The Not So (Totally) Obvious Guide to Good Management

Being a good manager takes skill and conscious effort, and the surprising thing is most of us aren’t taught how to be effective leaders. Follow this crash course and you’ll have a productive team that respects you and values your leadership.

Much of Corporate America has a plan for educated idiots, their ideal candidates. If you lack independence, you’re an even better sheep candidate … A semi-independent thinker might have a mind of his own, but through whatever corporate strategy—micromanaging, management through fear, phone call harassment, surprise visits, mystery shops—the new hire is molded, like a piece of clay, into the perfect company Yes-Man. Sadly, I have seen this occur a number of times.

Corporate America has created exact protocols for running their companies and any departure from their method is taboo. Mr. Corporate will feel threatened when Mr. Independent Free Thinker questions these rules and calls them out on their bullshit. You will be shown the door.

If you’re an unimaginative thinker, the company will promote you all the way up because you have proven easy to manipulate. You will feel as though you’ve been given an incredible opportunity and you will do whatever they say.

In this recession, it is understood that most people will need to take any job. This will require that you develop strategies for working in companies that are less than progressive in their corporate management.

I’ve spent seven years in the labor force. During that period I’ve worked for over 30 managers (one place had really high turn over). Four managers were good. I consider myself somewhat of an expert on crappy managers.

So, what are some things you can do to not be a crappy manager?

Don’t Manage Through Fear

The company you work for knows you are easily intimidated.  “One more _____ and I might have to do something drastic!” Don’t assume your staff shares your insecurities. If you threaten them, they may bounce. For the money they earn, they can go almost anywhere and hope the next manager isn’t a proponent of fear mongering.

Don’t Micromanage

Breathing down the necks of your all-star team who are performing their jobs to high standards is a waste of everyone’s time. These smart workers will quit and then you’ll hire someone that really does need to be micromanaged.

You Get What You Pay For, and What You Put In

Do you expect good quality If you buy a steak from the gas station freezer? If you buy a steak from the butcher and season it properly, it will essentially cook itself. The quality will sizzle.

But here’s a tasty contradiction: If you’re really good at what you do, you can redeem that frozen steak to make it feel worthy of being on your plate with incentives like great mashed potatoes and fresh veggies.

But sometimes a steak is beyond repair. Maybe that was once a quality steak, maybe not, but if you put that steak in your freezer and forget about it, that steak has no chance at redemption. Freezer burn sets in.

Did you follow the analogy?

Expect Nothing (especially if you’re disliked)

Just because one of your employees lives down the street doesn’t mean she is waiting for your call to pick up an extra shift. Your phone call telling her to come in early or stay later when you have no idea if she has another job, takes classes, or cares for an elderly parent simply reveals your lack of consideration.

Assuming your hourly wageworker can stay an hour later reveals your lack of consideration and narrow thinking. If they’re hourly workers, chances are, they have multiple jobs. How much you wanna bet as soon as they clock out, they’re en route to job #2 … or #3?

Solution: Clichés cause eyes to roll, but they’re sometimes true, such as this one: You attract more bees with honey than with vinegar. If you need an employee to do you a huge solid and you’re hitting the panic switch—ask for that favor with genuineness (not desperately—remember, you are the manager). Offer time and a half. In a minimum wage environment, this little monetary goody is not an inappropriate way to say thanks.

No More Belittling

I don’t care if your ego is bigger than Al’s mom (are Tool Time jokes still in?). Your staff doesn’t like being addressed as subordinates. I get that you’re excited over being the big shot—or you’re stressed about quotas and earnings reports. But your staff is neither your property nor punching bag.

Solution: If Corporate is coming down on you hard and heavy, take a step back and reflect. They’re probably taking their frustrations out on you because their supervisors are putting pressure on them. If the pressure is justified, gather your team and explain what’s happening. Idle threats create hostility in the work force. You’ll become respected among your team if you remain cool under pressure.

Policy and Procedure Bible Thumper

Quit it. No one wants to hear you preach about how ingenious the company is for devising a new pain in the ass procedure. You know the policy sucks; just admit it. Your staff will admire you for siding with them for once.

Policies and Procedures, Pt. 2:

Some policies make a lot of sense. They’re designed to keep everything in check or to make sure people don’t abuse the system. They also serve as a good fallback for your employees if a customer becomes aggressive. Blame it on the policy and the customer usually shuts up.

Other rules are made to keep the sheep in their fold. One can hire the most inept and foolish employee, pay a bare bones wage and rest peacefully knowing that nothing will go wrong because your worker will do exactly as told. While this approach works much of the time, innovative workers will feel stifled; you will miss out on the individualism that can make a company so gosh darn cool.

Some examples of policies that (with few exceptions) make no sense:

  • Taking customers keys to scan their discount barcode. (Take the scanner to the key card)
  • Making employees stand for eight hours. Here’s looking at you, Apple’s Genius Bar.
  • Covering tattoos. It’s just a naked girl killing a pimp. Relax!
  • Following scripts to the letter. “Hello (‘sir’, ‘ma’am’), how may I provide you with excellent service today?”

Solution: Use your intelligent discretion. Cut some slack on the trivial rules for your consistently high-performing employees.
Check with your superior to determine if every policy and procedure must be followed to the T. Is there any wiggle room? But, some companies have a policy that demands you adhere to all policies. That’s not a company you want to work for. The Handbook should be a Guidebook. You shouldn’t be punished if you stray from the trivial and petty policies that never benefit the customers and never generate good will.

Respect!

Respect your staff and they will help you out and respect you. Unfortunately, some managers think they have to come in being a hard-ass. “That’s how you get things done!”  When you need a favor, your staff will be less inclined to help you if they know they are not respected, because, well, why should they? You don’t have to be buddies with your staff. But, at least, be cordial.

Keep Your Ears Open

The guy that mops the floor probably doesn’t have the formal education you have, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have good ideas. If he comes to you with a suggestion to improve business, listen and thank him. Don’t dismiss him as a housekeeper.

Final Thoughts

If you’re reading this and you know for a fact that you are that manager, it might be too late to change. Your sudden change of heart will make your staff suspicious. They’ll see right through you. If you want to try and make a change, take baby steps. Like diets, the more intense they are, the less likely one is to stick with them.

Show sincere sympathy, don’t bullshit your staff. Honesty goes a very long way. If you can’t give out raises because Corporate won’t approve it, tell them the truth—but offer a small bonus as a consolation. They’ll appreciate your efforts to get them whatever you can.

Kenneth Suna is a writer and full time, self-employed stock trader who lives in Washington, D.C. His first novel, Roman, was recently published. Follow him @KennethSuna.

  • Paul

    Great article… though I’m not sure Tool Time jokes ever went out!

  • http://www.itsamiracletheyaintdeadyet.com Kenneth

    thanks paul! i’m tryin’ to bring tool time back :-)