Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Idiot’s Guide to Management for Dummies

“I manage therefore I am” (to paraphrase Rene Descartes) has been the guiding principle of my life. Not only that but also “I am, therefore I think I manage.” In this respect I go both ways (but I’m not consciously gay). When people ask me: “How are you?” My response is invariably: “I am managing.” Managing is in my blood, in my guts, in my shorts, even in my urine. It’s not just what I do, it’s what I am, which is to say, I am a manager.

Being a manager is in some ways like being a father, or a mother; in other ways like a rich uncle or a distant second cousin or just a simple nobody. You are part of an extended family, and everybody is looking to you because you have all the answers. It’s lonely to be all by yourself, stuck with the tough problems, and you better have a management philosophy to guide your decisions, otherwise you might be accused of being ad-hoc or tactical or maybe even a terrorist.

My management philosophy in a nutshell is it’s all about people. I am a people person, first and foremost. Yes, it’s possible to run a business without people, especially if you’re in poultry, but in my line of business, you need people. The problem with managing people, though, is that they have personal agendas, negative attitudes and minds of their own. Also they have body odor and dental hygiene issues that can knock your nose out of its socket. Face it, people are pretty much unmanageable. To address these and the multitude of other obstacles standing in the way of managerial success, the manager applies what is known as management.

The founding father of modern management is widely acknowledged to be Jack Welch (aka Captain Neutron) the former CEO of General Electric. I’m a Welchian and you are too, whether you realize it or not. We’re all Welchians. Except I am a Neo-Welchian. Welch’s management philosophy is as deceptively simple as it is Darwinian – every year fire the bottom 10% of your workforce. It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out that in 10 years time your company will have exhausted all its bottom performers, and will be left with 100% top performers. And how can you tell who these top performers are? Simple, just tally up the top earners. It’s about as quantitative as it gets, it’s that basic.

Now the technical term for these bottom performers is turkeys. Your typical company consists of turkeys and foxes. The strategy is simple. Slaughter the turkeys and feed them to the foxes to increase the size of the pie for the pigs. Right, I forgot to mention the pigs…and the weasels. The weasels are constantly trying to outsmart the foxes, while leaving the turkeys in the dust at every turn. Also worthy of mention is the rattlesnake spewing its venom throughout the organization and the hyena spreading misinformation. Kill them if you can, but take care. Sitting on top of this circus is you, Joe the manager. Your directive is simply to slaughter the turkeys, feed the foxes, nurture the weasels, shoot the rattlesnake, trap the hyena, placate the bear and serve the pig. Did I mention the bear? Whatever you do, don’t mess with the bear for goodness sake.

Sounds simple? It’s anything but. Ever hear of Sarbanes-Oxley? If you’re Joe the manager, you not only have to be constantly managing all these beasts, you also need to take individual responsibility for the accuracy and completeness of your company financial reports. So while you are busy slaughtering the turkeys, feeding the foxes, nurturing the weasels, shooting the rattlesnakes, trapping the hyenas, placating the bear and serving the pig, you’ve got a calculator in your other hand checking the rounding errors on the company balance sheet. And don’t look now Joe, but the government just raised your taxes.

How do you keep on top of all this? In two words, Six Sigma. This is Welch’s second great innovation brought to life at GE. Six Sigma is a systematic process by which defects and errors are identified and eradicated, without mercy. Six Sigma was originally conceived for the factory floor, but has since been extended to other types of business processes and just about any situation you can think of. In fact I recently deployed Six Sigma at home with highly satisfactory results. My wife was initially quite skeptical, but now she swears by it. Like baseball, Six Sigma is very statistical, which is to say tedious and boring. The bottom line is the grading system ranging One Sigma (31.0000% efficiency) to Six Sigmas (99.9997% efficiency). The implication for you Joe the Manager is clear. Convince the evaluator to certify your performance as Six Sigma. That’s not going to be all that difficult given that the evaluator is bound to be the fox or the weasel whom you’ve been feeding and nurturing all this time.

So maybe you’re not so good with numbers? Join the club. I’ll make it really simple for you. You know Milton in Accounting, the guy who is constantly nickel and diming you on your expense reports about unauthorized lunches and alcoholic beverages and business retreats at men’s social clubs. He’s a turkey. Then there’s Jason in Business Development who has recently been holding impromptu meetings with Laura in Sales, the girl you’ve had your eyes on for the past two years, and was on the verge of asking out for one of those lunches that Milton would most likely give you grief about. He’s a turkey. Jason that is and Milton - they’re both turkeys. Not Laura, she’s a fox. Only make sure your wife doesn’t get wind of Laura; wives don’t appreciate the intricacies of management. Most wives are entirely clueless about the subject, at least mine is.

In my experience, this is pretty much all you need to know to be an effective manager. At least it’s everything I know. Though I would strongly recommend attending one of my management workshops where you can learn by listening rather than by reading. Also you’ll get an opportunity to meet a wide range of Joe the Managers just like you. I should add that seating is limited and void where prohibited by law. Now go out there and start managing! And for Chrissake don’t mess with the bear!

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