Thursday, June 16, 2011

(Mis)Management

Many years ago (I’ve reached an age when much of what’s happened to me can legitimately be described as “many years ago”; it’s like a fairy tale…) I read The One Minute Manager.  I don’t remember much from the book – there wasn’t much to the book – but I have the lingering impression of a sort of Zen management style, where the managing guru mostly stares out the window with his hands clasped behind his back and lets problems sort themselves out.
Maybe my memory is faulty, or maybe I’m giving the book a bad rap, but my point in leading with it, at least with how I remember it, is to contrast it with my own belief that Management is hard.  Shepherding even a small project to completion typically involves many factors, most of which do not lend themselves to prediction, many of which depend on irascible, imperfect and inherently unpredictable people.  It’s no wonder failure, or at least incomplete success, is the rule.

But I want to contrast that – the difficulty of managing successfully – with the fact that it’s fairly easy to not be a moron, and yet managers fail in this task with frustrating frequency.  Before I list some of the most common mistakes of my experience, here’s a very expressive anecdote I just heard:

This is from an old friend and sometime colleague.  He was present at a meeting in the offices of a seed venture fund on the day that a newly-hired management consultant made her first appearance.  The meeting included the consultant, my friend, the CTO of one of the fund’s portfolio companies, the venture partner responsible for that company and perhaps a few other people.  With impressive insouciance, the consultant proceeded to take her shoes off, put her feet up on the conference table and inform the CTO that the R&D team was going to produce software releases according to her (yet unwritten) timetable or they would be fired; and if he didn’t have the authority to do that – she did.

I hear this and I wonder:  Where do these people come from?  Were they raised by wolves?  Who is this woman’s mother?    Meanwhile the partner is grinning his approval of her assertiveness and can-do attitude.

Not surprisingly – at least not to anyone with his head screwed on straight – the timetable was completely unrealistic and the company ultimately imploded.  It seems failure definitely was an option.

More later on Managers Behaving Badly.
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