Saturday, January 14, 2012

How to effectively manage professionals

Looking around for my next gig has made me really think about how I manage professionals and why. If you haven't seen this TED talk, and you manage professionals, you should.

On top of Dan's excellent anaylsis, let me add a few observations from a good deal of experience on both sides of the management fence:

(1) If you have a system, and its getting lousy compliance, the problem is *the system* not the employees.

(2) If you have a problem employee, 90% of the time what you really have is a mis-match of employee to situation. It is far less wasteful and generally more productive to try to fix the situation then to try to "fix" the employee.

Both one and two above are based on a simple and true premise. Its one Dan talks about in his work. Its that people are intrinsically motivated. Most people really want to do a good job. Rather then the typical management view of "if someone isn't doing a good job then they don't care enough", I propose that 90% of the time if someone isn't doing a good job its because something is in their way and they are at least as frustrated by it as you are.

This leads to my third observation:

(3) Self-organization is the most powerful solution to (2) in your arsenal.

I have seen this over and over. If I try to over-structure a team, I make mistakes. People struggle with the roles I have assigned them. Some do well, some not so well. This is not surprising. After all, all I really know about them is a resume and some short conversations.

HOWEVER they get to know each other very well very quickly. They spend 8 hours a day problem solving together. Left to their own devices they inevitably come up with better solutions as to who is suited to what then I could. Furthermore, their solutions are fluid and can change to meet changing requirements.

Which leads me to my most important point....

(4) The single most detrimental thing to professional productivity, is too much management.

Its wasteful in that it requires a lot of management time, and its wasteful in that generally all you are doing is getting in the way of your people. When I have a team spun up and functioning, that team takes half an hour a day to manage, and (depending on its seniority) 5 to 10 hours a week to coach. Thats it.

If you think every team needs its own manager, you are doing way too much management. 9 women cannot make a baby in 1 month, and 9 managers can't make a baby at all! In fact, put even one "manager" in the room full time directing and grading a couple trying to make a baby and its the rare couple that can manage to achieve the goal.

The old school of management suggested that the best motivators were fear and greed. As Dan points out, that works great for assembly workers, but not for professionals.

The best motivators for professionals are autonomy and trust. The *first* job of a manager of professionals is not to manage the workers, but to manage their environment such that they can work effectively.

This isn't to say that a team should not be directed, but the most effective direction is in the form of engineering goals to accomplish not ways to accomplish them. A team that feels empowered will come to you, in most cases, if they are unsure of how to proceed. And such "event driven" management is far more efficient for both sides then "polling."

For the cases where they don't realize they are headed into trouble, thats what monitoring is for... but that monitoring should always be a light touch. A peek over the shoulder of a mentor, not the drumbeat of a task master.

In my case, I use a white-board based scrum burn-down chart and it takes 10 min or less at the end of the day to discuss and update it. The goal is not to grade them on productivity, but simply to know what is getting in their way and to adjust estimates as we understand more about the problem at hand.

The modern manager needs to serve the company's greater goals by serving his employees needs for both direction and an environment in which they can do their best work. And a manager with time on his or her hands is a manager who has succeeded in those goals. A constantly busy manager, on the other hand, is one who is floundering.

In short, modern effective management is not a position of mastery, but of service. And true service means doing just what is helpful, and then getting out of the way.

My wife, the theologian, would say someone told us this 2000 years ago. Its time we listened.

No comments: