Archive | January, 2010

Why the wrong people become managers

19 Jan

On December 3 Lynn posted: “The irony is that in many organizations the middle managers who are promoted are those who violate many of the self-test rules you mention above. If only everyone would pay more attention to the Mary Poppins rule.”

There are actually three reasons that managers, especially first-line managers all-too-too frequently make the listed mistakes:

• Well-meaning executives often promote managers based on competence without realizing that competence alone is not sufficient. Evidence from longitudinal research on manager development shows that although competence is a necessary condition, two other predictors are even more important: People skills and Integrity. The absence of one or both of these attributes is the reason for the wide range of performance of managers in most companies. This phenomenon is often referred to as the Peter Principle, simply stated is we promote people to their level of incompetence. For a more in-depth discussion on this topic see “What Predicts Managerial Success” in my book, Beyond Luck.

• When people are promoted into management positions they often don’t realize that they are making a career change moving from “doing work” to “getting work done through others.” The skills sets are very different and it takes time and hard work to become an effective manager. See my recent post on “The 10,00 Hour Rule.” For help in making this transition go to “Becoming the boss” in the Harvard Business Review.

• Finally most people are thrown into managerial positions without clear expectations, on-the-job training, a support system and an experienced mentor. They have no idea that management is a principle-driven art that requires substantial knowledge as well as an extensive repertory of skills. This absence of development opportunities is the reason for Beyond Luck.

Food for thought

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On the too large number of mushrooms

13 Jan

My editor has been finding references to mushrooms everywhere in Beyond Luck. One or two he tells me severely – but no more.

What is a mushroom?  The species I am speaking of is not a fungus, rather:  “I must be a mushroom – managers keep me in the dark and feed me BS.”  We know mushrooms are not very productive and are prone to mischief.  Why then do managers keep their direct reports and executives keep hordes of people ill informed?  The answers to this would take a book, but:

Communication is hard work.

Effective management is principle driven.  Consider this general communication principle:

The better-informed people are – the better they perform.

It is almost always better for people to know than not to know. Not a bad philosophy and exceptions are rare.  When people are informed it:

Reduces uncertainly and fear.
Permits better decisions making.
Cleans up the grapevine, some.
Makes people smarter.

These are good things.  Unfortunately managers cannot communicate everything to everyone.  So one of the tasks of managers is to ascertain what information people need to do their jobs.  The second is to use identify and use the optimal channel to communicate that information.  Interesting problem.

Two thought questions for managers:

If I can’t explain a decision maybe I should reconsider it?

Do the appropriate people have the appropriate information to..….

KISSing and CHUNKing is not Chinese sex

5 Jan

Ever noticed how some people are very effective in both oral and written communications whereas others seem unable to communicate anything clearly?

KISS = Keep It Short and Simple – but why?

In 1956, the psychologist George Miller wrote a classic article titled “The Magical Number Seven Plus or Minus Two: Limits On Human Information Processing Capacity.”

In this article, Miller defined what good communicators intuitively understand: People mentally store and retrieve information in “chunks,” and the maximum size of a chunk is 7 ± 2 and fewer is more effective.

Our ability to organize ascending and descending chunks makes our information processing capacity huge.  The ability to do this effectively is called cognitive efficiency.

The communication principle:  Fewer is better, less is more

Here are some of the many places where this works:

  1. Processing:  look for the core ideas in a paper or the key take-aways in a meeting.
  2. Speaking:  Using no more than 2 or 3 ideas and reiterateing them to assure reception (redundancy).
  3. Writing: Using as few bullet points as possible,  doing executive summaries.
  4. Participating people in a meeting: 7 ± 2 maximum
  5. Improving personal performance: Don’t put too many things on your work plate.

    Get the point.

    Pop Quiz: Who Said, “If I Had More Time, I Would Have Written You a Shorter Letter?”