[Guest Blogger] Part 2: Experience Always Counts

Graham Jones (Vancouver, President of VANTUG)

In Part 1 I highlighted the importance of “relationships” with employees. In Part 2 I will relate some of my personal experiences. Two management “old chestnuts” are “open door policy” and “management by walking about”. The most important part here is that you had better mean it or it will seriously rebound on you. I once worked for someone who had an “open door policy” whilst sitting most of the day behind a closed 2” thick oak door and complained bitterly if you disturbed him without an appointment made via his secretary! The sad part is that he really thought that he had an “open door policy”. Do you think that anyone ever came? That door really had better be physically open most of the time to bridge the psychological barrier.

In total contrast I worked for someone who took “management by walking about” very seriously and made a point of touring some part of a 700 person factory every Friday afternoon almost without fail. Every single person in that place called him by his first name and felt at ease chatting with him. He had total respect from everyone. Do you think that he knew what was going on? Unfortunately he died of a heart attack and the person who replaced him couldn’t have been more different and the atmosphere in the whole place changed! He might appear to complement you and yet there was always a veiled criticism in there somewhere. In other words it was “management by intimidation”. That works really well – not!!

For a time it seemed to be my curse to encounter Managers with the personality of “broken glass” (I did have many good ones BTW who taught me a lot of the right things). It was my misfortune to have to make routine presentations to one such person on the state of a particularly critical project which was taking on the persona of a “hole in the ground to pour money into”. There were some very challenging technical and cultural problems. This person was the “best Process Engineer in the world”. How did we know that? Well, because he used to tell us on a regular basis. I should point out that my original background is Process Engineering (with lots of IT thrown in). He had the habit of berating everybody in the room including me and I chose to challenge him on a critical technical point. You could hear a pin drop! I was now frantically searching for that hole in the floor to disappear into. The “pregnant silence” seemed to last for an eternity. Then to everyone’s total amazement, not least my own (apparently prayer does have its virtues), he simply began to debate the issue quite calmly and sensibly. Strangely it seemed that because I had the guts (it felt more like stupidity at the time) to stand up to him and present my argument soundly that he respected that. In the end I won the debate.

Apparently that was the only time he had ever been seen to back down. Mind you we were both from Yorkshire in England and I was told that the “accent” probably helped. Cultural issues always make for interesting personal dynamics. Use them to your advantage wherever you can. It is all part “relationships”. BTW we did succeed in the end against the odds. Why did we succeed? Because I had a great team, which I regularly acknowledged both to them and the company (always give credit and praise where it is due and at the right time), and we really did work as a team. We “cried” together when times were bad (there were lots of those) and we “sang” together when times were good (either way lots of beer was consumed :)). In other words we “lived” the project like a “family” and I took care of people’s needs when it mattered. I may have been the Leader but I was “just one of the team” with a particular role to play. If you play your “role” well then others will follow your lead.

Ask yourself, “what can I do to do a better job of ‘maintaining’ my people?”. There is always room for improvement. With today’s demands it is all too easy to become “task” oriented. Ultimately management is about people whichever way you “slice it”. Forget that at your peril.

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