August 5, 2013 5 Comments
“A garden requires patient labour and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfil good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them.”
Liberty Hyde Bailey, American Botanist (1858-1954}.
I have often compared being in a management role, and being given responsibility for a team of people, as being similar to being given a garden to tend (see “It was good enough for me” posted August 16, 2010), and one that you will ultimately have to hand over to a successor.
The question is … what sort of “gardener” are you ?
Leave it to nature approach. Many managers take the laissez faire approach to management. This is particularly true of many vocationally brilliant specialists who are pushed, sometimes reluctantly, into a management role. This enables them to keep focussing on their vocational tasks, now with a better title and an increased salary package, but with minimal change to what they had been doing most of their working life as an individual contributor. Like the laissez faire gardener this is a hope based strategy that hopes the fates will provide the right amount of sunshine and rain at the right times and in the right quantities for the garden to stay alive, without them actually having to do anything. One Head of Development that I worked with spent most of his time debugging software for members of his 3000+ strong software development organisation, whenever they got stuck. This was because it was what he loved to do and at which he considered himself to be quite brilliant. He ran his organisation in the hope that his own management team would not act the same way that he did, and that they would focus on actually acting like real managers. He was only partially correct in this assumption.
Cultivate mushrooms approach. Some managers will keep an eye on their people and wait for them to do something wrong, so that they can show them the correct approach. This is another style common with vocationally blinkered managers, as it not only gives them an opportunity to use their vocational skills, but also enables them to show their people that “they still have it”. I find this to be an approach much favoured by those with a strong engineering background (see “Teaching old dogs new tricks” posted June 20, 2010). One manager I worked with would prowl his domain looking for things that needed fixing, and whenever he found something amiss that he felt merited his attention, he would call an all-hands meeting for a lecture on what he had discovered that was being handled incorrectly and the correct procedures that he expected to be followed. He saw this as a way of achieving improvements in his business area, but the real result was that he just held a lot of meetings. I see this as being along the same lines as cultivating mushrooms, which are mostly kept in the dark, but occasionally have some manure dumped on them.
Dabble occasionally approach. Some managers see their management responsibilities as being something that they need to do only from time to time, generally because they are just badly organised, are serial procrastinators or are just too busy trying to put out fires that they have allowed to ignite in the first place. These tend to be easily recognisable as they are the ones that never quite meet the deadlines for necessities like performance and salary reviews and monthly reporting. They are also always the ones who never seem to get around to agreeing annual goals and objectives for their people, and who don’t have compensation plans signed even by the end of the first quarter, and who only actually get things done when leaned on from above. This approach is actually the way that many people tend to their gardens. They mow their lawns when either pressure from their neighbours or their spouse mounts to a point where it cannot be ignored, weeding is only done when the weeds block the view and the access to the swimming pool, and any fresh planting is generally only to replace what has died due to neglect.
Let’s make it flourish approach. Good managers leave little to chance. They plan the year ahead and ensure that their “plants” are well supplied with everything that they need to survive and grow. They act to encourage the growth of all that they are responsible for, not just the brightest, and they weed out those that add no value and that could end up strangling those around them. They ensure that they have a strong base that will encourage their charges to spread out, and they try different things, such as new plantings from outside their area, so that their “plot” gets better each year. They also ensure that larger individuals do not shade the smaller ones to stop them from growing. They work hard so that the best of what they have grown are transplanted to other gardens to facilitate their continued growth in new areas.
In summary, managers must ensure that they have improved their domain to give their successor an easier start, and a better developed facility than the one that they themselves started with originally, even if s/he understands that the effort they put in is for long term development that will benefit the successor even more than the originator. As so well said by D. Elton Trueblood (1900-1994), American author and theologian, “A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants a shade tree under which he knows full well he will never sit”