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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Mailvox: Management from below

At Brainstorm last night, one of the subjects we discussed was the common practice of management from below and how some of its effects can be downright devastating on a business. In fact, several of the biggest failures I have ever witnessed were the direct result of subordinates knowingly hiding information from their superiors. It was a spirited discussion, as more than a few people copped to regularly utilizing the practice, and one participant emailed a few of his subsequent thoughts:

I wanted to share some thoughts from last night's Brainstorm on "Managing from Below".  No real solutions; just some experiences from work.

My experience with "management from below" comes as part of mentoring junior officers and enlisted on the larger concept of Leadership.  I'm currently group lead for [single-digit] people, all junior to me in rank.  We have about [double-digit] projects or tasks ongoing at any one time.  My peer and I dole out tasks to the group members and pick the critical ones to keep for ourselves.  These projects usually are interrelated or are builders - one relying on another.  We layout processes for completion where needed and lay down internal timelines to meet external requirements. Pretty standard.

For the more junior of the staff, the challenge is how to balance responsibility for their project with how much decision authority do they have, or as my guys would say, flexibility in solution.  In most cases, before they start the work, we've talked about what output is needed, the deadlines to hit, external groups who require coordination along the way, possible roadblocks, and how to get past them. Guidance I give is (1) I want the output we agreed upon, (2) I want to meet the time line we agreed to follow, (3) I want to know if there are internal or external factors or "bad actors" the staffer can't sort out, and (4) I want periodic status updates.  Outside these parameters, unless it's illegal, immoral, or unethical, find me a solution and get the output to me on time.

The threat for the junior staff is that they don't want to be seen as someone who needs hand-holding or someone who can't do their job, so they struggle with things longer than they should, trying to find the solution on their own and avoiding help.  Just as you pointed out last night, they start dissembling and getting vague with status.  The problem is they now unknowingly (or knowingly) violate Rule 3 above.  We call that "Blindsiding Your Boss", and its a no-no.

A solution that worked for me is the 15-minute stand-up.  A weekly meeting where each team member has about 90 seconds to give hard facts on project status and a meets/does not meet status for the project time line.  Invariably, the people who are having problems with Rule 3 go soft on data.  The "softy" gets pulled aside after the stand-up to get some private questions and sort what the real issues are.  Rule 3 compliers fess up and tell the boss what's up.  At this point, one or more other staff usually volunteer to help and its tabled.  We finish the 15-minute meeting and go into a huddle to discuss how to resolve the road block.

The staffer who needs help either gets a support intervention to solve an external threat by me or my peer, or a leg up from another junior staffer.  The staffer in the bind still leads the project unless they
ID themselves as unable.  We'll juggle the projects a bit in most cases and figure out how to get the staffer spun up through another task or project.

This method seems to work in most cases.  Most staffers who see roadblocks or issues now don't wait for Monday to let my peer and me know about issues they can't solve.  Often a short huddle gives them a couple fresh ideas and they go back at it.  Sometimes we have to do more to sort the issue, but we aren't surprised by it before it is too late to recover.  We call this "managing the boss" and its really about keeping the boss informed so the project can succeed, but it's not what you were talking about last night.  What you were talking about is "assuming responsibility you don't have".

My concern with some of the folks in Brainstorm is that as subject matter experts, we get to thinking we *know* the real solution.  Why can't management see it?  Why can't the boss understand it?  This is usually due to the subject matter expert having a very narrow view of the problem.  This then devolves into taking actions without talking to management and leadership, due to either fear or pride.  Problem is if the SME has no clue as to the larger organizational challenges or direction they can tank the larger projects.  People get used to your version of "managing the boss", thinking they are saving the company when they do it or it became a self-preservation tool, and they stick with it when they go elsewhere in many instances.  It's hard to break someone out of this once they fall into this habit.

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102 Comments:

Blogger Markku February 22, 2018 1:24 PM  

When you've spent a few years under a Pointy-Haired Boss, the idea pretty much crystallizes. That this is just what bosses are like, and that it's a universal law of nature. It's REALLY difficult to shift that paradigm.

Blogger Markku February 22, 2018 1:26 PM  

And in a socialist country like Finland, if you resign, you lose your right to social security. Permanently. You still pay for it, of course.

Blogger David The Good February 22, 2018 1:28 PM  

Yeah, Markku nailed it.

I once had a boss who played a preview of an in-house movie production which would soon hit prime time TV and said, "what do you guys think?"

I gave him my honest assessment. "This has serious problems and will not work well. It feels forced, product placement is jammed in awkwardly, etc." In return, he smacked me down with a "oh yeah? And you are a movie producer, then? What do you know?"

Guess what? It was a total flop. He was incapable of looking at things objectively.

This sort of thing eventually pushed me into running my own business. I also learned to listen to smart people.

Blogger RC February 22, 2018 1:30 PM  

Probably the most challenging issue I've experienced was properly dividing responsibilities between sales reps and technical personnel. The tech guys usually were smarter but lacked the sales skills to read the room and guide the process. Sales generally respected tech but the reverse was not often the case.

I wrestled this issue numerous times with ill-considered comments from tech costing profit and, in a few cases, a sale. When dealing with a customer or prospect sales has the lead. If they do something wrong, then it's to be dealt with after the fact. It's always better to force a sales rep to fix his own mistake than to force him to adjust expectations improperly set by tech.

It should not have been that hard but it was. I tried everything, even writing a whitepaper called Business Rules 101 but tech guys just refused to subordinate themselves to sales. I held court, digging into the facts, trying to understand the nuances and how my directions could be made more clear, all to no avail.

Finally, once I really understood the who/what/when, the primary culprit was my VP of consulting services nodding his head in executive meetings but directing his team otherwise in the field. I started firing tech guys, some of them very skilled, and eventually fired the VP (very hard as he was an early mentor to me) and that finally drove the message home.

I then added the Business Rules 101 to the training process for incoming tech, and had a few tech leaders make it known that breaking the rules routinely would get you fired.

We had peace, but it took over a year of pain to get there.

Blogger Markku February 22, 2018 1:31 PM  

Finally, once I really understood the who/what/when, the primary culprit was my VP of consulting services nodding his head in executive meetings but directing his team otherwise in the field.

This was the system for us too. Everyone was in on it.

Blogger Nate February 22, 2018 1:36 PM  

its fascinating to apply this same process to politics.

Blogger Markku February 22, 2018 1:38 PM  

What made this possible was that the boss had his own room, while everyone else shared space. We were able to conspire and get our stories straight.

Blogger Jeff aka Orville February 22, 2018 1:42 PM  

That's the thing about project management that a lot of people don't get. It's really people management. GANT charts, risk registers and all that are just tools to track metrics, but people do projects, not pretty plans.

Blogger Looking Glass February 22, 2018 1:44 PM  

All Leadership has a hard edge to it. You have to deal in the details as they are, which is what causes so many issues for so many people & why good management is expensive.

The biggest problem with "leading from below" is actually how much damage it does to the trust environment. Even if it's a one-time event, it injures the trust everyone involved has with the leadership. If it happens repeatedly, the entire hierarchy fails and the situation will require the removal of nearly all involved, as once certain aspects of a "trust culture" are established, they're extremely difficult to remove.

The biggest issue, though, is when the biggest offender is the boss themselves. Either by incompetence, incapability, neglect or the way they operate, they encourage an environment where running information or tasks around the boss. Once established, the organize will collapse; its demise assured. Timing is just a question of how much money the organization has on hand.

Blogger Ingot9455 February 22, 2018 1:45 PM  

Great discussion of how to properly use the 15-minute stand-up meeting.

The subject matter expert with the too-narrow view was also excellently discussed in Martin Creveld's HITLER IN HELL. A specific general of Hitler's would make demands as to what was needed to complete his tasks - but had no idea of the economy, resources, or lack thereof that Hitler was dealing with in trying to supply him.

Blogger Markku February 22, 2018 1:47 PM  

In our case, our conspiring did keep everything afloat until the boss sold the company, and hence the problem was resolved. After that, we became genuinely in charge. But I'm pretty sure it created some bad instincts in everyone involved.

Blogger VD February 22, 2018 1:49 PM  

I gave him my honest assessment. "This has serious problems and will not work well. It feels forced, product placement is jammed in awkwardly, etc." In return, he smacked me down with a "oh yeah? And you are a movie producer, then? What do you know?"

But so what? "Oh no, my boss didn't validate me!" Whether he valued your criticism or not, the point is that it was his call. And if he gets it wrong, it's on him. If you don't give him a) the facts and b) your honest opinion, that's on you.

I respect the knowledge of subject matter experts. But I don't respect the fact that so many of them are delicate flowers who curl up and wither away if someone dares to disagree with them, or even worse, disagree with them and be right.

For every heroic "I had an opinion, my boss disagreed, and he was WRONG" story I could tell a three "here is what the geniuses in engineering did... and why it cost the company lots of money" stories. I once worked for an engineering-run company. We had both a) the best, most-expensive products and b) the most useless products that literally no one wanted.

Blogger Patrick Kelly February 22, 2018 1:51 PM  

" Either by incompetence, incapability, neglect or the way they operate, they encourage an environment where running information or tasks around the boss. Once established, the organize will collapse; its demise assured. Timing is just a question of how much money the organization has on hand."

Crap. I need to find a new boss before the money runs out.

Blogger Frank Brady February 22, 2018 1:53 PM  

On a somewhat related issue, one of things I frequently encounter in hospitals and hospital systems is executive reliance on "consensus" management. The executive will assemble senior managers (typically at the VP level) and than ask them to come to consensus on the decision. Consensus, in practice, winds up being the solution that all involved can support. Self-evidently, the most obdurate and stubborn participant in the room can block even excellent solutions by simply opposing them. This leads, inevitably, to the adoption of mediocre solutions.

Blogger VD February 22, 2018 1:54 PM  

It should not have been that hard but it was. I tried everything, even writing a whitepaper called Business Rules 101 but tech guys just refused to subordinate themselves to sales.

That's because tech guys like that don't care about sales or about the success of the company. Their primary priority is being seen as the smartest, most technical guy in the room. It's hilarious when one of them tries bluffing the sales guys, then gets blown out of the water by a more technical guy.

They go from smug, snarky self-assurance to shifty-eyed school shooter mode in a nanosecond. You can just see the wheels turning: "Only if I murder everyone in this room can my eternal shame be erased!"

Blogger Patrick Kelly February 22, 2018 1:56 PM  

"the most obdurate and stubborn participant in the room can block even excellent solutions by simply opposing them"

Fortunately for my team they can out-vote or bribe me with whiskey or cigars.

Blogger snod snodwon February 22, 2018 1:58 PM  

What I've learned after 15+ years of engineering is that you always let the sales guys deal with customers. If I could figure out what people wanted to be sold to them or a way to make my inventions look like that thing, it'd be me with the million$. Often, sales will return the favor if you make them look good with a suped up product.

Blogger VD February 22, 2018 2:01 PM  

When you've spent a few years under a Pointy-Haired Boss, the idea pretty much crystallizes. That this is just what bosses are like, and that it's a universal law of nature. It's REALLY difficult to shift that paradigm.

That makes no sense whatsoever. Are all engineers created alike? It's like assuming that all women are just like your first girlfriend.

Engineers can be shockingly irrational, especially considering how much they pride themselves on their logic. I simply could NOT convince my father that using PhD from MIT-level as a standard for average human math capabilities would reliably lead to failed expectations.

And yet, a 75-IQ sprinter has no problem whatsoever grasping that normal people cannot be expected to run as fast as he does.

Blogger Markku February 22, 2018 2:02 PM  

All engineers are not created alike, but I've come to conclude that the idea has similarly crystallized in you.

Blogger Amy February 22, 2018 2:09 PM  

“VDFebruary 22, 2018 1:49 PM
I gave him my honest assessment. "This has serious problems and will not work well. It feels forced, product placement is jammed in awkwardly, etc." In return, he smacked me down with a "oh yeah? And you are a movie producer, then? What do you know?"

But so what? "Oh no, my boss didn't validate me!" Whether he valued your criticism or not, the point is that it was his call. And if he gets it wrong, it's on him. If you don't give him a) the facts and b) your honest opinion, that's on you.”

I got the impression the Boss was showing off and expected fawning approval. Wasn’t really seeking input.

Your point stands, Vox, but I’ve been in the same situation, and it’s never a good idea to give critical feedback to someone enamored with the scent of his flatus.

Blogger Looking Glass February 22, 2018 2:13 PM  

@14 Frank Brady

So what you're saying is most of the VP level is Women?

Groups cannot make a decision. Everyone within a group can approve of the decision put forward by one party. (And it's generally the first decision put forward that sets the parameters of the outcome.) Thus the power of "consensus" is that no one is to actually blame for screwing up. Committees have their use, but if they're used more than rarely, you have a significant problem in the company.

See my point about the money running out.

Blogger VD February 22, 2018 2:15 PM  

All engineers are not created alike, but I've come to conclude that the idea has similarly crystallized in you.

Not at all. My best friend is a computer science engineer and he is brilliant at sales. He has absolutely none of those limitations. The fact that I can recognize those problems when they manifest shouldn't be confused with seeing them when they don't exist.

Also, sales people can be just as guilty of management from below. The example that I gave last night was a sales guy. The tech guy would have made the right call. But the sales guys tend to have different motivations, which usually concern what they think will pay them the biggest commission soonest.

Blogger Markku February 22, 2018 2:17 PM  

And similarly, I recognize that the idea doesn't actually represent the totality of reality. But that's how the human mind works. When an idea crystallizes, that's always the pattern to which the mind goes first. To interpret whatever it happens to see, in the familiar pattern first.

Blogger VD February 22, 2018 2:17 PM  

Your point stands, Vox, but I’ve been in the same situation, and it’s never a good idea to give critical feedback to someone enamored with the scent of his flatus.

How is that any different from a sales guy selling the customer the wrong product because it personally benefits him more?

If you're asked for your critical feedback, give it. However, I suspect that in at least some of these cases, feedback was never even requested. I know I was never asked about any of the useless "we can do this, therefore we should" products that we used to produce.

Blogger David The Good February 22, 2018 2:19 PM  

VD wrote:I gave him my honest assessment. "This has serious problems and will not work well. It feels forced, product placement is jammed in awkwardly, etc." In return, he smacked me down with a "oh yeah? And you are a movie producer, then? What do you know?"

But so what? "Oh no, my boss didn't validate me!" Whether he valued your criticism or not, the point is that it was his call. And if he gets it wrong, it's on him. If you don't give him a) the facts and b) your honest opinion, that's on you.

I respect the knowledge of subject matter experts. But I don't respect the fact that so many of them are delicate flowers who curl up and wither away if someone dares to disagree with them, or even worse, disagree with them and be right.

For every heroic "I had an opinion, my boss disagreed, and he was WRONG" story I could tell a three "here is what the geniuses in engineering did... and why it cost the company lots of money" stories. I once worked for an engineering-run company. We had both a) the best, most-expensive products and b) the most useless products that literally no one wanted.


Yes, boss wanted fawning approval, Amy.

This guy was a Delta who relentlessly kissed up to superiors while pushing around his inferiors. He didn't really want input - he wanted praise. Anything that smacked of criticism would set him off and he'd chew you out. Actually, when I left for a much better position, he didn't like that either. He said "you know, the grass is always greener!" Multiple more sensitive employees quit under his lead. I just went along and learned to roll with it until I got a better offer.

Later, after I was gone, he ended up head of the entire department and only lasted a short time. When he was head of a smaller group, it didn't disrupt the company all that much. With more responsibility, though, he really fell apart.

Blogger VD February 22, 2018 2:20 PM  

When an idea crystallizes, that's always the pattern to which the mind goes first. To interpret whatever it happens to see, in the familiar pattern first.

But you recognize that there are good and bad bosses, right? So why assume that none of them ever know what they are doing?

Just because one programmer can't finish a project doesn't lead me to conclude that no programmers can program anything. So, how can one bad manager possibly lead anyone to conclude that no one can successfully manage people?

Blogger VD February 22, 2018 2:23 PM  

Of course, my perspective should always be colored by the fact that my own father fired me for being disruptive. And I've never worked in a corporate environment since.

So, I'm probably not the optimal guide to successful office survival.

Sigmas don't tend to provide good role models for any hierarchical context.

Blogger David The Good February 22, 2018 2:24 PM  

"For every heroic "I had an opinion, my boss disagreed, and he was WRONG" story I could tell a three "here is what the geniuses in engineering did... and why it cost the company lots of money" stories. I once worked for an engineering-run company. We had both a) the best, most-expensive products and b) the most useless products that literally no one wanted."

I saw this in action as well. The IT guys that ran the servers and the large computer network in the company were gadget chasers. They ended up spending $75,000 on a fibredrive backup system for a handful of computers when they could have spent $5000 for a more plebeian storage solution. Problem: the fibredrive system had proprietary software and the company went out of business shortly after they invested this cash. They had to dump it to update Windows on their video editing workstations. If something was shiny, they would talk it up to management and management didn't understand the tech, so they would say "okay, go for it!"

Blogger Markku February 22, 2018 2:24 PM  

One tends to have a very small number of bosses during lifetime, and even smaller number of situations where the boss is actually close enough in your daily operations that the dynamics between you and your direct superior, and his direct superior, become relevant to your daily work. Especially when this employment represents a very long portion of your adult life, like, say, ten years, it's enough to create an instinct. You learn to conspire without even thinking about what you are doing. You just instinctively, when seeing a problem, have two simultaneous thoughts: What I should actually do about this, and how should I present it.

Blogger David The Good February 22, 2018 2:25 PM  

I would have loved it if we could have gotten an Alpha boss. However, we were in the churchian world.

Blogger Looking Glass February 22, 2018 2:27 PM  

The "Decision by Committee" stuff I actually learned in hindsight analysis. I got stuck in enough of them from pretty early on growing up (there are downsides to having all of your work done at a young age & your schools are on a Civics kick), so I picked up a lot of the mechanics. Whoever puts a reasonable idea forward first will set both the tone of decision making and the parameters upon which the final consensus will be formed. If you put forward a solution that skews to your personal desires, you can normally get it agreed upon.

In related insights, you'd be amazed how happy people are to give you everything you wanted when they think they've convinced you of the position. Persuasion is definitely real.

On the point about Leading from Below, this is another in point in the discussion about why SJWs are so destructive. Their entire objective set *is* to lead from below, until such time as they're on top. My point about the Trust Environment still stands. The method of convergence destroys any possibility for the company to function properly. To Converge a company is to actually destroy everything productive about it. The "Impossibility of Social Justice Convergence", I believe? I'm pretty sure there's a book on that. Maybe the author will chime in. :)

Blogger David The Good February 22, 2018 2:29 PM  

My best boss, present company excluded, was a woman. She trusted me on what I needed to get done and just let me run. She was very good at managing and encouraging normal people, so she pulled up team productivity - but she realized with me that all I needed was a list of tasks and no hand-holding, so I worked out of the office and just turned in whatever was needed.

Blogger AnvilTiger February 22, 2018 2:30 PM  

Sales versus tech - they both have their problems.

Some techies get totally bound up in "their tech" such that they identify with it. The old "Unix wars" and "Unix vs Microsoft" war are two such examples. At a more micro level you run across engineers enthused with a particular processor design or differences between virtual machines, or today virtual machines versus containers.

On the other hand sales has a problem with lying to customers to make sales. They make promises that tech cannot achieve, or even make product assertions about how a product will solve a customer's problems when the product does no such thing. They are motivated by bonuses based on sales. I have seen one situation in the past where sales guys got insane compensation when they were lucky enough to in the right place at the right time for some hot new tech, and literally made enough money to retire on after 2 years of sales. So of course they lied - why not, they made bank and got out. They were long gone when the tech did not do what they promised the customer it would do.

Two examples of many: old Motorola was run by engineers. A big disaster as Motorola shrank to a fraction of its previous size. Then old Andersen Consulting where partners would promise the moon, get a million dollar statement of work, and deliver nothing but PowerPoint slides. (They converted into Accenture and survived, but caveat emptor.)

Blogger Ominous Cowherd February 22, 2018 2:30 PM  

RC wrote:The tech guys usually were smarter but lacked the sales skills to read the room and guide the process. Sales generally respected tech but the reverse was not often the case.

You don't let the engineers talk to the customer. The problem comes when the sales droids make promises the engineers can't keep. The solution is to find engineers who can sell.

This method seems to work in most cases. Most staffers who see roadblocks or issues now don't wait for Monday to let my peer and me know about issues they can't solve. Often a short huddle gives them a couple fresh ideas and they go back at it.

One way you the boss can keep this from working is to be unavailable. I saw that play out in a previous job. My boss very nearly destroyed his business before he learned he had to be available.

Blogger Looking Glass February 22, 2018 2:34 PM  

@27 VD

You send the Sigmas to destroy the place, salt the earth and pave over the rest of it. It's why they can make really good consultants.

Blogger Markku February 22, 2018 2:34 PM  

The Holy Grail situation for a CEO/president is to get a technical person straight out of education, and keep him. While you get him, he obviously lacks experience and will make a LOT of stupid mistakes. From which he will learn. But he will also have no previous mental baggage. He's a tabula rasa in this sense. When he has actually received the experience, he's the perfect employee.

Blogger Markku February 22, 2018 2:35 PM  

This obviously assumes that you as the CEO actually know what you are doing. And aren't the one who creates the baggage.

Blogger Doug Cranmer February 22, 2018 2:43 PM  

VD wrote:
But so what? "Oh no, my boss didn't validate me!"


You're talking about me, right?

This is what I like about this site. So many mistakes I made in my youth and I know I'm still prone to are called front and center.

And there's no denying them.

Blogger Markku February 22, 2018 2:44 PM  

No, he was talking about David the Good.

Blogger Ben Cohen February 22, 2018 2:45 PM  

What's a good way to become less sensitive to criticism?

Blogger Markku February 22, 2018 2:47 PM  

Understand that you don't need to respond to it immediately. Just take it as information that you, for the present moment, file away, to be analyzed at your leisure whether it is correct.

Blogger Doug Cranmer February 22, 2018 2:49 PM  

VD wrote:That's because tech guys like that don't care about sales or about the success of the company. Their primary priority is being seen as the smartest, most technical guy in the room.

I've seen this so often. Also guilty.

Blogger Markku February 22, 2018 2:49 PM  

There may be a detail that you immediately see as wrong, and want to correct immediately in an emotional fit. Don't. Even if there are such details, there may be something useful in it. Just store it away, and when you think about it, throw away what's incorrect and keep what's useful, if any.

Blogger Nate73 February 22, 2018 2:52 PM  

> Their primary priority is being seen as the smartest, most technical guy in the room. It's hilarious when one of them tries bluffing the sales guys, then gets blown out of the water by a more technical guy.

Jordan Peterson argues that hierarchies are inherent in nature. So surely it's to be expected tech guys would constantly try to "out-tech" each other? Do sales people try to "out-sales" each other?

Blogger Cataline Sergius February 22, 2018 2:56 PM  

In fact, several of the biggest failures I have ever witnessed were the direct result of subordinates knowingly hiding information from their superiors.

The best bosses I ever had, had one thing in common. You could go up to them and say, "I made a mistake."

And the reaction was, "step into my office and tell me about it." Assigning blame was always priority last with those guys.

The worst boss I ever had pretty much openly encouraged you lie to him "Don't come to me with a problem unless you have a solution!" Said that f4(king idiot and he was serious about it. He trained us to lie to him.

He actually had the nerve to be surprised when everything blew up in his face.

Blogger Markku February 22, 2018 2:58 PM  

"Don't come to me with a problem unless you have a solution!"

Yeah, this mantra is pretty much a religious dogma in corporate world. It may NOT be doubted nor gainsaid.

Blogger Looking Glass February 22, 2018 3:04 PM  

@44 Nate73

All guys try to out-whatever the others. It's a matter if they keep the negative aspects in check.

It's also an aspect of leadership to enforce the hierarchy. That's part of the real power of Alphas: enforcing the hierarchy is something they do naturally, so they rarely think anything of it. To non-alphas, it tends to be exhausting.

Blogger Markku February 22, 2018 3:07 PM  

In fact, I think that mantra is the initial seed of the idea that employees are supposed to manage from below.

Blogger Markku February 22, 2018 3:10 PM  

If you are not allowed to speak of a problem until you have the solution ready, what do you do then when put in a situation where you would need to address the problem? Lie, obviously.

Blogger Doug Cranmer February 22, 2018 3:13 PM  

I'm an engineer who will be taking on a more low level management role soon.

Does anyone have suggestions on resources, lessons, training, etc. on good management practices? How to avoid the mistakes discussed here, many of which I've observed or been guilty of in the past.

I could just suggest they hire Vox instead but I don't think that's going to happen.

Blogger Markku February 22, 2018 3:17 PM  

Read this: ReWork. Just to drive down the initial idea that everything you have heard about management and running a company may be absolutely and utterly wrong.

Blogger Markku February 22, 2018 3:18 PM  

You may still be forced to do what you know to be counterproductive, but at least you understand the problem and may be able to work around them to a degree.

Blogger bob kek mando - ( I love the smell of Autism on the internet. It smells like ... victoREEEEEEEEE ) February 22, 2018 3:22 PM  

i interviewed for manager of a Radio Shack once.

the last question the DM asked of me was, "What would you suggest Tandy Corp do to improve itself?"

i pointed out that the Audio / Video equipment was grossly overpriced and that we never sold any of it unless it was on clearance. it also occupied a massive footprint of the display area.

otoh, TV accessories ( coax, splitter boxes, etc ) had huge profit margins and excellent turnover. it's just that everybody was buying their home tv and stereo stuff elsewhere, and then coming to us to hook it up.

my recommendation was that we find some way to get our regular retail prices on A/V down to a remotely competitive level ( after all, we aren't selling any of it now ) and that this would drive even more sales of high margin accessories.

once i got done, the District Manager blew up at me and ranted at me for something close to five minutes, telling me i didn't have any business critiquing the company and that if i was a "good" salesman i'd damn well find a way to sell whatever Tandy Corp gave me at any price they wanted to sell it at.

needless to say, i didn't get the store. they gave it instead to a manager trainee that they knew was stealing petty cash out of the drawer.

he wound up getting arrested <6 months later ... for falsifying sales / refund receipts.


Blogger Ben Cohen February 22, 2018 3:23 PM  

Just bought the book.

Thanks.

Blogger Ominous Cowherd February 22, 2018 3:24 PM  

Doug Cranmer wrote:Does anyone have suggestions on resources, lessons, training, etc. on good management practices? How to avoid the mistakes discussed here, many of which I've observed or been guilty of in the past.

Don't repeat your mistakes. Tell your employees when you screwed up. Waste a lot of time talking with your employees - it won't be wasted time.

Are you going to be managing engineers or tradesmen? It's a different set of problems.

Blogger Robert What? February 22, 2018 3:44 PM  

When he talks about motivating and helping teams to become more efficient and more productive, it occurred to me what foreign concepts those must be in most government employment.

Blogger PragmaticTroll February 22, 2018 3:47 PM  

Doug Cranmer wrote:I'm an engineer who will be taking on a more low level management role soon.

Does anyone have suggestions on resources, lessons, training, etc. on good management practices? How to avoid the mistakes discussed here, many of which I've observed or been guilty of in the past.

I could just suggest they hire Vox instead but I don't think that's going to happen.


Listen to the Manager Tools and Career Tools podcasts. Especially the ones about the DISC model. It helped me understand different personality types and how they react to conflict etc.

Anonymous Anonymous February 22, 2018 4:06 PM  

Ingot9455 wrote:Great discussion of how to properly use the 15-minute stand-up meeting.

The subject matter expert with the too-narrow view was also excellently discussed in Martin Creveld's HITLER IN HELL. A specific general of Hitler's would make demands as to what was needed to complete his tasks - but had no idea of the economy, resources, or lack thereof that Hitler was dealing with in trying to supply him.


Aw, poor Herr Hitler. He was the paradigm of a bad boss. Disagree with him, and he turns all red in the face and starts eating the furniture.

How did the poor guy end up with so much on his plate? Because he didn't trust anyone to share power. To delegate, you have to trust people. Hitler had serious trust issues. Considering his choice in subordinates, he may have been justified--but a good boss chooses a staff he can trust.

Hitler shouldn't have been making decisions about German industry (refusing to go into war production until it was way too late, in 1944, was one of his most stupid mistakes). He shouldn't have been political head of state and el supremo military boss at the same time--the hats come with completely different, and often conflicting responsibilities. So you've got conflicts like "do we hold territory so we have markers to give away during the coming negotiations, or do we retreat and save that army around Stalingrad?" That kind of question should not be decided inside the same head. It should have been talked out between senior chiefs--or one of them would just have to override the other. But at least the conflicting priorities would have been aired and discussed.

Those generals were right to be disagreeable. They could sense that top management was juggling conflicting priorities, but they had to argue for the interests of their respective armies and assignments. Setting those other priorities was the job of a whole bunch of other people. Unfortunately, there was only one.

Blogger Azure Amaranthine February 22, 2018 4:08 PM  

"But you recognize that there are good and bad bosses, right? So why assume that none of them ever know what they are doing?"

We get that. I don't think there are very many people who assume that, but habits are habits.

If you get in the habit of having to rout around the "authority" figure (especially if you have to do so for long periods of time), when you later have a capable authority replace him, it's very easy just to do the thing you've been doing for years without even thinking about it, and rout around him -- even if only in some minor way.

It's not about expectations or understanding, it's just about bad habits developed under a bad boss, and how some of them stick longer than others.

Blogger Katusov February 22, 2018 4:10 PM  

In fact, several of the biggest failures I have ever witnessed were the direct result of subordinates knowingly hiding information from their superiors.

I worked in management at a large steel mill for many years. Early on I was told by my peers never to volunteer information to the higher ups. If they asked you a question you answered it, and gave them no more. This was good advice at that place. Every now and then you would have a manager who played the "20 questions" game with you in a bid to get more information. This type of manager was avoided whenever possible. Looking back, it was the corporate culture that created this dynamic.

Blogger VD February 22, 2018 4:20 PM  

What's a good way to become less sensitive to criticism?

Pretty much what Markku said. Don't take it personally, mine it for anything that might be useful, and ignore everything else. And learn not to dismiss it just because you don't like the source.

Blogger Markku February 22, 2018 4:27 PM  

Emotional fits usually stem from the mistaken idea that you have to correct this error RIGHT NOW, or else the universe will establish it as an immutable, unassailable fact.

Blogger staff February 22, 2018 4:28 PM  

"What's a good way to become less sensitive to criticism?"

To get a lot of it. :-)

Learn that a lot of criticism is just worthless gripping. Consider the source.

Learn that being wrong and getting criticism that helps you correct your error(s) is a good thing --- even if from enemies.

Remember that most every successful man had a bunch of people telling him he was making large mistakes! (That idea will NEVER work!)

Hell, most of the criticism I have gotten (on-line especially) has been because people did not even understand what I said (wrote) and were criticizing something entirely unrelated from what I said/wrote. (that can be amusing at times of course)

Did I mention to consider the source?

~ Mark

Blogger pyrrhus February 22, 2018 4:28 PM  

Hierarchical management works well when the hierarchy has a common purpose and the managers are competent and understand the goals to be achieved...In my experience, this is often not the case, especially when the CEO has been brought in from another industry or when lower level managers have been promoted because of their sex, race, or connections to the Board or CEO. Things are quite difficult when your boss or upper management in general is technically incompetent, because they will frequently blame their subordinates for screwups or delays that are actually their fault....My advice in such situations is to look for another job.

Blogger Markku February 22, 2018 4:30 PM  

The irony is that when others see you go into a fit, they conclude that the criticism was probably correct. If they see you unperturbed by it, they conclude that you probably know something the critic doesn't.

Anonymous Anonymous February 22, 2018 4:30 PM  

Sorry, I screwed that one up. I am not "staff" but use my Wordpress account to comment here.

Anonymous Anonymous February 22, 2018 4:33 PM  

Oh well, been a bad day all round. Getting a post deleted will teach me to look closer before I publish.

~ Mark

Blogger SirHamster February 22, 2018 4:40 PM  

Azure Amaranthine wrote:"But you recognize that there are good and bad bosses, right? So why assume that none of them ever know what they are doing?"

...

It's not about expectations or understanding, it's just about bad habits developed under a bad boss, and how some of them stick longer than others.


Apply MPAI - no need to assume there was a conscious assumption or choice when people are just running off momentum and bad habits ingrained from their MPAI environment.

Then confrontation brings out rationalization to justify existing behavior, rather than an actual conscious reason.


To spell out an obvious solution: Take responsibility for the development of desired team dynamic. Describe desired information/product flows and train it into the team, remembering to KISS. Recognize and unlearn existing bad habits, and reward progress towards and practice of new normal.

Blogger Markku February 22, 2018 4:40 PM  

It wasn't deleted, Blogger just autospammed it. I just released all the about two hundred autospammed comments. If anyone's innocuous comment disappears, chances are that they weren't deleted. They just got autospammed by Blogger Comments, which spams ridiculously easily these days. We have no control over that. They'll be released when a moderator happens to go to the spam folder the next time. I've just been extremely busy for the last couple of days.

Blogger ReluctantMessiah February 22, 2018 4:40 PM  

@12 "We had both a) the best, most-expensive products and b) the most useless products that literally no one wanted."

The flaw with engineers: perfectionism and introvert isolation

Blogger Markku February 22, 2018 4:41 PM  

In the 200 comments, I found precisely one that was actual spam.

Blogger SirHamster February 22, 2018 4:44 PM  

Markku wrote:In the 200 comments, I found precisely one that was actual spam.

99.5% false positive rate is poor performance.

Is the spam I see at the end in various threads stuff that got through this same filter?

Blogger Danby February 22, 2018 4:45 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger Danby February 22, 2018 4:46 PM  

I personally watched a director-level executive destroy a company this way. We were a small company that managed a very large TELEX network, for those who remember TELEX, and as a subsidiary business, ran a fax distribution network over the TELEX. The internet was starting to eat our lunch. The company identified a new, uncontested market where we could use our international structure, our skillset, and our invested infrastructure to gain an immediate and siginficant advantage, prepaid telecom and cellular in 3rd world countries. It was literally a save-the-company play.
They put it in the hands of a director who was addicted to the sort of dishonest, manipulative lying BS. He would tell the sales team anything they asked for was possible, at no additional delay or cost. He would tell upper management anything they wanted to hear. He would lie directly to my face (I was managing the support group) about the status of the project. the only people he ever told any of the truth to was his own staff, the development team.
His BS put the company into Chapter 13 in 9 months. The CEO wound up in prison for putting this clown's lies into FEC filings.

I'm sure he thought he was doing the best thing, and was was smarter than his boss.

Blogger Markku February 22, 2018 4:46 PM  

Is the spam I see at the end in various threads stuff that got through this same filter?

Yep. Google is hilariously incompetent.

Anonymous Anonymous February 22, 2018 4:47 PM  

@Markku

No worries mate. I think the West can survive not reading that post anyway. :-)

And like I said, it was my bad anyway.

You moderators do God's work here. I for one appreciate it. If you ever come down to Orlando, I'll buy you a drink. (or a Stromboli which is much better)

Blogger Markku February 22, 2018 4:49 PM  

No, it's up there again. When we release something from spam, it appears at the location where you left it.

Blogger modsquad February 22, 2018 4:50 PM  

IG News is a vomitus breakfast design wise. It looks like an junior high "Introduction to Coding" project.

Anonymous Anonymous February 22, 2018 4:59 PM  

@ Markku

Yes I see it now. We have an entire series of posts by me being wrong. I think I may have set a record!

Blogger Snidely Whiplash February 22, 2018 5:04 PM  

Ben Cohen wrote:What's a good way to become less sensitive to criticism?
What did it for me was to make it a habit, real, serious, every-time habit, to thank the person for their critique. Out loud if possible, immediately if possible.
Every criticism carries vital information. Even if every single point is wrong, it tells you how your are coming across to other people. If you're an emotionally stunted semi-autist like me, that's critical information you can't get the way most people do, by assessing their expressions and body language.
More often much or all of the critique is justified. examine your own performance with a critical eye, in light of the information they've freely given you.

It's no secret around here that Vox slapped me down pretty damn hard about 6 months ago. And regardless of my emotions in the matter, he was offering a very useful perspective. I took heed of his critique, corrected my attitude and resolved a lot of the problems I was having at the time. If I may take the liberty, I believe his critique was offered out of Agape, brotherly love, as well as annoyance.

I said at the time and I'll say it again. Thanks Vox, for helping me get my mind right.

Blogger Frank Brady February 22, 2018 5:23 PM  

@21. Looking Glass February 22, 2018 2:13 PM
@14 Frank Brady

So what you're saying is most of the VP level is Women?

Groups cannot make a decision. Everyone within a group can approve of the decision put forward by one party. (And it's generally the first decision put forward that sets the parameters of the outcome.) Thus the power of "consensus" is that no one is to actually blame for screwing up. Committees have their use, but if they're used more than rarely, you have a significant problem in the company.

Some, but by no means all, of the VP-level folks in hospitals are women. But in those hospitals most addicted to "consensus management', the CEOs were almost invariably men. I think responsibility avoidance was the primary motivator.

Blogger RC February 22, 2018 5:34 PM  

@AnvilTiger

"On the other hand sales has a problem with lying to customers to make sales. They make promises that tech cannot achieve, or even make product assertions about how a product will solve a customer's problems when the product does no such thing. They are motivated by bonuses based on sales."

You paint with a very broad brush. Good sales reps perform a very sophisticated role of winning the business, solving the customer's problem, doing so profitably while protecting the technical people doing the heavy lifting from unrealistic expectations. They often understand the business case better than all but the exceptional developers or engineers.

The best sales reps can do this very well and earn the big bonuses, every dollar. I paid my reps based upon project profitability which went a long way to eliminating any shucking and jiving.

Blogger RC February 22, 2018 5:40 PM  

@Cranmer

"Does anyone have suggestions on resources, lessons, training, etc. on good management practices?"

Find a good and trusted mentor with exceptional leadership skills. Buy him an early breakfast every couple of weeks for a year and pick his brain until there's nothing left.

Blogger Snidely Whiplash February 22, 2018 5:43 PM  

A good salesman is worth his pay, no matter how much it is. Many salesmen at Boeing make considerably more than the CEO of the company, and Boeing openly celebrates this fact.

Blogger Jed Mask February 22, 2018 5:48 PM  

Good stuff. Thanks for sharing.

Blogger Stg58/Animal Mother February 22, 2018 6:02 PM  

Technical sales people should, ideally, not promise what we can't deliver because we have to answer the phone when what we sold bombs spectacularly.

If you're have an aftermarket support group, and the technical sales guy can walk away, you'll get the commission focus to the exclusion of all else. If your sales guys have to own the sale and the aftermath, looking at repeat business, maintaining the relationship etc. then any technical sales person who does repeatedly promise what can't be delivered should be fired. Because he's stupid.

The agony of a problem project far outweighs the money you got paid on it.

Blogger Ominous Cowherd February 22, 2018 6:07 PM  

Snidely Whiplash wrote:A good salesman is worth his pay, no matter how much it is. Many salesmen at Boeing make considerably more than the CEO of the company, and Boeing openly celebrates this fact.

If you are paying a salesman a reasonable commission, you cannot pay him too much.

Blogger Man of the Atom February 22, 2018 6:14 PM  

@50. Doug Cranmer
I'm a big fan of "Management by Walking Around". When you take a break from staring at your monitor, grab a cup of your favorite office beverage, and walk around your section.

Talk to your staff members. Just start out with "Hi, how are you today? How are things going?" Make it a 30 to 60 second stop at each person to start. If they want to chat for a minute or two, let it happen. Make yourself open and available to light, short conversation while outside your office. Learn the names of your staff, their spouses, and their kids. Work on remembering names. (This is one hard for me.)

Eventually, you'll have most folks recognize you aren't the monster in the office and open up to you a bit more in office-related conversations. This can come with a downside or two, but if you master the technique it can be pretty effective. It helps to be genuinely interested in your staff, and not play the Bill Lumbergh of your section.

Blogger VD February 22, 2018 6:31 PM  

I said at the time and I'll say it again. Thanks Vox, for helping me get my mind right.

No problem. It's not as if we have a surfeit of smart people interested in the truth. We can't afford to lose people to their occasional emotional wobbles.

Blogger Stg58/Animal Mother February 22, 2018 6:32 PM  

Hey I like suspenders and coffee

Blogger Man of the Atom February 22, 2018 6:35 PM  

Stg58/Animal Mother wrote:Hey I like suspenders and coffee

Did I say *anything* about sartorial splendor? Hmmm?

Blogger Nate73 February 22, 2018 6:51 PM  

@87: All the advice you gave made me think first of Bill Lumbergh! XD

Blogger Beau February 22, 2018 6:59 PM  

"Does anyone have suggestions on resources, lessons, training, etc. on good management practices?"

Become a keen observer of people's behavior. If you see someone consistently doing something right, effective, productive, inspirational, etc. take a good long look at how they did it and imitate that behavior.

Blogger Azure Amaranthine February 22, 2018 7:07 PM  

"All the advice you gave made me think first of Bill Lumbergh!"

Same. Walking around with coffee mug, chatting...

Blogger Man of the Atom February 22, 2018 7:23 PM  

@91, @93
Like I said, the important thing is to actually care, then you too can be the Antimatter Universe Bill Lumbergh!

Blogger Snidely Whiplash February 22, 2018 8:22 PM  

Bill Lumbergh does not communicate. He dictates.
Dave Lumberg communicates.

Blogger Doug Cranmer February 22, 2018 8:27 PM  

"If you see someone consistently doing something right, effective, productive, inspirational, etc. "

That's what I come here for.

Blogger NeoNietzsche: February 22, 2018 9:18 PM  

@45 "The worst boss I ever had pretty much openly encouraged you lie to him"

When I worked at a nuclear reservation, I was active on the 'safety team' for our company. We had a standing rule that anyone could call a halt to any job/task if something came up that was unexpected or unplanned for that might be dangerous. The overall division head in our meetings really seemed to hold with that rule and talked it up at his meetings.

(With the team) I did a secret survey of employees: did they feel comfortable they they COULD call a halt without punishment, if they did see something dangerous? The report was NOT good; something above 70% said, "no way did they believe it."

That led to some serious meetings with dept and division heads... In the end; this div. manager AGAIN stated his "total support" that any employee could call a halt at ANY time for anything dangerous ... but that, of course, there really shouldn't BE any unexpected or unplanned situations that might be dangerous. They should be planned for.

That was exactly WHY 70+% made it clear they knew they were not safe from reprisal if they called a work halt... IF they did, they were 'reporting' themselves (or their workmates) as incompetent. I don't know if my boss, whom I told, ever mentioned it to her boss -- the idiot who made it clear that calling a halt meant you were incompetent.

Blogger NeoNietzsche: February 22, 2018 9:19 PM  

@50 "Does anyone have suggestions on resources, lessons, training, etc. on good management practices?"

Scott Adams' early books are pretty good. Haven't read his newer stuff.

Blogger Freeholder February 22, 2018 10:01 PM  

When the topic came up, I identified as managing from below because I consider that as being a good Lieutenant, being a Beta on the social hierarchy. My job is to recommend alternatives and suggest the one I think is best. I didn't even consider manipulating or holding back information to affect the decision. That was a narrow viewpoint of how other people could be thinking and reacting and gave me things to think about. I may have to join the brainstorming if that happens a lot.

Blogger Jack Amok February 22, 2018 10:16 PM  

Peter Drucker is very good. The Effective Executive is the best place to start.

-Manage your time first. It's all you have, you can't manage other people if you're constantly randomized. One of the hardest things about management is the fractured time you have, especially in a poorly run company.

-Focus. Multitasking is bullshit. Things get done because someone focuses on getting it done. Learn to prioritize and close out tasks. Teach your staff to do the same thing. Remember that they are subject to the same issue - let them focus.

-Leverage people's strengths, don't put them in situations that play to their weaknesses. Don't insist everyone become "well-rounded" by forcing them into roles they have no aptitude for.

Blogger Snidely Whiplash February 22, 2018 11:03 PM  

People enjoy feeling productive. Maximize that feeling and you will maximize productivity.

And yes, multitasking is BS. It was invented to compensate for the amount of time utterly wasted in meetings.

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