change is the amount of time spent at each level as strategic planning (tasks lower in the list) tend to take a greater amount of focus as you rise in levels in your career. As companies and employees continue to migrate to digital tools and remote working, managers that are only comfortable with exercising authority and command are being retrained or replaced by those who know how to coordinate the work of interdependent teams. Customer expectations are changing. Now and in the future customers will support only companies that deliver high-quality goods and services at the best price anywhere in the world. All firms have easy access to the tools of total quality management (TQM) (continuous improvement) and use it as a principal method to sustain operational effectiveness. The successful twenty-first-century manager moves easily in the environment of continuous improvement and develops in his subordinates the dedication to improve products and customer services.
How can Managers Grow and Evolve?
Well, that’s really the point of these series of articles! While there isn’t a single “magic bullet” that can solve all problems there are things that can be done to improve managerial skills in a timely and effective manner.
When managers are interviewed about the problems they face, they invariably turn to annoying workplace issues. They talk about the fact that their employees “won’t go that extra mile”, or they simply “aren’t customer focused.” Many managers talk about their teams basically being “seat warmers” and complain about the siloed organizations they work in where teams simply do not talk to each other! If you’re in that type of an organization you have my pity. I’ve been there but I’ve also managed to turn things around. Feel free to reach out if I can help.