100 BITS OF RANDOM ADVICE FOR MANAGERS

A Facebook friend recently posted 50 pieces of advice on life from an 80 year old. I liked it so much that I decided to follow suit, so here are my 100 pieces of random advice to managers, from a 70 year old.

– Don’t beat around the bush … be specific … vagueness is confusing.

By P tasso (own work); CC-BY-SA-3.0,2.5,2.0,1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

By P tasso (own work); CC-BY-SA-3.0,2.5,2.0,1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


– Sarcasm is for losers … say what you have to say without rancour.
– Never stop learning … it’s a journey not a destination … you will never be a perfect manager.
– Be humble … greatness doesn’t need to be advertised.
– Be prepared to take the blame for failures, but always give the credit for success to your people.
– Be yourself at all times … don’t play different characters … schizophrenics are hard to follow.
– Never lie but don’t always feel the need to blurt out the truth.
– Tell people how they make you feel … both good and bad.
– Never get angry … the minute that you do, you lose.

By Эдуард Тимченков (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

By Эдуард Тимченков (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


– Be tough when needed … but always fair, well prepared and controlled.
– Don’t compromise … neither side wins which means neither side is fully committed.
– Give people freedom to make mistakes, and make sure that they experiment enough to do so.
– Make recruitment a major key competence.
– Share and celebrate successes … don’t overdo it as will diminish importance.
– Work is meant to be fun … this doesn’t mean funny.
– Never forget that great people have choices of where they will work.
– If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

PD USDA; via Wikimedia Commons

PD USDA; via Wikimedia Commons


– Tell people you know when they have gone that extra mile.
– Protect your people from interference from all directions.
– Grow and develop your people … this makes each year easier than the one before.
– If you hire someone for their strengths, don’t discard them just for their weaknesses.
– Do everything you can to help under performers until you are sure nothing else is going to work.
– Build talent for the whole organisation and let people fly away when they are ready.
– Build visible successors … promotion comes easier to those who have a ready replacement.
– Hire people who are smarter than you … if you can’t find them you are deluded.
– Work hard on building a culture of self-managing teams.
– Instill an understanding that competitiveness is external, collaboration is internal.
– When you are in a 1 on 1 you must have 100% focus on that person.
– Talk less, listen more.
– A 70% idea that someone is committed to is better than a 90% idea imposed.
– Learn and move on from mistakes … don’t dwell on them.
– You lead by example … your people see everything you do.
– Keep your people updated … it kills gossip and starves the rumour mill.
– Tell stories that people will understand and remember … legends live long.
– Never scream or lose your temper … people will know when you are angry anyway.
– Understand the difference between friendliness and friendship.
– The boss is not always right.
– Gender, race, religion, sexual orientation are never business decision criteria for anything.
– There is no one size fits all … every person is different.
– Be readily available, but on your terms and with your time well-managed.
– Talk to your customers … both internal and external.
– Control and limit the number of meetings … let people decide things on their own.
– Tell your people it is easier to get forgiveness than approval.
– Don’t email anything important when you can talk directly to the addressees.
– Laugh often … there is much to laugh about in business and life.
– Manage behaviours not people … behaviours define the organisation.
– Keep it simple.
– Manage the financials or they will manage you.
– Build networks … real linkages, not just linkedin connections.
– Being fair is more important than being tough.
– Delegate, delegate, delegate.
– Give people challenging assignments so they can learn and also be tested.
– Mentor high potentials and exciting young people … it is fun, inspirational and rewarding.
– Challenge people to run faster and jump higher … it shows you know they can.
– Walk the talk … you are their role model.
– Meet commitments that you make, or leave them for someone who can.
– Integrity is key … What you believe is what you say is what you do.
– People are the only sustainable competitive advantage.
– Recruit for attitude more than skill … skills can be taught.
– Create a level playing field for all.
– Never start a sentence with “When I was in your role ….” or “What I did was …”.
– Drive change and allow others the same right to question the status quo.
– Encourage creativity, innovation and calculated risk-taking.
– Build a dream/vision, share it and get buy-in.
– Never accept dishonesty of any kind.
– Share knowledge … it is contagious.
– Fight for your people … you are their champion.
– “I don’t know” is a valid response no matter how senior you are.
– Read voraciously … for business and pleasure.

Author: Joe Crawford from Moorpark; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Joe Crawford from Moorpark; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


– Build a peer support team … it helps to have a sounding board.
– No dress down days … just ask people to dress appropriately for the job they are doing.
– Encourage people to introduce suitable recruits … they are great judges of who would fit.
– When good people seriously need to move on, let them go with grace and dignity.
– Your word is your bond … always.
– Meet deadlines and commitments.
– Projects must be well managed … make sure you have the best project managers.
– You can’t win everything … take losses graciously (doesn’t mean you must enjoy them).
– Nothing happens in the world until someone sells something.
– If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.
– Many senior people think they are great speakers … most aren’t … practice is key.
– No matter your opinion of your boss, you must build a strong business relationship with them.
– Make appointments with yourself … at least 1 hour per day.
– Take your job seriously … but not yourself and never your own importance.
– Have a mentor or coach no matter how senior you are.
– Dress to impress and set the standard.
– Money is only one reward and not a true motivator for everyone.
– Finding the right PA is a key to personal success.
– If you can’t explain it in just a few sentences to an outsider, it is too complex.
– It only takes a few passionate people to start a revolution.
– Only unreasonable people drive change.

… and my last 10 points which are personal tips ….

– Never forget you have a family.

By Yesenia603 (own work); CC BY 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

By Yesenia603 (own work); CC BY 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


– You must take regular breaks and vacations.
– If you don’t love the job, change it for something that excites you.
– Plan the time with your family with same importance as business meetings.
– Play truancy every once in a while.
– Being the richest person in the cemetery makes no sense.

By Chris 73; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

By Chris 73; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


– It helps to be physically fit … exercise your mind and body.
– Keep your family up to date with what is happening … travel, breaks etc.
– The time after you wake should be for someone/something you love.
– Put a photo of your family in view to remind you why you are working so hard.

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THE MANAGEMENT ART OF GARDENING

“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.

Author: Basvb (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Basvb (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


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.

Author: Rob Hille (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Rob Hille (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


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.

Author: Aernoudts jean; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Aernoudts jean; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


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”

THE MANAGEMENT ART OF MUCKING OUT HORSE STABLES

“Flaming enthusiasm, backed up by horse sense and persistence, is the quality that most frequently makes for success.”
Dale Carnegie (1888-1955), American author, trainer and lecturer.

As we are the enthusiastic owners of two horses, I regularly try to increase my knowledge about their care and feeding. I recently came across this vey old beginner’s guide to horse care, and couldn’t help but notice that it was still very relevant, and that with the changing of just a few words here and there, these four paragraphs actually had some good advice, and horse sense, along the lines of what I would say to managers about the care and feeding of their people. (See also “The management art of stacking firewood” posted March 18, 2013).

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Original version on horses

“Having horses is a big responsibility. By nature, these animals are easy to be with, and are fit to be together with their herd in open spaces. To care for them, you have to keep that in mind, and work your way towards helping them achieve a good disposition. You have to take the time and effort to give them the necessary activities that they require, as they can become discontented if they are not handled in a proper manner. Make sure that there are no hazards which can hurt them, such as holes and waste. You should also spend time and effort in training your horses well so that they can understand what you want from them. and to allow them to work better with you.

To avoid waste and other hazards, build a fence around their pasture. This ensures that your horses are in a safe and secure area. If a horse escapes, it might encounter problems such as injury or getting lost. Make sure that the fence you use is strong enough to secure your pasture, but not so hard that it may cause injury to your horses.

Aside from a secure and well-built fence, your horses should also have enough protection from the harsh environment. A tree grove will provide nice shade for when it is too hot, but for winds and rain, it is best if you have a three-sided enclosure which your horses can retreat into. Study the direction of the wind well, so that the back part will be able to protect your horses from coming winds.

Make sure that you feed your horse properly. They need a lot of water daily, so always see to it that they have access to drinking water all the time. And with the right diet and nutrients provided for them, your horses will have a good disposition and you will be able to enjoy their company much better. Caring for horses is a full time job, so be sure to learn as much as you can about them and how to look after them.”

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My version on management

Being a manager is a big responsibility. By nature people are easy to be with, and can work well together in their team, even if placed in an open-plan environment, as long as it has been built for people rather than being just in rows of mind-numbing cubicles. To care for them, you have to keep “humanity” in mind, and work towards helping them to achieve their life goals as well as their work goals, and work your way towards helping them achieve a good disposition. As their manager you have to take the time and effort to give them the necessary goals and motivation that they require, as they can become discontented if they are not handled in a proper manner. Make sure that you remove the barriers to their success, such as company political landmines and the sort of “holes and waste” that can come from all sides and that can hurt them. You should also spend time and effort in training your people well so that they can understand what you want from them. and to allow them to work better with you.

To protect them from external assault, you should build an environment that protects them enough to do their job well, but not so strong that they cannot wander out when they feel the need to find out what is going on around them. Your role as their manager is to ensure that they do not get “injured or lost”, and that they understand what it is that they find out in the wide expanse of the corporate wilds, and how it can affect them. The fence just needs to be strong enough to protect them from outside threats and time-wasters, but with lots of visible exits.

Aside from a secure and well-built fence, your team should also have enough protection from the harsh environment that can arise from elements like changes in corporate direction, tough economic environments, squeezed budgets, hiring freezes and even company downsizing, It is easy to shelter your people in good times, but a good manager will work to protect his team under the harshest of conditions. You need to be able to study the direction of possible ill winds, and plan ahead to ensure that your team will be well protected from all sides.

Make sure that you feed your people properly with everything that they may need to do their jobs well and to do them with energy, commitment and passion. They will need access to resources and information daily, so make sure that they have what they need all the time. And with the right tools and knowledge provided for them, your people will have a good disposition, and you will be able to enjoy their company much better. Caring for people is a full time job, so be sure to learn as much as you can about them and how to look after them.

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They say that a horse gallops with its lungs, perseveres with its heart, and wins with its character … so do people.

HUMAN ENERGY IS THE GREATEST RENEWABLE RESOURCE

The dictionary defines renewable energy as “any naturally occurring, theoretically inexhaustible source of energy, such as biomass, solar, wind, tidal, wave, and hydroelectric powerthat is not derived from fossil or nuclear fuel.”

I was in India last year running some management development programmes at SAP Labs in Bangalore. One group of young managers were incredibly enthusiastic and threw themselves into the programme with passion and high energy, and were thrilled that we were going to have a follow-up session the next morning. When I told them that the only way we could get through the agenda of the next day’s session would be to start at 6.00am, the drop in enthusiasm and energy in the room was immediately visible, as many of them would have to get up at 4.00am to be able to be in the office on time, which meant that they would only get about 4 hours sleep that night. The relief in the room was immediate and visible when I told them that I was just kidding and that we would actually be starting at 9.00am.

Author: Amol.Gaitonde (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


I pointed out to them that if instead of saying that they would have to get up at 4.00am to attend some management training, I had invited them to have breakfast at my hotel with me at 6.00am, and that my special guests would be Aishwarya Rai (Miss World 1994) or Shilpa Shetty (stunning Bollywood star), or even more importantly Sourav Ganguly, India’s most successful cricket captain ever, they would have reacted totally differently.

Author: Aishwarya_rai_1.jpg: lifi crystal; via Wikimedia Commons


Instead of the immediate drop in energy there would have actually been a palpable surge of energy and excitement, and that instead of worrying about only getting 4 hours sleep most of them would have spent the night sitting wide awake in my hotel lobby to make sure that they were at the breakfast on time.

Human energy is a wonderful, renewable and almost limitless resource.

We live in a world beset with energy issues, struggling with our dependence on fossil fuels and our nervousness about nuclear power, yet not moving quickly enough to replace these with sustainable energy sources, resulting in ever climbing energy costs. As a result most companies have implemented major programmes to cut their energy usage based on their commitment to being good citizens and their contribution to “save the planet”, and the simple truth that it makes really good business sense to save money on energy use. For example, I am aware that SAP has a programme to cut their energy costs by 50% by 2015. As a shareholder I heartily approve of this initiative.

Author: Kwerdenker (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


As a frequent traveller, I do however find it a source of amusement that hotels ask you to reuse your towels to help the environment, rather than the fact that they have worked out what it actually costs to wash a towel every day, and it makes seriously good business sense to save money wherever you can. The latter reasoning would actually convince me more to not drop my towels on the floor after use.

I find all these moves to save money on energy use highly laudable, and it’s one of the reasons that I serve on the boards of both Carbon Guerrilla and PE International, both being companies that are focussed on helping their customers to achieve this.

What I don’t understand is that so few companies have programmes to try at the same time to increase the energy outputs of their people, as the returns to the business could be even greater if management understood how to harness this limitless source of energy.

Whilst I do not question its importance I am not talking specifically just about passion in this instance, as I have seen people who can show awe inspiring passion for 2 hours every week while lounging on their sofa in front of their TV to watch their sports team play, but who show very little real energy in their lives.

I am also sure that there are many people who can show passion when talking about their employer, particularly when things are going well and the share price is strong, and that there are a lot of people who work more than the required weekly hours as defined by unions and/or government, but energy is more than about working long hours and having pride in one’s company.

The challenge is … How can a manager build the sort of energetic commitment that most people can exhibit which results in them having no problem getting up at 5.00am for something like a round of golf, but then struggle to get out of bed on a workday ?

How do we create, sustain and build up the same high level of excitement, fun, pleasure, commitmentand feeling of achievement at work that people can find with little effort outside of it ?

I have always believed that the only role of management is to create an environment where people can be unbelievably successful, in whichever way that individuals variably define “success”. However this means that we have to be able to create a work environment that people find as attractive as their leisure alternatives, which means they need to be able to get up on a wet Monday morning in the depths of winter and think “thank goodness the weekend is over and I can now spend 5 days at work”.

I have only 3 criteria that serve as a starting point for this state of nirvana.
– Only do a job you love
– Only work for a boss you can respect
– Only work for a company you can be proud of

The role of management is to ensure that people are able to achieve these, as only then can you have the springboard to develop the passion, engagement and commitment in your people which will then give you a chance to harness the unlimited energy source that exists in humans.

BUSINESS LEADERSHIP ISN’T CHANGING QUICKLY ENOUGH

If global competition and business processes are changing so quickly, why aren’t our leadership practices changing at the same rate to keep up with business needs?

A recent study carried out by Development Dimensions International (DDI), a US based Talent Management organisation, showed that whilst business needs and the business environment have all changed dramatically, business leadership practices have hardly changed in the last decades to keep pace.

The DDI study showed that:

“The leadership practices in most organizations received a resounding thumbs-down, with only a quarter of the HR professionals questioned for the report rating the quality of leadership in their organization as very good or excellent, and just a third of leaders giving themselves and their peers high marks.”

via Wikimedia Commons


A worrying finding of the study is that despite the emphasis that is being given to all aspects of leadership today, and despite the fact that corporate leaders are under global and public powerful scrutiny at all times, the results of the survey show that the quality of business leadership has not improved, and may have actually been declining for a long time in relative values against new and confusing market environments.

Of even greater concern is that there was little confidence that companies are building the next generation of high quality leaders. Only 18% of those surveyed felt that “… the leadership pipeline will produce the individuals needed for the future … “ (only 14% in the US), yet less than half of the companies surveyed had a process for identifying high potential talent and even fewer had a process for growing and developing these individuals once identified, despite the fact that this was seen as one of the key skills expected in business leaders. This becomes even more critically important in an environment where the baby boomers are all in the process of moving out of their corner offices and into their retirement condos in Florida and Nice.

Author: W. M. Connolley (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


Supporting the DDI findings, the American Management Association found that fewer than one in ten Fortune 1000 organisations actually had made any attempt to integrate recruitment, or management development and succession planning, with strategic business objectives, and found that only 1 in 5 companies even have any succession plans in place to cover the sudden loss of a key executive, and a quarter of them had no succession plans in place at all.

Even when companies do have Hi-Potential programmes and succession plans in place, these are often just window dressing and thus disregarded, as in many cases they are done to be seen to be doing the right thing rather than representing any real plans to identify, develop and build future leaders. Most Hi-Potential programmes are based more on a manager’s propensity to identify and salute those that are acting in his image, and most succession plans are based more on what those above expect to see rather than a true reflection of who should be the right person to take a step up. When it comes to promotions, over 70% of senior executive appointments tend to come from outside the organisation anyway, and of the less than 30% that are internally filled, about 70% will be totally different to that shown in the succession plan, meaning that generally less than 10% of promotions are based on any real planning at all.

This may be the one major reason that so few companies bother to do any real succession planning in the first place.
Quite a vicious circle !

If management in an organisation is not good enough to start with, how will they know what initiatives are needed, and how they should be implemented to drive the changes that are needed to improve the situation?
This is also not helped by today’s business schools.

Author: Tatu Monk (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


For example, many of the case studies used in helping to educate our future business leaders are even older than the MBA students, and whilst they may help students in the process of problem solving, and may even deliver some interesting lessons in business life, they do tend to suggest that not much has changed in the last 20+ years, for example, in the way that business is done, in the way that technology has become so pervasive, in how people are managed and motivated, in the changing expectations and definitions of work in successive generations or in the way that partnerships or co-opetitions are handled. Most importantly these case studies do not take into consideration how social media are changing the entire world, including business, and not just personal, communication. I understand that some of these topics may be covered separately but this does not seem to be enough.

One problem with most business schools is that many of their academic theories don’t actually work well in business practice, while conversely the things that good managers do to succeed in practice don’t actually work well in the business school theories.
So we keep seeing once great companies going into decline, and we excuse this as just being a result of some global economic downturn, new competitors or changing markets, rather than on inadequate management skills that have had little real chance of being able to adjust and adapt quickly enough.

Charles Darwin said “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is that is the most adaptable to change”.

Author: Elliott & Fry; via Wikimedia Commons


To this I would add … “At some time in the life cycle of every organisation, its ability to succeed in spite of itself runs out.”

MOVE THEM UP OR MOVE THEM OUT

I have long believed that managers need to always have a “ladder” of their people graded from best to worst performer. This is not just to ensure visibility of the top performers, but also to ensure identification of those that need help. The problem is that most managers find it very easy to work with the people who are doing well, as that generally means easy contact and positive conversations, but find it hard to work with those that are struggling, as that involves some confrontation and considerable effort.

I am not saying that managers should stop having significant focus on their best people, but I am often amazed at how many people don’t actually understand that they are not performing to the expectation of their immediate supervisor until they have their annual performance review at the end of the year, generally too late for remedial actions to be taken.

I believe that the role of a manager is to personally work with whoever is on the bottom rung of the ladder and to focus on helping them to move up. This generally means that the manager will need to expend effort as it involves some coaching, some development and some hand-holding from the manager (and even others) for a while, but this is one of the things that managers are meant to do anyway, even though few actually do so. Once the manager realistically feels that his charge has now moved off the bottom rung, this will then uncover the next person that needs help, and the manager can now shift his focus and efforts to this one. In this way, a manager will develop a team that is continually improving.

Keeping the focus just on the top performers may be easier but doesn’t necessarily achieve much improvement in the team. Moving a hi-performing employee from 100-105% performance is not only harder, but also doesn’t deliver as much benefit to team success as does moving a struggler from say 70-90%. Too many managers leave people sitting on the bottom rung for too long, without remedial action being taken quickly enough and then it becomes too late to do anything to save them.

I have always believed that if you hire people for their strengths then you can’t remove them for their weaknesses until you have made significant effort to help them to overcome these. Only after you have expended this effort jointly, and they are still sitting on the bottom, can you now consider more critical action hence “Move them up or move them out”.

I believe that the same holds true if a manager has a team where all are great performers and are all achieving their goals. There are still significant benefits to be gained by focussing on “moving up” whoever is the least of the hi-performers and keeping the whole process alive.

By “move them out”, I mean initially looking at whether they can be moved out of their current role, and into a role where their strengths can be used to add value to the organisation. If the recruitment process that brought them in to the organisation was well run and stringent, then there is significant chance that they can still be valuable in a different role. Only as a last resort should they be terminated. A “hire ‘em fire ‘em” attitude is too expensive and disruptive to any organisation, and should never be allowed to become a way of compensating for bad management practices.

IT WAS GOOD ENOUGH FOR ME

When I was appointed to the SAP Global Extended Board in 1999, my bosses at the time (the Global CEO and the Board Chairman) approved my title as “CEO Asia Pacific, Board Member SAP-AG”. This was based on the fact that no-one outside of Germany really knew what “Extended Board” meant, and they felt that anyway we had a 12 member Global Board and I was part of it.

When I took over the role of CEO Europe Middle East Africa in 2001, my secretary who was new to SAP, asked me what I wanted on my business cards. I handed her a copy of my Asia Pacific business card and told her to just change Asia Pacific to EMEA and so on … seemed like a simple solution.

That is until she went for printing advice to the PA of my predecessor, who immediately rushed to her boss to have this stopped. It appeared that in the previous 2 years (he and I had been appointed to the Extended Board at the same time), he had had “Member of the Extended Board” on his business cards as compared to “Member of the Board” which is what I had on mine. He seemed to be bothered that somehow my title seemed more senior than the one that he had used.

I pointed out that my business cards had been approved by both the Board Chairman and the CEO of SAP, but this was not acceptable to him, and he kept coming up with numerous reasons why I couldn’t have the cards the way that I had stipulated.

I kept pressing him for the real reason that he opposed it, and under my persistence eventually blurted out “Member of the Extended Board was good enough for me, so it should be good enough for you”.

An interesting thought.

I have come to believe that just as parents needs to believe that one of their responsibilities is to make things easier for their children, so managers need to believe that one of their responsibilities is to make things easier for their successors. It is totally wrong to believe that “What was good enough for me is good enough for who follows me”. It is actually critical for the growth and success of any organisation that everyone in a people responsible position has a strong belief that “What was good enough for me is definitely not good enough for my successors”.

For example I believe that a critical role for every manager is to build and grow the interdependencies across departments and geographies to ensure strong linkages for their team, and thus making the goals of their own team easier to achieve in the future. Another critical role is to grow the skills, knowledge and experiences of their managers and individual contributors so that their ability to perform gets easier every year. In other words, to keep growing their net worth.

I see that being given management responsibility for a team of people is akin to being given a garden to look after that you will ultimately have to pass on to someone else to care for.

You have choices to make.
You can just leave the “garden” alone and hope that nature takes its course, that rain and sunshine comes in the right quantities and at the right time, and that the weeds don’t strangle the flowers.
You could also choose to just do a little bit every once in a while, throw around a bit of manure, mow the grass when it gets really high and pull out the occasional and most obvious of weeds.
Or you could choose to really help to make this garden grow and flourish. You can encourage the best of the growth, add water and fertiliser as needed, weed out the parts that could strangle the good growth and add to the wealth of what exists.

Planting Spring Flowers

Flowers

Just believing that what is good enough now is what will be good enough in the future is unacceptable for a professional manager. Managers should be measured on whether they are net creators of talent for the organisation, whether their area of responsibility grows and develops in line with the changing needs of the organisation, and whether their team becomes more effective in meeting their goals year on year. In other words how well can a manager grow, develop and improve his “garden”, rather than believing that his role is to just keep it alive.

To stay with the gardening theme, I have come across too many managers who use the “mushroom approach” to people management. They keep their people in the dark and occasionally pour a bucket of manure over them.