What constitutes "Good Management?"

Enough material to fill several warehouses must have been written on Management over the centuries, yes centuries; the need for and challenges of management are hardly new! Major construction feats, such as the Pyramids etc. didn't "just happen". So what's new about today? Frankly not a lot!

That's not to say that we don't have a better grasp of the challenges, are better educated, etc. but we are still dealing with the same fundamentals. Equally I wouldn't dare to suggest that reading on the subject wouldn't be enlightening or valuable. There are many very erudite people who study it for a living. But for me my very varied 30 years in management/supervisory positions (plant operations in a unionized environment, engineering, technical, project, IT) has convinced me that management is very much a "practice" and not a "principle".

There are only 3 components to every management position; 1) administration (don't we just love the admin?), 2) the "task/objective" to be accomplished and 3) the resources to accomplish the task/objective, which includes people, equipment and money. To understand better what constitutes "good" management let's first look at what constitutes "bad" management. Now I realize that I am trying to discuss absolutes and life doesn't work that way. So please cut me some slack on that otherwise the discussion can get very convoluted, especially if we start to introduce "company politics" and "personal ambition", ie. what might be good for the individual manager might not be good for the company in the longer term, etc.. I will leave such debate to those who write books on the subject and I don't claim any right to be in such exalted company.

Where things often go wrong is that most of us are more comfortable dealing with the "inanimate", ie. focusing on admin, the task/objective or equipment rather than the "animate", ie. the people. People are "difficult" don't you know. Unfortunately, it's the people who accomplish the task/objective and/or operate the equipment. I have emphasized the "practice" of management and I have been on a number of excellent courses over the years, all of the best ones were "practical" in nature, ie. short on theory and long on practice, eg. role playing based on "back home" real situations, group discussion on experience, etc.. One that I fondly remember was entirely devoted to "industrial relations". It was actually quite good fun to role play a shop steward; some people were amazingly good at it! BTW I was told don't expect "traditional" persuasion approaches to work on shop stewards or spouses!

The main point here is "forget the people at your peril". Much is made of "teams" today and personally I have always been very team oriented; the manager may "lead" the team but they must also be part of the team! So team building is obviously important. But wait a minute, a team is a "collective" of individuals (sounds like the Borg). One cannot consider the team without paying attention to every single individual in the team. Unlike the Borg we are not drones. We are all different with different needs.

Another course that I attended took an interesting approach by using movie clips to illustrate management situations and challenges. How many of us go to the movies and really "see" the movie in that way. We primarily go to be entertained (I won't discuss the other reason, principally because I cannot remember that far back -)). I found this quite enlightening and I had a new found admiration for the screenwriters who understood enough about people to be able to weave it into a story so expertly. The movie that I remember the most was a WWII movie called "Twelve o'clock high", which is about a squadron of American pilots based in England. Since the course I have seen it several times on TV and every single time I get some new insight into what the movie is really about.

So what did all of these courses and experience teach me? Management is a balancing act akin to the high wire at the circus. If you don't pay attention to all around you, you are going to fall heavily! More importantly I learned "how to balance". If we think in very simple terms of 1) the task/objective, 2) the individuals and 3) the team, then I learned that over time you MUST give equal attention to each one. But isn't the "task/objective" the "thing" I hear you cry? It may be the ultimate "goal" but it's not how we get there!

Typically people get promoted into management/supervisory positions from a related "subject matter" role often without any "people skills" training. So they are still in their "comfort zone". Unfortunately, this often leads to a "task oriented" approach where the manager is tempted to spend too much time in the "kitchen". Then they wonder why the team is sitting back and waiting for them to "fall". Training costs money don't you know and the budget won't stand it! Lack of training costs a lot more money in the end and you may just be setting the individual up to fail, when properly handled they may have proved to be a valuable resource.

Over the years I have also picked up a few "little pearls of wisdom" from my own managers, which have helped me to overcome some of the things that I, and I suspect others, have had difficulty with. For example, timely decision making is an important component of management. Quote, "there is no such thing as a right decision; there are only less wrong ones". We can never be in possession of all of the facts and the decision that you make today may not be the one you would have made tomorrow, which leads to, "making decisions is easy; living with the consequences is the real problem!". I have never forgotten both of these and I still keep them in mind to this day in "running" my life.

Now I realize that nobody can even touch the surface in a few paragraphs when it comes to discussing management. However, I would like to promote the KISS principle of management, not because I think that management is "easy" but rather because it is "difficult". I have found that the formula that I have outlined here has worked well for me; take care of the individual and the team and a lot of the task/objective will take care of itself! Practice at being a good "leader", "guide" and "coach" and you will be a long way towards being a "Good Manager".

Knowing the nature of the topic, there are no doubt people out there who may totally disagree. That's absolutely fine. Either way let's hear from you.

Graham Jones

Comments (3)

  1. Phil Wheat says:

    The best quite I ever heard from one of my managers was this – "You have to be effective before you can worry about being efficient."  

    There are so many situations where being efficient is held above being effective – which just means that you’re just more likely to fail cheaper.  

  2. Anonymous says:

     I thought, “What a great blog!”, after reading Graham’s piece on management. It brought to mind Colin’s…

  3. Anonymous says:

     I thought, "What a great blog!", after reading Graham’s piece on management. It brought to mind Colin’s…

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