Management A management style that scales

Don’t Be A Prick

With the completion of the Fez column, I have enough content to start stitching together a book based off my various management essays. Book publishing has never been a stated goal, but based on the response to many of the articles, there’s a good chance folks outside the webosphere might find my management musings of interest.

Problem. What’s the pitch? BE A GOOD MANAGER? ZzzzzzzzZ. There are hints of themes amongst the various management articles, but there is no single article which sets the stage for the rest… that hints at a basic truth that ties my reposing together.

There is now…

Flashback to the middle of the dotcom implosion. We, the merry crew of the failing start-up, are drinking… a lot. There are various bars around corporate… each have a distinct purpose. There’s the dive bar that’s great for post-layoff parties. The booze is cheap and if you’re looking to blow off some I’m_Really_Not_Worthless steam, you can pick a fight with the toothless sailor slung over the bar or the guy who just laid you off.

Down the street is the English pub. The beer is better, they have a selection of whiskey, and they have edible food. This is where we get philosophical about the current organizational seizure we’re experiencing in our three year slide towards irrelevancy.

We’re there now. We’re drinking heavily because the company has just been sold to a no-name public company who will quickly dismantle the company we’ve bled for. Everyone knew we’d be here at some point, but no one expected to be the last one standing. And no one expected the CEO to show up.

This isn’t the CEO that built the company. He’s been gone for over a year. This is the guy the Board of Directors brought in to sell the start-up. Sure, he tried to turn us around, but, remember, we’re in the middle of a financial nuclear winter here. Money is no longer free.

Those who got a glimpse of the CEO’s resume before he arrived knew the gig was up. His last four jobs ended in the company being finely sliced into into nothingness. It’s called “maximizing shareholder value”.

And here we are. Hammered on tequila… the last four from engineering. Two guys from tech support… and the CEO. Even though we’re dizzy with booze, we’re fundamentally uncomfortable with the presence of our CEO because we consider him to be an unfeeling prick.

And that’s it.

That’s the title of my management book.

“Don’t be a prick.”

Right so, the editors are probably going to have an issue with the word “prick” in the title. It falsely implies a masculinity to management which is a crock, so we’ll call it a working title until the actual editors show up.

The CEO in question is not a prick. Good guy. Straight talker. Good financial sense. Many failing companies did a lot worse that ours, but that isn’t the point. The reason we sat there drunk and uncomfortable was because we had absolutely no connection with this guy. He was the mechanical CEO.

My definition of a great manager is someone that you can make a connection with no matter where you sit in the organization chart. What exactly I mean by connection varies wildly by who you are and want you want and, yes, that means great managers have to work terribly hard to see the subtle differences in each of the people work for them.

See. See the people that work with you. They say repetition improves long term memory, so let’s say it once more. You must see the people that work with you.

If you don’t have an inkling of what I’m talking about yet, it might be a good time to set this (potential) book down and head over to programming section of the book store because it’s time to reconsider that pure engineering career tract. Being a manager is a great job (I mean it), but it’s your ability to construct a insightful opinion about a person in seconds that will help make you a phenomenal manager. Yes, in a technical management role…, you need both the left and right sides of the brain, but just because you write great code doesn’t mean you’re going to have a clue about how to lay off 70% of your staff.

Every single person you work with has a vastly different set of needs. Fulfilling these needs is one way to make them content and productive. It is your full time job to listen to these people and carefully mentally document how they are built. This is your most important job. I know the Sr. VP of Engineering is telling you that hitting the date for the Project is Job #1, but you are not going to write the code, test the product, or document the features. The team is… and your job is the team.

I know the Silicon Valley is full of wildly successful dictators. These are the leaders who are successful even though they are world class pricks. This book is going to push you as far from prickdom as possible and if that means I’m decreasing the chance you end up on the front page of the Wall Street journal labeled a “corporate bulldog with vision”, well, I’ve done my job.

You get to choose the type of manager you will be and if you want to work with your team, if you want to learn from them, if you want them to trust you, well, I’ve got some advice for you. Lots of it. Keep reading.

Again, the CEO at the start-up was not a prick. He just showed up at the wake for the company and assumed that we’d be comfortable with his presence because HE WAS THE CEO. We knew he was CEO. More importantly, we knew he’d spent exactly zero time using our products. We’d never seen him there on the weekend. Come to think of it, he was never there on Friday either because he commuted from another state. We had no shared experience with him other than three strange meaningless all hands meetings filled with slide projectors, spreadsheets and monotony.

The CEO believed that these spreadsheet-laden all hands meetings were all the connection he needed to build and, for the duration of that meeting, he was right. We felt well informed after his meeting, but our needs were different a week later when rumors of layoffs started up. They were drastically different a month later when that layoff went down and the CEO was nowhere to be seen.

Organizations of people are constantly shifting around. They are incredibly messy. In this mess, judgments of you and your work will be constructed in moments… in the ten second conversations you have in the hallway… in the way you choose to describe who you are.

Meanwhile, you need to constantly assess those you work with, determine what they need, figure out what motivates them. You need to remember that what worked one day as a motivational technique will backfire in two months because human beings are confusing, erratic, and emotional. In order to manage human beings in the moment, you’ve got to be one.

And that’s why a better title for my book is:

“Managing Humans”.

6 Responses

  1. I hope that, when published, your book can be purchased for and sent to other people anonymously. 😉

  2. I hope that you will explore the concept that mangement reaches out in all directions, however. This is especially true when you’re at tier 2, where you first have direct reports. You need to “manage” your team (down), your co-managers on other teams (sideways) and your boss (up). In any sort of matrix organization, there’s usually a diagonal component as well but it depends on the project structure, etc.

    Regardless, if you write the book, I will buy it. I’ll also remember to point at myself when reading the True Title….

  3. John Whitlock 19 years ago

    The hardest part of writing the book will be finding appropriate Jerkcity strips to illustrate each chapter title. So many to choose from!

    Now adding the text to the page makes lots of sense – google’s picked it up already.

  4. wow… that’s all I have done for the last 5 years is manage humans and it is an ever evolving process… good luck with the book. I’ve found all of your articles interesting and informative and enlightening… I wish more managers paid more attention to this kind of philosophy rather than having their heads stuck up their… well… pricks. Good job Rands.

  5. McGinn 19 years ago

    I will buy this book if you promise to sign it HGLAUGHALUGHGALUGAH, RANDS

  6. Rands,

    I hate to break it to you but somebody already published your book. It’s called The Servant Leader. Here’s the link to it at Amazon. I think this is pretty much a must read for anybody who works…in any capacity…anywhere…period.