Google's Quest: Understanding the Managerial Challenge!
By Dilip Saraf on 23 Mar 2011
Just recently, Google published its insights about what it takes to be an effective manager. This “discovery” of managerial behaviors that Google has now published as Eight good behaviors and Three pitfalls of those in the managerial roles needed for a team’s success is nothing new, and the article in the New York Times last week admitted as much http://nyti.ms/eWmtrm .
So, why this blog?
The New York Times article missed the basic point at the epicenter of this discussion: How individual contributors evolve to become managers, and how they can succeed in their new roles, despite their technical prowess, which got them promoted in the first place? This concern and managerial conundrum date back to the 1950s when a worldwide survey of nearly 14,000 managers first evinced the fact that nearly 80% of those in the managerial positions were viewed as dysfunctional in some major ways; only about a fifth of the managers were truly worth their salt!
Interestingly not much has changed since that survey!
Although the managers themselves did not then directly admit to their own dysfunction, rather, it was admitted by proxy of how they chose to spend their time doing the work that they did. So, even today, in a typical pool of managers—at all levels—only about a fifth of them inspire their teams to grow and bring out the best in them; an abysmal stat! The problem created by the majority of the dysfunctional managers ripples throughout the corporate world—or anywhere else, where managerial hierarchy is required for an organization to function. Those 80% take an incalculable toll on their “subjects” they manage, wreaking havoc on their careers, health, personal lives, and on their well being! Why, then, despite this alarming statistics little has been done over the years for this situation to persist?
I think that the reason for perpetuating this status quo is that those in the managerial position, who should be actively working to change this situation, are not even aware of it; they are living in a state of unconscious incompetence, exacerbated only by the arrogance that comes with the power they hold! They don’t know what they don’t know, and the learning disabilities that stem from the arrogance prevent them from learning anything from the carnage they leave behind in the wake of their role! In some cases they know that they know, but are unwilling to change the status quo for the sake of self-preservation. It is these managers that are very good at managing upwards and at letting their team pay a heavy price in its members’ aggravation, frustration, and grief. Often they are immune to their members’ plight! It is here that I commend Google for launching an initiative and an intervention that illuminated this problem, at least within its own organization.
So, what must the managers (those 80%) know to disabuse this notion of managerial dysfunction? Here is my prescription from my own learning as a corporate manager and as a coach who sees this daily in his clients’ plight:
There are 10 key elements for a manager to become successful:
1. As the new managers embrace their role, first, they must understand the four functions of managing (Leading, Planning, Organizing, and Setting up Controls, with their associated tasks that fall under each of the four functions to become an effective manager). For example, the task of Communicating falls under the Leading function, which sets guidelines for effective communication. These four functions and their associated tasks must now become their new core skills, and as they embrace this new core set of skills, they must learn to subordinate their technical skills—their core skills until now, which got them that prized promotion—to their new core skills (the four management functions). In their previous role they did not have to make this conscious choice; their technical skills-set alone was sufficient. This simultaneous skill renewal and relegation of their prized skills to a “lower” status is a major struggle for most newbies. Unless this is understood and overcome early in their management careers, managers stay ineffective—even dysfunctional.
2. The managerial work and technical work are orthogonal entities. By doing more technical work you cannot solve a management problem; in fact, you often make it worse. Managers often revert to doing technical work when faced with a crisis than doing the right management work that only they can do. This is so, often because they really understand the technical work. Managers promoted usually take great pride in their technical work; they got promoted for doing flawless technical work. This fact alone scares new manager from doing managerial work that is now foreign to them. So, they end up doing work—wrong work—that they understand and that they feel confortable with—technical work, perfectly, rather than taking risk learning to do management work!
3. Undone technical work (a broken system, a late project, an irate customer, or a badly drafted plea agreement) becomes a burning platform, requiring urgent attention to prevent it from getting worse, whereas undone or ignored management work (planning, setting up program controls, terminating a bad employee, or hiring the right attorney) quietly piles up, gradually creating more technical fires. It pushes the work down an organization creating stressful—even toxic—work environment.
4. As a person who is promoted to a managerial position because of their excellent technical contributions secures increasingly higher positions of authority in the management chain, their technical expertise becomes their context, as discussed in #1, above (which was previously their core), and they must learn how to make that transition from “core” to “context,” with spending more time on the core and less on the context, as they move up the management ladder. Their new core now becomes what they had never done before: managerial work that only they can do, with increasing organizational impact. If they take refuge in doing only (or more than required) technical work that was previously their main focus, then they have less time to do their new core work now (managerial work).
5. As one advances to higher levels of managerial authority the core work (management work) and its importance increase exponentially with each level, with a commensurate decrease in their technical (context) work. If they do not recognize this and keep doing technical work that those they manage can (and must) do then they are not spending enough time doing the work that only they can do. This behavior has a deleterious—even pernicious—effect throughout all levels below their locus of authority, as everyone is then doing work below their ability and authority, leaving behind a wake of undone management work. Again, remember, undone management does not usually cry for help, only undone technical work does!
6. Managers at all levels keep going back to their old core work (technical work) in preference to the Eight behaviors, and the Three pitfalls that are their bane that Google has identified. It is perhaps because they understand what that work is and are mortally afraid of letting go of it, should they ever lose their jobs! Ironically, in many cases this fear alone results in exactly their becoming that (you become what you fear!). To make this transition a manager at each level must learn how to conceptualize their technical work and use that in conjunction with their new core work (managerial work) to keep the right balance between technical (context) and management (core) work at each management level.
7. Team members, too, have the responsibility to remind their manager what the division of labor is and how that should be managed. Accountability is a mutual responsibility. Merely taking orders from your manager, no matter how high you are in the hierarchy, can promote a behavior, which can be a seed for dysfunctional management.
8. When managers do management work (the four functions again!) and focus on the work that only they can do, it frees up an amazing amount of resources for productive work throughout the organization. People become empowered, incompetence gets highlighted, and the overall team output shoots up, with everyone going home energized and coming back to work the next day to change the world. The exact opposite happens (and that is the norm) when this simple rule is ignored.
9. Focus on knowing and doing the right management work starts at the top, so, CEOs, take heed! How much time did you spend doing technical work (guideline is 10% or less)? For the first-level manager, at the other end, this time is 50% or less. Of course for start-ups and early-stage companies different rules apply, but they must be applied consciously.
10. Understanding what the basic message of this blog is, together with knowing how to embrace Google’s Eight behaviors and avoid the Three pitfalls will make any manager an effective one!
About Dilip Saraf: Dilip Saraf, currently in his fifth career, is a career and life coach, ranked as LinkedIn's top coach, has worked with over 5,000 clients globally.