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ASK Blog: “Simple Steps Toward The Right Way”

In Modern Management Ills, I discussed the symptoms of an ineffectual organization. Here, I will present some advice on how to handle an undisciplined workplace.

First: How YOU Can Bring About “The Right Way”

Where to start? What if I am a David against a Goliath?

If the failures described in “Mismanagement Ills” are the norm in your company and apply to many departments, than start with yourself. Manage your own time – meetings, calendar, tasks – with these principles in mind.

BE DISCIPLINED.

This is difficult, especially when fighting a corporate culture that bathes in its own mediocrity.   But it is the only path to true success at such firms.

Once you enforce discipline on yourself, others will follow. Your group’s adherence to the plan, discipline, and resolve will encourage others to adopt your procedures. Disputes will be settled and won because your approach is right, repeatable, scalable, and based on common sense.

You will not be right because you argue well; you will argue well because you are right.

Simple Guidelines

Planning

  • Develop a plan.
    • Note that popular and formal management methodologies are like diets: they all work if you stick to them.
    • This includes the important step of verifying that those who are assigned tasks have the time and resources to complete them within the allocated time and budget – and that they agree that they have this.
  • Stick to the plan.
  • When something comes up that is not on the plan, abstract its features and add it to the plan.
  • “Emergencies” should arise only 1% over time. This is the most important and also (seemingly) the most difficult aspect to management improvement: it requires discipline in the face of squeaky wheels that possibly outrun plan owners.

People

  • Get a formal agreement to the plan from those on it.
  • Hold people accountable for their tasks and timeframes.
    • If the plan is solid and managers are disciplined, this does not have to be confrontational; the plan is black and white. If it is not, it is not viable – revise it.
    • If a manager documents clear expectations for those that report to him/her, it takes the subjectivity out of a performance review; whether each expectation has been met is black and white if they are defined that way.
  • Listen to people when they “push back” on the reasonableness of task planning. Managers need to deal in truth.

Communication

  • Communicate “To” those required only. If there are action items address them specifically and assign them by name.
  • “Copy” only under very unique circumstances.
  • Develop a service-level agreement around communication receipt and acceptance. Personnel must read and reply – or at least acknowledge – the content of communiqués within twenty-four work hours.
  • Hold people accountable for their tasks and timeframes.
    • If the plan is solid and managers are disciplined, this does not have to be confrontational; the plan is black and white. If it is not, it is not viable – revise it.
    • If a manager documents clear expectations for those that report to him/her, it takes the subjectivity out of a performance review; whether each expectation has been met is black and white if they are defined that way.
  • Listen to people when they “push back” on the reasonableness of task planning. Managers need to deal in truth.

Meetings

  • Start them on time.
  • End them on time.
  • Do not schedule meetings back-to-back with other meetings. Or: train personnel to buffer time between scheduled items (ie. block their calendars for sufficient time before and after accepted meeting times).
  • Invite only those required and whom you want to contribute.
  • Distribute agendas and materials ahead of time.
  • If “required” personnel decline or are not in attendance, reschedule the meeting.
  • Hold recipients accountable for non-attendance if the meeting was accepted.
  • Educate personnel on managing and publishing their availability (via calendar management).


MOST IMPORTANTLY:

It is okay to say “no”, to “push back”, to stand up for yourself, and to question things. In fact, managers should beg their subordinates to do so. Many of the ills discussed are a result of unrealistic expectations that snowball. The most valuable thing a team member can do is raise his hand and point out underestimated tasks or unrealistic assumptions. It does NOT HELP to be the hero today by saying “yes, Friday! Definitely all will be done Friday!” only to look the fool ten Fridays in a row. It is better to be the hero a week from Monday. When everyone tells the boss what he wants to hear, and he does the same, the whole organization is making decisions within a world of fantasy.

The Only Other Way…

I grant that there exist firms where sustained individual success is nearly impossible and where the above notions will be fought tooth and nail. This may occur at organizations that are not interested in their own long-term success, but are only seeking to attain immediate performance targets – for example, a firm desiring to be sold, and polishing the balance sheet artificially to fool potential buyers (run from these firms). In my experience, though, this is rare – there is usually a path onward and upward for those with discipline and common sense.

— John Cona ’87

john.conaAs background, note that I have broad experience in Information Technology, having started as a software developer directly out of college – I was a mathematics major, and my first industry positions were in actuarial departments (within large, complex insurance companies) as a student-actuary and programmer. From there my career proceeded along a typical arc: technical leadership, architecture, enterprise architecture – and in parallel I also followed an analogous path through management: project management, program management, executive management.

That described, and though I am hired usually for executive IT, custom software development, analytics management, most of my work now boils down to solving generic management issues. And, further, most of the problems have simple solutions found by everyday reasoning and using good, old-fashioned common sense.

Email me with your questions, comments, tales of management horror, and commiseration. Thank you.


ASK Blog
The views expressed by ASK guest bloggers are those of the authors and do no reflect those of Stony Brook University or the Stony Brook Alumni Association.

Making educated career decisions can be difficult at any stage of career development. The ASK (Alumni Sharing Knowledge) Blog is intended for Stony Brook University students and alumni to learn career knowledge and get advice from experienced alumni, working in various career fields, about lessons learned from their career experiences.

 

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