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The Front Line Guide to


Woodrow H. Sears

HRD Press, Inc. • Amherst • Massachusetts

Copyright © 2007, HRD Press, Inc.

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ISBN 0-87425-936-3

Production services by Jean Miller

Editorial services by Suzanne Bay
Cover design by Eileen Klockars
To Roy Edward Trotter, master manager
Table of Contents
Preface .............................................................................. vii
Introduction ..................................................................... xi
Part One: Rediscovering the Manager in the Middle
Chapter 1: Preparing to Master Your Job ................... 3
Monkeying Around with Some Powerful Concepts... 4
Managing Your Job .................................................... 5
Where have all the jobs gone? .................................... 7
The Moment of Commitment ..................................... 9
Chapter 2: Remembering Six Sigma ............................. 11
If You Can’t Measure It….......................................... 15
Show them the numbers! ............................................ 17
The Manager’s Real Role ........................................... 20
What numbers? ........................................................... 23
Chapter 3: Overcoming Fear in the Workplace........... 25
Managers as Enforcers................................................ 28
Coming to Grips with Trust Issues ............................. 30
Create the Right Environment .................................... 33
Cultural Jujitsu............................................................ 34
Chapter 4: Working with Others................................... 37
A Diversity of Opinions.............................................. 37
Group Dynamics......................................................... 39
Working with Volunteers ........................................... 48
Your Manager is Part of the Group ............................ 50
In Closing…................................................................ 56
Chapter 5: The Whole Ball of Wax ............................... 59

Chapter 6: Setting Goals and Standards....................... 65
The Importance of Vision........................................... 65
Aligning Forces and Energies for Success ................. 67
What business are you in? .......................................... 69
Raising the Bar ........................................................... 73
Standards, Behavior, and Job Mastery ....................... 76
Chapter 7: Planning Work and Scheduling
Resources....................................................................... 79
Mapping Your Work Processes .................................. 79
Work-Flow Planning .................................................. 83
Getting Started ............................................................ 85
Scheduling .................................................................. 87
Estimating and Budgeting .......................................... 90
Chapter 8: Managing Time and Prioritizing................ 93
Is not managing time the real problem? ..................... 94
Making the Most of Your Time.................................. 96
Closing in on Priorities ............................................... 101
Priorities and Sequencing ........................................... 101
Conclusion........................................................................ 105
Recommended Reading .................................................. 109
About the Author............................................................. 111

This book was written to achieve two purposes: First, I
wanted to present the idea that mastering the manager’s job
involves more than simply writing reports, building teams,
and reaching productivity quotas. It requires ways of thinking
that focus on the present and the near future, your team mem-
bers and clients, your manager, and your company. Mastering
your job as a manager also requires a comprehensive under-
standing not only of the technologies involved in your work,
but also of every action taken by your employees, from the
time a sale is made to the time when a product or service is
delivered to the customer or client. In a way, it’s like playing
four or five chess games simultaneously. These ideas are not
usually covered in supervisory or managerial training courses.
We have slipped quietly out of the post-industrial era into
something entirely new in the march of civilization: a fast-
emerging international culture based on knowledge. This
expanding knowledge culture must be managed carefully. In
this new knowledge economy, fewer and fewer people will be
hired to perform routine, repetitive tasks that haven’t yet been
taken over by machines. Therefore, every employee has to be
a thinker as much as a doer, a problem-solver as well as an
individual who can manipulate parts and pieces according to a
prescribed pattern. The manager must provide a nurturing
corporate home for each employee, support them as they
refine their skills, and keep them goal-focused. These
activities require familiarity and competence across a broad
band of managerial areas, including the often-overlooked
areas of group dynamics and team functioning. This guide
will provide an overview of such considerations.

Mastering the Manager’s Job

My second purpose for writing the book is to familiarize

readers with some tools, techniques, and behavioral strategies
used by those individuals who have truly mastered the art.
“Mastering,” a word that’s not commonly used in the field of
management, was chosen to highlight the extra effort and the
intentionality characteristic of top managers. If the people
who work for you like you, they will give you a lot of latitude
to make mistakes. But rather than rely on the “charm school”
approach to being a manager, what if you could work the
“hard” issues and still win? Hard fundamentals lead the list of
competencies needed for managerial success: goal setting,
prioritizing, planning, scheduling (few people realize that
they really are different processes), and that old specter, time
management. These competencies pretty well frame the
manager’s job.
But there’s another issue behind this guide and its title.
Researcher Scott Parry interviewed nearly 100,000 managers
during the late 1990s as part of a major effort to define which
competencies individuals must possess for managerial suc-
cess. Unlike other researchers, Parry didn’t try to scratch up
all the obscure competencies he could find. Instead, he wisely
chose to synthesize and simplify, identifying only three sets
of skills critical to mastering the manager’s job:
1. Setting Goals and Standards
2. Planning and Scheduling Work
3. Managing Time and Prioritizing
Even now, there are people who believe that if you can
perform satisfactorily in a role at work, you will be effective
in managing others who do that same kind of work and per-
form the same kinds of tasks. That assumption, like so many
others we make about what “anyone can do,” has not held up.


The old ideas about management and managing were based

on military-style command and control techniques that no
longer work. Times have changed. Some managers still seek
success by applying extra energy and time, but extra effort
does not automatically lead to supervisory or managerial
The more closely you examine the manager’s job, the
more obvious it is that what you see is just the tip of the
iceberg when it comes to skills and knowledge. Being able to
talk coherently about the simplest planning model (plan-do-
evaluate) is not the same as being able to create a credible
and detailed plan for doing work that involves many people,
significant resources, and a number of interdependencies.
This guide will point the way to developing those compe-
tencies, and help identify areas where you will need further
input and practice.
Mastering the job of manager in an increasingly complex
business environment will require a lot of judgment regarding
the kind of help you look for. Frankly, many good
professional development programs have all but disappeared
from the market because they were priced out of reach of
most corporate training budgets. The amount of time away
from work, in addition to expenses for travel, lodging, meals,
and tuition, made those programs economically unjustifiable.
Generally, the longer the training’s duration, the lower will be
the probability of a positive return on your company’s
Contrary to what you might think, longer programs are
not necessarily better, because participants vary widely in
terms of skill level and need for formal training. But perhaps
more importantly, you can’t solve performance problems
simply by sending people away to get “fixed.”

Mastering the Manager’s Job

Total quality management (TQM) was all the rage in the

1980s. A colleague working for a major airline told a mutual
friend that the president of the company banned all training
that he had not personally approved. TQM was being
embraced as if no one in the airline knew how to do their jobs
(regardless of length of time with the airline)—until, that is,
they were put through extensive and expensive off-site
seminars. Nothing in this book will divert you from your
work for hours or days. Everything I’m suggesting will be an
extension of your normal managerial tasks and duties.
There is a bias to the book, however: I personally believe
that workers at all levels must be given more autonomy, and
managers must be proactive about involving direct reports in
as many decisions as possible. But not all at once! Part of
your success strategy will be to phase in participation so that
it feels natural to all involved. It certainly should never feel
like some kind of gimmick to get people to work harder.
Reading through this book is no substitute for participat-
ing in competence-building training, but familiarity with the
concepts and basic ideas provided here will help any training
you decide to take “stick” and enable you to more quickly
begin to perform at a higher level—that is, more profitably.
Yes, it still comes down to making money for the com-
pany. Those who do it best are those who manage resources
with precision and who are quick-witted problem solvers,
manipulating situational variables in ways that minimize
losses and maximize profits. This is key: Get the people who
report to you to focus on goals while they create value for the
company every day. Most of the tools you need for skill
acquisition and mastery of the manager’s job are in the pages
that follow.

In preparing to write this book, I spent some time remember-
ing mentors who contributed greatly to my understanding of
what management is and what managers ought to do. Specifi-
cally, I remembered them in their roles as trainers and
coaches, and wondered what they would say to this genera-
tion’s managers. Would they be talking about the same
themes today that were popular decades ago, when keypunch
operators entered data on paper tape or cards—when we were
standing with one foot in the industrial age and the other in
the post-industrial age?
I’m sure you know this already, but organizations and
technologies have changed beyond anything we might have
imagined a couple of decades ago. But the job of managing
people, as my colleagues see it, is still as much an authoritar-
ian muddle as it was back then. Technology has provided the
means to access and share tons of information about
individual employees and their experience and credentials,
but all that detail is still no substitute for empathetic
conversations between managers and direct reports. In fact,
all that information can fool us into thinking that we don’t
have to dig into the details of individual performance or look
at performance in situation-specific terms.
Highly specific information about work performance is
easier to come by in environments that are being managed at
a serious level of detail. In the past decade, some amazing
managerial breakthroughs have occurred in such settings. One
result has been an enhanced awareness that people at work
need information and numbers beyond anything my own
mentors might have imagined. This guide will present the

Mastering the Manager’s Job

subject of numbers as a way to tell stories, to explain to your

people what numbers mean, and to get into this non-
traditional approach to staff development as an extension of
what you’re already doing.
Along the way, you’ll be encouraged to think about the
cultural and social setting in which you work and the result-
ing behavioral dynamics as a natural extension of how you
apply your managerial competencies. In the pages that follow,
you will find a “go do it” level of information about three
competencies: setting goals and standards; planning and
scheduling; and managing time and prioritizing. Admittedly,
self-study is not always as effective as participating in a
seminar, but if you read this guide carefully and discuss its
contents with colleagues, you will have a better understanding
of these competencies, and you’ll find yourself with renewed
confidence to act on them. My experience has enabled me to
simplify some of the underlying concepts and to remove the
intellectual clutter that often gets in the way of real people
acquiring useful information. What you will find in the fol-
lowing pages is useful information and ideas that will allow
you to perform with more precision, whether you’re a new
manager or an old hand.
Incorporate the ideas that follow into your own philoso-
phy. You’ll be surprised by the things you begin see, and how
quickly you are able to reach the elusive goal of mastering the
manager’s job.

Woody Sears
Vilnius, Lithuania

Part I:
Rediscovering the Manager
in the Middle
Chapter 1
Preparing to Master Your Job

T hirty years ago, training courses for managers and super-

visors frequently included an exercise called “The Man in
the Middle.” People seemed to identify with the idea that they
worked in a sea of often-conflicting pressures. The facilitator
would begin the exercise by writing the word “manager” in a
circle in the center of a flipchart sheet. Then, participants
were encouraged to name the pressures they were under,
which the trainer would record along with an arrow zeroing in
on the “man” in the middle. For some participants, the key
issues were disagreeable: learning to use computers, worrying
about hiring minorities, dealing with unrealistic deadlines,
and so on. For others, it was basic laments such as being
overworked and underpaid or not getting enough respect from
subordinates and managers. The more thoughtful participants
identified demands from customers and other departments to
which they had to respond without time to plan how to
manage the interruptions in existing schedules.
There were a number of directions a trainer could take at
that point. The one I preferred was to divide all the pressures
into two lists: Things the participants could control or influ-
ence, and things that the participants could not control. Of
course, the list of forces that could not be controlled or antici-
pated was the longest. It seemed that the participants saw
themselves as powerless, vulnerable to forces they could not
control. What a sad thought: Coming to work every day
knowing that you were expected to focus on administrative
trivia instead of leadership, and on compliance issues rather

Mastering the Manager’s Job

than on ingenuity and invention. These managers always

spoke of their long hours, their lost weekends, and the thank-
less tasks they had to take care of just to keep up with the

Monkeying Around with Some Powerful Concepts

There must have been reasons why so many apparently com-
petent men (almost never any women participants back then)
felt that their work was overwhelming them.
Perhaps they were incompetent managers of people, proc-
esses, and procedures, incapable of thinking at the high levels
of detail that permitted management and control. Perhaps they
were putting in extra effort and time so they looked dedicated
and diligent to their superiors, when in actuality they were
just working the system. Perhaps they were going through the
excess-effort routine to justify adding more people to their
staffs. After all, back then, the route to promotion in many
organizations was to increase your area of responsibility by
increasing the number of people you supervised to do all that
extra work.
But the most likely scenario is the one attributed to the
late motivational speaker Bill Oncken, who advised partici-
pants in more than 200 seminars each year to “Get the mon-
keys off your back!” He told the story of an overworked man-
ager in a beautiful new plant located next to a golf course,
who took a break from his labors one Saturday afternoon to
look out the window. He saw several of his subordinates
teeing off, some 100 yards away. The manager had a break-
through insight: There’s something wrong with this picture!
Every time the manager’s subordinates came across a prob-
lem that would require extra effort, they came to him, asking

Preparing to Master Your Job

for help. Totally misunderstanding his role, the manager took

the “monkeys” off their backs and then accepted them as his
own. He worked nights and weekends while his “trusted”
subordinates played golf. To change the picture, the manager
had to become more competent in delegating, coaching,
counseling, and using performance appraisals. It was a funny
and effective presentation that made powerful points in
memorable ways. Oncken’s consulting firm survived, and
somewhere out there today, someone else is telling the story
about inviting the monkeys to climb onto your back until you
learn how to return them to their rightful owners.

Managing Your Job

Oncken’s stories came from years of experience in real facto-
ries and manufacturing plants, as well as his time in the U.S.
Navy as a civilian training officer. With humor and insight,
he distilled the failure-prone experiences of thousands of real
managers into a morality play about the necessity of taking
control of your job. The worst thing that can happen to
employees is to work for an incompetent, indifferent manager
who fails to push them into developing their capabilities and
competencies. Under those circumstances, work becomes a
matter of going though the motions to produce some lowest-
common-denominator result.
Senior non-commissioned officers are the backbone of
the military. The managers and supervisors who stand in the
middle, between the workers and the executives, are the
backbone of corporations. It’s through such managers that the
values, ethics, and morals of the enterprise are transmitted
and enforced. Executives stand out there as the public face of

Mastering the Manager’s Job

the company meeting the press, but the managers in the

middle are the true role models and the “muscle” of manage-
ment. The corporation will be as strong as they are.

Workers will never be more effective than managers

permit them to be.

That brings us to the essence of the manager’s job. The

late Peter Drucker, probably the most widely quoted man-
agement guru of them all, predicted that by the 1990s, Ameri-
can managers would have rediscovered what we taught the
Japanese after World War II: People are a resource, not a
cost. The Japanese got the message, and we lost it. Despite all
his accurate projections, Drucker missed on that one: Instead
of celebrating workers and their contributions, organizations
in the 1990’s were notorious for their people-dumping
through downsizing, right-sizing, restructuring, reengineer-
ing, outsourcing, and wholesale layoffs. Worse, it seems to be
continuing: From 2000 to 2003, more than 100,000 industrial
jobs were lost in the Detroit area alone. Ford expects to lay
off another 6,000 workers by the end of 2007, General
Motors 20,000, and Volkswagen 30,000. Such wholesale job
cuts are said to be based on major dollar losses and structural
Maybe there’s nothing workers and work groups can do
about it, but is it possible that there was a time when workers
could have made a difference? That managers, shaping the
performance of the people they supervised, could have made
a difference? Can managers and workers ever become more
effective, productive, and profitable? Managers still stand as
men and women in the middle, between jobs for themselves

Preparing to Master Your Job

and their people, and layoffs. The manager’s burden is greater

than ever.

Where have all the jobs gone?

Globalization is celebrated for bringing prosperity to impov-
erished parts of the world, but it’s nonetheless a mechanism
for taking work and jobs to the places where workers perform
most cheaply. Arguing whether that is good or bad is irrele-
vant, because that’s how it is. The question I ask readers of
this book is this: Are you able to manage, train, develop, and
involve your team members in setting goals and standards?
Time management and prioritizing? Planning and scheduling
These are the master competencies that lead to manage-
rial success. Fail to master these competencies, and your
workers will do only those things they are told to do (and do
them inefficiently) and your organization will drift into inef-
fectiveness, losing its competitive edge. I’m not suggesting
that performance management is the answer. Performance
management is only about getting people to do more work,
and no one wants to do more work or to work differently
without a good reason or some personal benefit. Managers
don’t want to give reasons; they want to mandate, to give
orders. Supervisors and work leaders don’t want performance
management, either, because it puts them in the middle and in
the role of enforcer.
But if all you want is performance, here’s a way to get it:
1. Tell people what must be done differently, as well as
how and when and WHY.

Mastering the Manager’s Job

2. Show people some numbers: sales-per-person, reve-

nues per-unit-per-week, revenues against targets, and
so on.
3. Ask for input and suggestions, and answer all ques-
4. Develop an action plan (involve the workers).
5. Implement the action plan.
6. Reward compliance, and coach anyone who needs it.
7. Recognize small successes.
8. Continue the rewards, and get rid of people who can’t
or won’t comply.
9. Give workers information about their performance on
an ongoing basis. Work with them on ways to
improve, and continue to ask for their input.
10. Hold special events to celebrate targets met.
11. Don’t stop.
This seems a lot like a prescription for a perpetual motion
machine, doesn’t it? Actually, it’s a remedial scheme to allow
managers to recover from productivity shortfalls and to pro-
duce the numbers that lead to short-term profits and returns-
on-investment that will please investors. Yes, it’s a strategy
for pushing workers to conform to requirements, but because
you ask for their input, they might be for the first time ever
getting an opportunity to participate in shaping the work they
do. Still, it’s yet another piece of evidence that many Ameri-
can companies are stuck in ineffective ways of dealing with

Preparing to Master Your Job

Suppose that by some flash of insight or other conversion

experience your company decides to make a dramatic change
in the ways it deals with employees in order to become more
inclusive. Would the managers go along, or would they feel
threatened if the apparent balance of power is shifted in the
direction of employees? Often, the greatest resistance to
change comes from the people in the middle—that is, those
who have learned how to cope with things as they are. Senior
managers will have to help them confront their fears about
losing control or losing face and show them how to grow
beyond such concerns.

The Moment of Commitment

Some years ago, I came across a widely quoted statement
about commitment by W. H. Murray. I’m including it here as
a way to zero in on the decision you’ll have to make about
mastering the manager’s job. Read the quote several times,
and let it sink in. Focus on the word boldness. People don’t
respond well to a tentative, timid hand. They want certainty,
confidence, and direction, and that’s what this guide is about.
When you finish reading Murray’s words, you’ll have a sense
of what certainty, confidence, and direction have to do with
mastering the manager’s job. You’ll also begin to appreciate
the power of the three job-mastery competencies presented as
natural vehicles for building positive, productive, and profit-
able relationships that transcend the old barriers of corporate
rank and hierarchy.

Mastering the Manager’s Job

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to

draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of
initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the
ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid
plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself,
then Providence moves, too. All sort of things occur to
help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A
whole stream of events issues from the decision, Raising
in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and
meetings and material assistance, which no man could
have dreamed would have come his way.

I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s

couplets: ‘Whatever you can do, or dream, you can, begin
it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.’

Remember, non-supervisory employees want to survive

and succeed on the job just as much as you.

Chapter 2
Remembering Six Sigma

M astering the manager’s job begins with measurement—

knowing how long it takes and how much it costs to
perform all your team’s tasks. Six Sigma, which we will talk
about in this chapter, was first used in statistics to refer to six
standard deviations away from the norm. It is the de facto
standard for quality and managerial excellence. There are six
steps managers can take to get started in that direction, which
we will talk about in this chapter.
But first, how did Six Sigma come into the manager’s
lexicon? Through the daring of the senior management in a
company famous for its innovations, at a time when it found
itself stalled at the dawn of a new technological era. If you
don’t know already, the company is Motorola. To regain its
leadership position in the high-tech world, Motorola went
beyond Six Sigma, adopting “Plus Six Sigma” as its perform-
ance standard. Motorola University was created to train
employees in those principles; all managers, including the
CEO, had to participate in Six Sigma training. Once that
standard was institutionalized within the company, Motorola
required all its vendors—companies providing parts or pieces
for Motorola products—to also participate in Motorola Uni-
versity’s training courses, so they would be able to replicate
the quality program and results in their respective organiza-
tions. Motorola management realized that you can’t produce
“Plus Six Sigma” products with components that don’t meet
the same standards. (Motorola University also established
itself as a provider of services outside its subcontractor net-

Mastering the Manager’s Job

work, and that was how I got to participate in a one-day

briefing at the Phoenix, Arizona facility.)
And what is the standard? Statistically, Plus Six Sigma
means six standard deviations to the right of the median point.
In manufacturing and production, it means that you can pro-
duce 1,000,000 units with no more than 3.4 defects. For man-
agement and administration, it means analyzing and failure-
proofing all processes so that a comparable level of certainty
is achieved. A number of other companies adopted the Six
Sigma standard, including GE under Jack Welch. Today,
there are consulting firms competing with Motorola Univer-
sity to get your company’s productivity and performance up
to the Plus Six Sigma standard. A lot of information about
this managerial concept is now in the public domain. This is
important, because much of what you need to master your job
is in the logical foundational elements of Plus Six Sigma:

Steps to Achieving
Plus Six Sigma
1. Identify the product you create or the service you
2. Identify the customers for your product or service,
and determine what they consider important.
3. Identify your needs (to provide the product/service
so that it satisfies the customer).
4. Define the process for doing the work.
5. Mistake-proof the process, and eliminate wasted
6. Ensure continuous improvement by measuring,
analyzing, and controlling the improved process.

Remembering Six Sigma

Whether your goal is Six Sigma or a less-demanding level of

precision, this simple set of steps makes a lot of sense. If you
are involved with a long run of products or ongoing services,
stop what you’re doing and do the following:
1. Examine the product or service as though it’s still in the
proposal stage. With your co-workers, analyze its benefits
and shortcomings. Why is the product or service neces-
sary? What is its benefit? What makes it a good value for
the price? Is your product or service something you are
proud to be associated with? Something that you would
want your mother or others you care about to have? If
not, how can you get serious about doing something that
has no meaning for you and that you can’t believe in?
2. When you identify your customers, do you really under-
stand their needs and wants and what they consider most
important? Who actually makes the purchasing deci-
sions? What’s important to that individual or group? How
well do you know your client organizations and where
they plan to be in a year? And do you know how their
businesses might change in that period of time?
3. Is your company doing everything it can for its clients
and customers, as well as possible? Is it possible to give
your customers more value without raising the price?
What do your co-workers think? What if you asked your
clients or customers for their input? What would you do
if you were able to reduce production costs? Would you
pass the savings along to your clients? Or put the added
value on your bottom line? Maybe there are things you
can do to enhance the value of your product or service
and create greater value for your customers.

Mastering the Manager’s Job

4. When was the last time you examined the workflow? Has
your company adopted new technologies elsewhere that
could be used in your functional group? Are there ways
to shorten the production process that would yield
quicker turn-around and more profit, or more service to
clients without additional costs? If you were to begin
anew, would you make the product in some new, more
cost-effective way? Could you reconfigure your product
or service now?
5. As a part of your analysis, try to identify areas where
mistakes are frequent, areas where rework is required too
often, and areas where the process can be smoothed and
accelerated. If your processes haven’t been scrutinized
closely for more than a year, there is a high probability
that improvements are there, just waiting to be made—if
only someone would look for them.
6. Do you measure everything, including how long it takes
for your process to convert raw input into a product or
service? If you don’t measure, you can’t know whether or
not you’re performing as well as you planned. The hard-
est pill for most managers to swallow is continuous proc-
ess monitoring: It’s relatively easy to get early improve-
ments of ten percent or so, but getting the next five per-
cent is a lot harder. Then, when most of the fat has been
cut away from your processes, getting further reductions
one percent or less is even more difficult. It requires real
managerial discipline and the support of workers to
continue the push for improvements. It demonstrates
serious intent to manage, even when improvements are
down to fractions of a percent and measurement and
analysis continue just the same.

Remembering Six Sigma

One manufacturer’s representative wanted to sell an

entirely new police communication system to a Texas city. “I
met with the mayor and the police chief, community
leaders—anyone who was interested,” he recounted. “And
everyone was! But no sale. It took me eight months to
discover the real decision maker, an about-to-retire captain on
the midnight watch. He bought the system.”
Think about this man’s experience for a minute, and what
you can learn from it.

If You Can’t Measure It…

What does measurement have to do with mastering the man-
ager’s job? Just about everything! If you can’t prove that
you’re working through a protocol and you can’t demonstrate
the improvements your managerial competence is producing,
what is there to distinguish you from other managers?
An analogy: As the price of automotive fuel goes up, how
is your car performing? When is the last time you checked?
Clogged air filters, dirty spark plugs, and leaking electrical
connectors (relatively inexpensive repairs) can make a differ-
ence in the mileage you achieve. If you drive enough, per-
formance maintenance (such as proper tire inflation) will be
worth the effort. But some people, just like some managers
you know, will decide that since they can’t control gas prices,
there’s nothing for them to do except to pay more for the
privilege of driving.
It’s a rare organization that can go from being relatively
ineffective to being effective within a few weeks or months.
For some, change is unimaginable. Past practice, unchal-
lenged, is too powerful a magnet for the status quo. Here is a
real-life example:

Mastering the Manager’s Job

A friend who has an MBA is the maintenance superinten-

dent in a company whose name you would recognize. His
wife wondered why someone of his status had to work so
often at night and on weekends. I was intrigued myself.
So I asked him to tell me what he does. “How does your
day start and how do you spend your time?” I asked.
“Well, the first thing I do is get a cup of coffee,” he
Okay, then what?
“Then I go to my boss’s meeting.”
Your boss is a vice president?
“My boss is VP of production.”
And how long does that meeting last?
“Sometimes the meeting lasts until noon.”
How can a vice president spend four hours with a bunch
of down-line managers?
“Well, he doesn’t always attend. Sometimes he has to go
to his boss’s meeting.”
And what do you and the others do when he goes to his
boss’s meeting?
“Then we wait for him to get back and give us the word.”
And what are your supervisors doing while you’re waiting
for “the word”?
“Oh, they’re waiting for me to come back and give them
the word!”

Remembering Six Sigma

What do you and your colleagues talk about while you’re

waiting for your boss to come back from his boss’s
“We talk about football, hunting, stuff like that.”
This is a bright man who is caught in an organizational
culture that approves of working overtime (and paying for it),
but puts no premium on analysis, improvement, controlling
costs, or improving processes. Again, this is an honest
recounting of the conversation, so can you imagine anywhere
in that entire corporate system that there’s anyone who
focuses on competitiveness, customer needs and satisfaction,
process, and performance improvement? Perhaps the impera-
tives that matter are social—that is, going along to get along,
being conversant about football, basketball, and baseball, and
having a repertoire of titillating stories.
Somewhere out there, across oceans or south of the bor-
der, there are people who never talk about frivolities at work.
They work for a pittance for ten or more hours a day, and
make products that Americans used to make. And perhaps the
saddest thing of all is that when you remind American work-
ers of such inequities, they just get angry at how unfair it is
that all those overseas people are taking their jobs away.
Being a victim is easier when you have somebody to blame.

Show them the numbers!

“Open-book management” refers to a practice by which a
company’s financial information is shared with its workers,
who are considered partners in the enterprise. Open-book
management represents the far end of employee involvement,
offering a solution to a major and universal corporate

Mastering the Manager’s Job

problem: The majority of employees have no real under-

standing of the economics of their workplace. They do not see
a clear link between their daily activities and the company’s
survivability, nor the link between having and acting on that
kind of economic acumen and globalization. To win as a
manager—that is, to master the job—you have to close that
knowledge gap. The individuals who work for you must see
how their efforts connect to the ability of your corporate par-
ent to provide all of you with job security. When you begin to
look at the manager’s job through such a lens, it will change
how you approach your job and think about the organization
and its employees. You’ll begin to:
Share the tasks. The ham-fisted, bull-of-the-woods boss has
been replaced by men and women who know how to use
computers and take courses at night to complete advanced
degree programs. The effective manager needs a full reper-
toire of technical and interpersonal skills, and the discipline
of academic work can help you acquire them. Even so, many
educated managers are blind to the opportunity they have to
delegate some of their tasks to team members. But more than
that, they fail to see that the numbers associated with their
work tell stories. If the manager shares those stories with co-
workers, important learning is taking place. Worker curiosity
about their roles in the stories will evolve.
Think about management as a process. Management is not
a one-person job. Yes, one person has the title and has to sign
off on documents, but when management is viewed as an
ongoing, daily process that affects everyone and everything,
there will be plenty of opportunities to involve others in col-
lecting data, monitoring work in process, and using all these
activities as teaching tools. Management should not be a

Remembering Six Sigma

secret process (though salary information may need to be kept

Look at your organization. Is it just a place where you were
able to get a job? A stopping-off point on the way to your
ultimate job? No matter. Why not turn your stay there into a
teaching/learning experience? Why not use your managerial
competencies to involve others and tap into their experiences
so you can collectively serve your organization more fully?
And have more fun doing your job?
Look at the people who report to you. Are they just doing a
job? Just basically hanging out, indifferent about their respon-
sibilities? Are they married, do they have kids, do they have
aspirations to advance in the organization? Do they bowl or
teach Sunday School? Are they active in civic clubs, PTAs,
Scouts? What are their talents? Who do they know, and what
do they know that might be useful to your group and your job
as manager? How much effort on your part would it take to
pull them together so they will pull together for you?
Involve and train your people. Participation takes more time
than simply giving orders, at least initially. Some people
don’t want to be anything other than a worker with no addi-
tional responsibilities. But what if you pretend that you and
your co-workers are going to be together for a long time?
Wouldn’t it be more fun to see how fully you can involve
them, and to watch individuals blossom? What have you got
to lose?
Numbers are your storytelling tools, and when you begin
to relate the numbers you collect to the real work people do,
you’ll be surprised at how quickly they will want to know
more. Most people want to be good at what they do and to be

Mastering the Manager’s Job

part of a winning team. You’ll be surprised at the extent to

which even a really ragged group can improve—if, that is, the
manager wants to involve them, include them, partner with
them. But that requires a focus other than control.
Let’s return to our discussion of the manager-in-the-
middle exercise. Most of the participants attended these semi-
nars without thinking about learning goals or what they would
do differently back on the job. This suggests that the people
to whom they reported had no expectations either, and that no
one discussed learning or performance improvements with
them when the training authorization was signed. They didn’t
expect anyone to sit down with them on their return and ask
what they learned from the seminar and how it could be
applied in the organization. In such circumstances, there’s
zero chance of a return on the company’s investment in
training. But the individuals involved are victims, too: They
were offered new ways to demonstrate their capabilities, but
were not required to approach their managers to “show and
tell” better, faster, and cheaper ways to get work accom-

The Manager’s Real Role

Managers often lose sight of their real role when they get
dragged into the rat hole of “people” problems and motiva-
tion. What is the manager’s real role? Working managers are
still surprised (and occasionally confused) when they’re told,
Your job is not to manage people, but to manage only three
things: schedules, costs, and quality.
Managing schedules. Is work on schedule? Do necessary
resources (people, materials, money, special equipment) come
together as needed? Will work be completed on or ahead of

Remembering Six Sigma

schedule? If schedules slip, do managers find out soon

enough so they can maintain the end date? Does work move
smoothly, without “emergency” overtime or other unplanned
Managing Costs. Are resources being expended as planned?
Are elements of the work taking as long as planned? Will the
work be completed on budget? Do resources have to be
diverted from other tasks so that work can be finished on
schedule and within budget? Do workers reflect concern for
cost containment in their activities?
Managing Quality. Are products or services meeting prede-
termined quality and quantity commitments? If there are dis-
crepancies, how soon does the manager find out, so remedial
action can be taken?
Where do the workers fit in? They’re resources. Depend-
ing on their skill levels and competencies, they’re valuable
resources that contribute significantly to meeting targets for
schedule, cost, and quality. But the fact remains that they’re
just resources at the manager’s disposal, to be used well or
used poorly. How these resources are used will determine
how effectively people work and the extent to which they are
committed to supporting their manager in meeting the man-
ager’s targets. The fact that people are resources does not
diminish them in any way. Neither does it mean that they
shouldn’t be involved in making decisions that affect them or
get an opportunity to make decisions for or against the man-
ager, or even to do more work or less work, depending on
how they’re used and the feeling-tone or nature of their rela-
tionships with the manager. If they have positive relationships
with the manager, they tend to work better and smarter.

Mastering the Manager’s Job

If they have negative feelings toward the manager, they can

be predicted to do less than their best.
Nearly fifty years ago, Frederic Herzberg proved that
motivation revolves around how workers are “used” and how
they are “treated.” Used refers to the work they are given to
do. Treated refers to working conditions, pay, and other so-
called hygiene factors. Herzberg’s research led him to several
important conclusions, which he used as the basis of what he
called his “motivation/hygiene” theory:
1. The things that motivate people are not opposites of
things that demotivate.
2. The #1 thing that satisfies people is being able to do
meaningful work, not the pay they receive.
3. The #1 dissatisfier is being treated disrespectfully.
4. Workers will deliver 10 to 15 percent more produc-
tivity if managers don’t make them angry.
These are powerful arguments for involving people in the
decisions that affect them, for giving them a chance to have a
voice in how they (and their talents and energies) will be
used. If managers accept this view, they’re likely to find their
management styles revolutionized in ways that will lead them
to higher levels of performance and effectiveness. To manage
in this way presents the manager with an array of tools and
opportunities for discovering truly creative and innovative
ways to accomplish assigned tasks. Otherwise, managers will
be limited to using only what’s in the motivator’s failure-
prone bag of tricks.
Motivation is an attempt to substitute your needs for
theirs, buying compliance with social pressure, kind words, or

Remembering Six Sigma

inexpensive trinkets—manipulation in the meanest sense of

the word.

Remember this about motivation: You don’t have to

motivate people who are doing things that make
sense to them.

What numbers?
Throughout this chapter, we’ve been talking about the
importance of numbers and measuring. Where do numbers
come from? Measuring schedule, cost, quality. The results of
those measurements tell the story of group effectiveness and
the accuracy of estimates. The more frequently you measure,
the more accurate your projections will be for pending work.
Regular measurements allow you to analyze trends and make
evaluation discussions more useful. How close did we come
to our projections? Where did we miss them and by how
much? Why? These how and why questions are essential for
continuous performance improvement on the part of any
group doing any kind of work. You conduct periodic evalua-
tions on job completions, don’t you?
American corporations and managers did not learn to
value their workers as Peter Drucker predicted they would.
Maybe by the second decade of this new century.

Chapter 3
Overcoming Fear in the Workplace

T he degree of trust that exists between workers and their

managers plays a critical role in managerial effectiveness.
This chapter looks at two powerful energies, polar opposites
that predict much about productivity and other work out-
comes: fear and trust.
Several colleagues and I, working at a plant nestled in the
mountains west of Washington, D.C., encountered the most
laid back assortment of managers in our collective experi-
ence. It was not clear whether the low energy that character-
ized our meetings with them individually or in groups
reflected their normal pace, or whether it was calculated to
serve as a kind of passive resistance. Truthfully, it was like
meeting with a group of good ol’ boys sitting on the porch of
a back-country store. We were never obstructed in our data-
collection efforts, but no information was ever volunteered to
us, with the exception of a few occasions when someone
would mumble, “He ain’t going to like this.”
The “he” turned out to be the plant manager. He was
away at various corporate meetings, so we hadn’t had a
chance to meet him until it was time to present our prelimi-
nary report. I was literally only minutes into our presentation
when the plant manager, red in the face and screaming
obscenities, jumped up from his chair, flailing his arms, and
turned on me. “What are you trying to do?” he screamed in
my face. “Get me fired?”
I explained that our report represented raw data and had
not been formatted as a formal report. I told him that the

Mastering the Manager’s Job

content was what the three of us found, and explained how

we interpreted what we had seen and heard. However, I
added, we could write any kind of fiction he wanted.
But what we also saw in that moment were the expres-
sions on the faces of the three good ol’ boy managers. They
showed no surprise. Obviously, they had seen this perform-
ance before, because they worked for a man who didn’t want
to hear anything about problems and would not approve any
actions that could be construed as remedial.
There’s always a reason for behavior, and there was a
reason for the plant manager’s over-the-top behavior: We dis-
covered that he was a highly-educated professional who had
been banished to that back-water plant after being blamed for
the circumstances that led to a major industrial accident. He
was desperate to avoid any further taint of malfeasance.
Everyone in that plant was affected by his fear and the rages
that erupted when that fear was triggered.
Now the behavior of the managers we had interviewed
made sense. Rather than being backwoods bumblers, they
were trying to survive and keep their jobs, doing what they
could to step gingerly between their boss’s rages and the con-
sultants, whose findings were certain to trigger another
uncontrolled outburst.
Fear like that can contaminate entire organizations, but it
is more common in the workplace than you think. Everyone is
vulnerable to job loss these days, and the higher up you are,
the more visible and vulnerable you become. When we’re
threatened, we’re programmed biologically to fight or to take
flight. When flight (running away) is not an acceptable
option, fight behavior (rages, firings, dishonesty, passivity,
aggression, and so on) results.

Overcoming Fear in the Workplace

Let me give you an example of passivity as a fight

response. There’s a foundry in Eastern Europe full of skilled
technicians trained by the Soviets. The foundry was unable to
compete economically, so their plant was selected to be
“saved” by a gang of consultants paid by the U.S. govern-
ment. The consultants’ strategy was a classic slash-and-burn
“turnaround,” straight from the playbook of corporate raiders
(of whom Sunbeam’s “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap was a colorful
icon). The trouble was that they couldn’t get the plant man-
ager to go along with their plan. I offered to meet with him,
and was escorted in by a competent translator. We had a cor-
dial meeting in his office. I would ask a question such as, “Do
you have another way to protect this company, other than the
one being proposed by the consultants?” He would respond
by talking about how beautiful the surrounding forest is in the
spring, and the wild boar that could be hunted in autumn.
The next day, I engaged the translator to send a letter to
the plant manager. I told him that I was aware that he had not
wanted to answer my questions, but perhaps we could share a
cup of coffee and just talk like a couple of guys with a com-
mon interest. I received an invitation by return mail. The
story that emerged made me feel embarrassed at the aggres-
sive, one-strategy behavior of the U.S.-paid consultants.
The plant manager explained why he was resisting the
proposed plan. “I did that in another plant. I sold off all the
excess stock and old equipment and fired 300 workers.” The
plant manager looked away, then returned eye contact and
said, “One night after that, when my wife and children were
at home alone, someone drove by and sprayed the house with

Mastering the Manager’s Job

a machine gun. Thank God, my family wasn’t hurt, but I’m

not going to do that a second time.” Once again, I learned
how much you can discover if you just talk with people
instead of trying to sell them something.
The consultants were not happy to have their strategy
rebuffed, and they weren’t happy that I obstructed their cam-
paign. But in due course, another strategy was devised, and
the foundry and its staff survived.
From these recollections, it’s possible to abstract some
general statements:
• Punishment of any kind is a regressive tool, and man-
agers should eliminate it from their behavioral
• The dynamics of trust and mistrust between workers
and managers are powerful determinants in how
effective any manager can be.
• In the wake of punishing managers, some work envi-
ronments will not be conducive to productivity, so
some social reengineering may be required.

Managers as Enforcers
While it’s not politically correct to highlight it, enforcement
is a shadow element in every manager’s job, including the
need to “get rid” of people who can’t, won’t, or don’t per-
form. With the emphasis on short-term returns on investment,
some managers may not feel that they have the luxury of
“developmental time” for individuals whose performance is
marginal. Such a feeling is unlikely to be hidden from

Overcoming Fear in the Workplace

What does a mistake represent to you, as a manager? Do

you treat it as an opportunity for coaching, for mutual discov-
ery, for strengthening a relationship, for competency devel-
opment? Or does an employee’s error elicit from you a
rebuke or a flash of anger, and embarrassment for everyone
around? If you respond in any of these last three ways, you
send a powerful message to workers: You don’t want to make
a mistake in this company! That kind of message will put eve-
ryone on notice that they had better pay attention to the work
they do and do it perfectly, or there will be consequences. Is
that a message you want to send?
Definitely don’t send this one, either: That you’re scared,
too. That you worry about what your manager will say if any-
one fails on your watch. Why should a mistake, an error, a
small failure be so upsetting? A scared manager can’t com-
mand much respect and confidence, nor get people in gear to
work toward higher performance.
No manager wants to encourage carelessness, but the
reality is that overemphasizing the costs of making a mistake
leads to a loss of productivity because workers will perform
routine tasks at a slower rate, just to be careful. We’ve all had
experiences with the over-cautious clerks who demand far
more documentation than is necessary or who take far too
much time with each customer while six or seven others in
line seethe with frustration. Employees who are fearful of
making a mistake can have a profoundly negative impact on
any group’s productivity. They can slow the pace of work so
imperceptibly that managers can’t see it until the numbers
come in.

Mastering the Manager’s Job

Coming to Grips with Trust Issues

Something like the dance described above seems to have hap-
pened in every organization, because I see patterns of mis-
trust everywhere I go. At least, that’s been my experience in
the 200+ organizations in which I’ve worked. What do you
Employees avoid eye contact in hallways.
Workers nod noncommittally when receiving requests or
People tend to look slyly at others and raise their eye-
brows in staff meetings.
You can see employees shrug their shoulders in response
to comments by others when they leave meetings.
People whisper conspiratorially in lunchrooms and at cof-
fee machines, and stop talking when a manager comes
toward them or passes by.
Managers eat alone or with other managers, often in a
separate dining room. (One of the best tables in San
Francisco was considered to be in the executive dining
room on the 52nd floor of Bank of America’s World
Outsiders find employees cautious or guarded when
approached, and always in interviews.
Employees’ body language, as they walk or sit at their
work stations, does not reflect enthusiasm.
No one seems to be having fun.

Overcoming Fear in the Workplace

What it comes down to, most of the time, is that workers

don’t trust their managers. This causes them to be guarded
with each other and with outsiders. They also withhold
information from managers (like you!) because they aren’t
sure what you’ll do with the information they share—and
they think it might come back to them in some punitive man-
ner. Workers in such circumstances know that they have little
ability to influence what happens to them on the job, so the
best way to protect themselves is to withhold information
from you because they won’t be punished. They withhold
their commitment to the organization to demonstrate that they
do not trust you. It’s a cycle of mistrust, and once this pattern
is set, it’s difficult to break.
Only the manager can break the cycle of mistrust and
create a new culture in which workers consider themselves
part of a team. They should feel comfortable communicating
with each member of the team, including the manager,
knowing that they have input into decisions that affect them
and into what happens to them on the job. When they see that
their manager truly considers them colleagues capable of
making major contributions, they will feel free to commit to
you, to the job, and to the company. In organizations in which
every worker is committed to their managers, to their tasks,
and to the company, success is a high probability, and trust is

Mastering the Manager’s Job


Commitment to Open
You and the Job Communication

Ability to

Turning mistrust into trust is critical, but it is not a one-

time event, and it won’t be easy. In fact, it must be an ongo-
ing effort. Keep in mind that you aren’t the first boss most of
your workers have had; their experiences might be with man-
agers who have taken advantage of or abused them, and those
memories aren’t going to be erased. They will be alert for any
sign that you are pushing them back into the mistrust cycle.
That might be the last thing on your mind, but people who
have been mistreated won’t give you complete trust until you
build a strong pattern of trust and respect. Develop a routine
of positive reinforcement to keep your people “tuned up” for
commitment to you, to each other, to the work you’re all
doing, and to the company that employs all of you.

Overcoming Fear in the Workplace

Create the Right Environment

Mastering the manager’s job means creating a very specific
kind of environment: an environment of openness and trust.

A Healthy Work Environment

It is possible to overcome a climate of fear and mistrust. Here
are the characteristics of a workplace that is open and
Failure is a result of honest mistakes, and can be
Failures are reported early enough to limit negative
Repeated errors call for coaching and support.
Criticism is constructive, not an indictment of wrong-
Colleagues and co-workers deserve respect from each
other and get it.
Problem solving involves anyone with relevant
Priorities are understood and respected.
Schedules reflect intelligent allocation of resources.
Goals are understood and accepted.
The entire group gets involved in planning.
Measurements of progress (the “numbers”) are posted or
are otherwise available for everyone to see.
When the numbers aren’t “right,” there is a quick huddle
to create a fix.

Mastering the Manager’s Job

If you intend to master your job as a manager, you will

have to achieve these key results, but they will elude you until
you confront the issue of trust and do things to overwhelm the
culture of fear.

Cultural Jujitsu
A common element in self-defense is to turn the opponent’s
force against him. Why not use the same strategy to over-
whelm the culture of fear? Turn that negative energy to posi-
tive by shifting the emphasis from failure avoidance to
expectations of success, from fear to fun. Here’s how to get
Say a major piece of work for your unit is coming up,
something that happens monthly or quarterly. Get
your people together around a flipchart and ask,
“How long is it going to take us to get this project
out?” (Write down the date.) “What’s the longest it’s
ever taken?” (Write down the number of days.)
“What’s the fastest it’s ever been done?” (Write it
“Now, looking at these numbers,” you continue,
“what’s your best guess of the actual number of days
it’s going to take this time, and why?” This creates
the opportunity for team members to express opin-
ions, to give reasons, and to disagree with each other.
That’s a pretty good approximation of dialogue.
You can use the same approach when there is a new task.
With new work, team members’ experiences can be high-
lighted as they argue about duration and resources, and begin

Overcoming Fear in the Workplace

thinking about the work they will have to do. The next logical
step, of course, is to get them to plot their estimate with a plan
and a schedule that highlights points at which the schedule is
most likely to slip, and why. As team members then move to
neutralize the problematic points in the schedule, their com-
mitment to meet or beat their own estimate is being rein-
forced. Probabilities? Success!
The next mandatory step is for the manager to host or to
initiate a celebration. There is a cynical saying that circulates
in everyone’s organization these days: “No good deed goes
unpunished.” That attitude has to be eliminated so that
employees new and tenured, young and old know that good
deeds, good work, exceptional efforts, and noteworthy sup-
port will be appreciated and rewarded in some tangible way.
Without fail! If you allow good work and exceptional per-
formance to go unnoted, you will soon see less of it.
How good does it have to be to be rewarded? How about
every time actual completions come in ahead of schedule and
below budget! Celebratory coffee and cake breaks are cheap
rewards, but they are absolutely necessary to keep the “suc-
cess machine” in operation. When there’s been a big break-
through in the numbers (and that’s what this is all about), a
bigger, better celebration is required. Belt buckles, ball caps,
dinner or ball-game tickets, letters of commendation, barbe-
ques in the boss’s backyard for team members and families
(or a park if you live in an apartment), and so on. Use your
imagination. But don’t forget to ask what the people who do
the work would like. Some people don’t want to go to a
motorcycle race or a heavy-metal concert. Or a Mahler con-
cert, either.

Mastering the Manager’s Job

This is about energizing people at work and turning them

into high-performance teams. But trust me: if you don’t
believe in your people and can’t get the kinds of excitement
and enthusiasm you want them to feel, you will not win with
them. You might not fail in a literal sense, but you won’t
win—just like most of the managers you know haven’t won,
becoming instead just caretakers of functions that someone,
sooner or later, will outsource.
At a not-too-high level of abstraction, an organization is
an energy-exchange system. And more to the point, that
energy is not self-renewing. There have to be people desig-
nated to crank up the volume and keep the energy flowing—
people who engage workers in a continuing contest with the
numbers to keep the shops open and everybody’s jobs secure.
Maybe no one ever explained it that way, manager-
reader, but this is what the manager’s job is all about. Every-
thing else is just an administrative footnote.

Chapter 4
Working with Others

O nce you have identified the outcomes you want to

achieve, it’s time to consider the setting in which you are
working. The trust issues discussed in the previous chapter
are on the surface. What lies beneath them, however, is a
swirling mass of currents deriving from recent and past his-
tory, individual performance and ability, and the volatile
issues of ethnicity, gender, education, and culture.
The manager must exert some control over these factors
by not allowing them to rise to the surface in an out-of-
control and destructive manner. Diversity issues operate in
every social setting, so it’s hard not to be aware of them. The
challenge is to be attentive to potential problems and to chan-
nel the associated energy constructively to achieve positive
outcomes. Job mastery requires more than simple awareness;
it requires interpersonal acuity that will enable you to work
with and counsel individuals when contentious issues arise,
and to help them re-focus on the group’s purpose, targets, and
goals. When workers are performing their jobs well, there’s
less chance of disruption. Remember: Success is a pre-
requisite to security, and secure people have less need to be

A Diversity of Opinions
The issue seems to be one of what “secure” means. It does not
mean preferential treatment, nor acceptance of requests to be
treated in ways that are extra-ordinary. Having been married
to an equal employment opportunity officer for the U.S.

Mastering the Manager’s Job

government, having spent hundreds of hours discussing

rights, abuses, and remedial strategies (and all this following
years of conducting civil rights workshops), I find myself
with a bias: Specifically, that diversity protection is a divisive
force in corporate life. It is important only when managers
fail to provide clarity about roles, responsibilities, and stan-
dard-based expectations and are not even-handed in dealing
with individuals and the issues that individuality creates. In
the same way that it’s said that companies deserve the unions
they get, companies get the diversity troubles they deserve (if
only by ignoring ineptitude or malicious behavior on the part
of some managers). Corporate emphasis on creating work-
force diversity and giving special dispensations in order to
meet diversity targets is divisive and inefficient. These things
serve small groups of special-interest-seekers, and do little to
enhance the strengths and capabilities of the corporation. HR
managers in particular should look for knowledge, skills, and
abilities and scrupulously keep their personal biases out of all
hiring and promoting transactions. Diversity in the population
is a fact, and it is also a fact that competencies are not evenly
distributed within any population. Common sense, intelli-
gence, fairness, and discretion are what you need to make
sure that every applicant has a fair chance. If, that is, you are
committed to the success of your organization.
Because of my experiences, a friend asked me to meet
with two women who were writing a book on diversity. That
was in 1992, and their book has done very well, probably
because they ignored my counsel to write about universal per-
formance standards, giving everyone a level playing field,
and teaching managers how to maintain a focus on perform-
ance. (My perspective was and is that the problem was not

Working with Others

created by bigotry and bias, but by managers.) Federal, state,

and local legislation has gone about as far as possible in pro-
viding employees with security from discrimination, leaving a
corps of diversity specialists in well-paid roles who need a
constituency for their work. Their work actually comes from
managers who create the constituencies by being unfair,
insensitive, or ignorant of labor and employment laws.
Don’t be one of them. Make certain you know your com-
pany’s diversity staff, and don’t be shy about using those
staff-level individuals as resources. While they are in place to
represent all employees, the hard facts are that their roles are
shaped to provide counsel to managers and to assist in quell-
ing outbreaks of emotionally-charged episodes. Make certain
you know how to protect yourself and your staff from unfor-
tunate episodes. Some of the information that follows proba-
bly will be helpful, but do remember: If you mishandle these
issues and become a central figure in an embarrassing epi-
sode, you might find yourself all alone, out on a limb.

Group Dynamics
A vast amount of research has been done on how we behave
in groups, and particularly in work groups. It might not have
been a large part of your academic preparation, but no other
area of our lives seems to have been so thoroughly
researched. Even so, we tend to ignore all that valuable
information and allow people in pivotal organizational roles
to blunder along, churning up ineffective performance and
excessive costs. You can blame this on “going along to get
along” or on managerial ignorance regarding organizations as
social systems, but when a manager alienates his or her
group, removing the unpopular manager doesn’t always solve

Mastering the Manager’s Job

the problem. Sometimes, the behaviors and attitudes neces-

sary to put up with an ineffective boss become part of a
group’s norms, and those behaviors are likely to be carried
forward when a new manager takes over. Even an imperfect
status quo has staying power.

Mastery of the manager’s job means managing the

dynamics of the group.

Philip Harris, author of Managing the Knowledge Culture

(2005), identified ten dimensions of group life that lend them-
selves to analysis. Harris asserts that it’s a foolish manager
who charges in to make changes in a group without first
doing a lot of headwork and homework about the group, its
history, and its members. Harris’s ten dimensions are: Group
background, participation patterns, communication patterns,
cohesion, atmosphere, standards, procedures, goals, leader-
ship, and alignment. In the next few pages, we’ll show their
relevance to job mastery.

Group background. Some teams will come to you with a

reputation for being marginal producers or difficult to man-
age, or for disagreeing among themselves, or otherwise
causing interpersonal problems that escalate to involve man-
agers of their own and other teams. But such teams can be
turned around. A team I once worked with played a key role
in a Canadian refinery, but its members were so fractious, so
aggressive, and so profane that no one else wanted to work
with them. The members of the team were smart, clever, and
colorful, representing a half-dozen different cultures. So,
given my experience in conflict resolution, I was assigned to

Working with Others

work with them. Their turnaround came in a surprising way—

I showed them a more-effective and more personally satisfy-
ing way to view their role: Instead of thinking their job was to
be on call to handle emergency repairs, they were told that
their redefined role was to prevent or reduce the numbers of
unscheduled outages that interrupt production. One role
description was reactive, and the other proactive. Almost
overnight, they made the transition from being somewhat-
demonic emergency technicians to being almost-friendly
internal consultants whose expertise was appreciated by the
managers with whom they interfaced. Both these new con-
sultants and their clients had to go through a period of trying
on new ways of interacting with others. There will always be
a transitional period, but until someone analyzed the group’s
history, considered the backgrounds and skills of its mem-
bers, and acknowledged its contributions, the chances were
good that the company would fire them all and form a new
team—which would have been an enormous waste of talent.
They just needed a little “re-concepting” and a small amount
of skill-building to overcome their reputation.

Group participation patterns. Someone skilled at observing

groups can sit through a meeting and produce a “map” of
interactions that reveals, often with startling accuracy, how
the group works, who the play-makers and the reluctant par-
ticipants are, which participants are alert and which ones are
signaling boredom and disinterest. Sometimes the most-
verbal people have the least to say that’s worth hearing, while
others who have to be coaxed to speak sometimes contribute
the most. Effective managers learn to read the signs and
“orchestrate” the performance of the group for maximum

Mastering the Manager’s Job

effect. When a group turns into a team, the manager will have
people to help keep the group working well. This is a great
indicator that the group’s abilities and other strengths are
important elements in achieving its goals. When managers are
able to work with team members and their individual patterns
of participation to bring about this kind of awareness, job
mastery is close at hand.

Group communication patterns. Again, a skilled observer

can note who speaks to whom, who doesn’t speak at all, who
is not spoken to, and who speaks most often. These observa-
tions are particularly important when a group is in the start-up
mode: Everyone should have a chance to speak and to be
heard quickly, and those who are shy or reticent should be
encouraged to speak and participate during group formation.
Participation is a learned activity, easier for some than for
others. Effective managers pay attention to the participation
styles of individuals around the table in order to find the best
way to get them to feel part of the team. As teams develop,
team members often assume responsibility for gate keeping—
that is, for seeing that everyone has an opportunity to partici-
pate. Their willingness to do this will depend on the extent to
which the manager encourages and rewards participation. But
until this ability is developed, there’s nothing wrong with the
manager asking for input from individuals. It might take this
form: “Dave, you used to work in maintenance. What is the
best way for us to approach them to get a higher level of sup-
port?” It makes sense to ask people who know. And there’s
this reality: If you don’t ask, you don’t get!

Working with Others

Group cohesion. Some groups are tight and cliquey, with a

lot of in-jokes and non-verbal communication. Other groups
are not nearly so bonded to one another, yet are just as effec-
tive. Such differences can depend on variables such as age,
time with the company, national origin, personal style, and
even religion. One manager told me that he once worked for a
well-known company that, back then, didn’t hire Roman
Catholics, and that he and the few other Catholics hired for
their specialist skills often had to share the same table in the
company’s cafeteria. Of course, what matters is how well
group members support one another when working against
short deadlines and the pressure is on. A good manager
knows immediately when a group is not working together as
well as it should; this kind of manager will get them to talk
about this right away, asking each member for their input on
why there are road blocks. Members are encouraged to share
ideas on how they can pull together more effectively. You can
be sure that they have answers for both questions. Maybe you
as manager have some ideas, but you’ll get more and faster
results by letting the answers come from them.

Group atmosphere. Are people in the group generally open

and friendly? Cool and remote? Sometimes hostile to each
other and outsiders? Some groups create an unapproachable
atmosphere when their members get too close, too bonded,
and too self-protective. The power of the group to close out
others diminishes the group’s value as a unit of production.
The manager has to use a good bit of skill and political capital
with the group to get members to consider their behavior.
Sometimes it’s even necessary to remove those informal
leaders who benefit from being exclusionary. The personal-

Mastering the Manager’s Job

ization of “my team” and “our team” can lead to stringent

qualifying tests for new members, or outright rejection. A
Navy SEAL officer was my escort while on a consulting
assignment in Puerto Rico. We stopped by the base so he
could greet some comrades. All conversation stopped when I
entered the room. My escort had brief conversations with his
colleagues, and after one drink, we left. As soon as I was out
of the room, I could hear their conversations resume. My
escort said, “Don’t take it personally. That’s how we are.”
But I’ve encountered the same insider vs. outsider behavior
among physicians, firefighters, and electric utility crews, with
xenophobic attitudes as obvious as a barbed wire fence. Sub-
cultures are not always the most constructive or productive,
and some managers are afraid to confront them. Life at work
should not be a life-or-death situation that requires such harsh
boundaries! You must be prepared to use any number of
interventions to modify group behavior. If you are confronted
with an especially difficult situation and you are a new man-
ager, I advise you to get counsel or intervention support from
a qualified third party. It’s not an act of cowardice, and it’s no
time for an ego contest. The meter is running, and the real
issues are performance and productivity.

Group standards. Do they look sharp and smell good, or

have group members adopted a dress code more fitting for an
outlaw motorcycle gang? One team leader I encountered at a
California refinery, who used to be a Marine Corps drill
instructor, contrived to get matching red jackets for everyone
on his team. As a former Marine, I thought that was a good
move toward team discipline. Nevertheless, while they were
recognizable and a bit exclusionary in their social behavior, I

Working with Others

was disappointed to find that when their work was subjected

to analysis, this team performed rather poorly. Looking good
might be desirable, but it certainly isn’t sufficient. There
should be standards for attire, work habits, punctuality, and
communication. Inheriting a strong group that’s been together
for several years does not necessarily mean that you won’t
have to make major changes in the way people look or behave
while they’re on the job and representing the company. (If
safety gear is required on the job, are workers sent home if
they show up without proper equipment? If they aren’t,
you’re going to find other casual attitudes toward perform-
ance and compliance.) An effective manager knows how to
get the team’s standards aligned to meet current performance

Group procedures. Some groups or teams have highly regi-

mented procedures for everything they do routinely. Consider
the crew on a fire truck: Their roles have been defined to sup-
port specialization in the use of the truck’s equipment.
Whether they’re working quickly in the face of a fire or more
leisurely after the emergency, returning tools and equipment
to the truck’s many compartments and coiling the hose are all
routines perfected through practice. By contrast, teams whose
roles are not so neatly defined by the equipment they use usu-
ally gather to consider the task, when someone will say,
“What do you think? Where do we start?” After a discussion
of options, the group eases into a procedure that everyone
accepts. If procedures are important, the manager might have
to help the team develop the discipline for self-direction and
show people how to shape or reshape procedures to fit current
tasks. Sometimes, all that’s really needed is permission, stated

Mastering the Manager’s Job

Group goals. One of a manager’s key jobs is to align per-

sonal and group goals with corporate goals so that everyone
can work together to achieve a small collection of goals. It’s a
nice ideal, but it’s sometimes difficult to achieve because
teams do have their drawbacks. They tend to be competitive
more than collaborative, and sometimes that puts “teamwork”
in opposition to corporate goals. This is one of the reasons
why it’s so important to focus on goals, and why it’s neces-
sary for managers to pay attention to the “goal-striving” of
teams. In truth, work can be repetitive and boring; a dull
workday brightens up considerably with a little one-
upmanship that embarrasses another team. Teams and well-
trained work groups are powerful social mechanisms, but the
manager needs to keep that power focused.

Group leadership. This is a perennial problem for managers,

because even though the team or group reports to a manager,
it is not unheard of for competition to arise between a team’s
leaders and the designated manager. It might be subtle at first,
but team members will soon sense the struggle. If it becomes
a contest, a senior manager or someone else in authority will
have to step in, and someone will lose. Sometimes strong
teams with strong leaders can defeat a manager—even a good
one. I observed something like this in the Marine Corps. A
fellow candidate in the officer candidate school, a handsome
and almost charismatic young man, had obvious leadership
qualities and was someone to whom people just naturally
gravitated. Only 44 percent of the candidates who began that
class were commissioned, but that young man was the first
one to be removed from consideration. The drill instructors
didn’t want anyone who could compete with them for atten-

Working with Others

tion! Something similar was played out in a small northern

California bank I did some project management work for. The
new president, an outsider, found himself with an embittered
senior manager who had expected to become president and
who had the allegiance of most of the other managers. At the
second executive staff meeting, the bitter man was absent.
The president said, “You will notice that Larry is not with us.
I was elected president of this bank by the board of directors,
and I will succeed in that role with or without your support.
But it will be more fun for all of us if it’s with your support.”
And that’s how it turned out. They had fun, they made
money, and they turned a local bank into a regional
competitor that produced big rewards for stockholders—once
competition within the management team was resolved.

Group alignments. Team members (and people in general)

can be fluid in their allegiances. This is apparent in work-
places when, say, formerly isolated members are suddenly
brought into one clique or another during lunch breaks. Like
teenage infatuations, these cliques usually don’t last. Stability
in productive groups comes with success as leadership prob-
lems get resolved and the emphasis shifts from being noticed
to being effective. Any group with two or more informal
leaders is fortunate: If the group drifts off task and the goal
focus slips, one of the leaders will inevitably notice and get
everyone back on track. The effective manager is always
aware that this is happening, but he or she doesn’t get
involved; it should be enough to tell the team’s informal
leaders what is going on. Groups often work out alignment
problems by themselves.

Mastering the Manager’s Job

All ten of these factors must be addressed if you truly

want to master the job of manager, as effective managers will
readily tell you. The more authoritarian your management
style, however, the less likely it is that you will be troubled by
the way the group interacts—but this presents a dilemma
because unless you deal with the group’s interactions, you
will not achieve the productivity of which your people are
capable. A successful manager deals with messy people
problems! Managers who understand people know that there
will be small interruptions on the long climb to record per-
formance. Fish were the last to discover water, and managers
all too often are the last to discover that we all exist and work
and succeed in a sea of social dynamics.

Working with Volunteers

For another example of how the dynamics of a group affect
results, consider this example: One of my best friends and
mentors was a retired Anglican priest who accepted a part-
time role with a community of dissidents who wanted to build
their own church. The building committee, unable for many
months to launch a building project, agreed to accept a third
party to sit in with them on a meeting. My friend called on
me. Among those involved was an older man and original
member of the community. Joe was a member of the church’s
governing board and a member of the building committee.
Even though I was fairly junior as a consultant, it didn’t
take long to spot the committee’s trouble. It was Joe. Each
time the committee gained momentum, Joe would interrupt
with homilies that blocked them. It was curious to me that no
one in that two-year-old group was willing to confront Joe.
Instead, people looked away to mask their frustration while

Working with Others

Joe droned on and on. After the second blocking episode, I

pointed out what Joe was doing to the group and told them
that they were behaving as though they were powerless.
Despite my comments, the committee members and I all were
stunned to see Joe raise his right hand, forefinger pointed to
the ceiling, and begin to preach again: “But God said….”
Before he could proceed with another sermonette, I inter-
rupted. “Joe, your need to be in control is killing this group.
Please do everyone a favor. Stay on the subject, or leave.” Joe
was startled, but when he looked around and found no support
from his friends, he left. Half the people in the room wanted
to chase Joe, but I asked them to remain seated for a few
minutes so we could take a look at what they had just experi-
enced. It was odd to me that among a dozen accomplished
business people and civic leaders, no one had felt free to ask
Joe to stop monopolizing so that they, collectively, could be
effective. I asked them to consider that fact and what it pre-
dicted about their ability to be successful as a community.
Then I called for a coffee break and sat in the back of the
room for the rest of the evening. Several months later, there
was a groundbreaking celebration for the new parish house.
Removing Joe as an obstacle was uncomfortable for com-
mittee members, steeped as they were in religious principles
about tolerance and inclusion. But getting Joe out of their way
set them free to achieve their goal. Their release was made
possible by a classic intervention. The technique is there for
you to find in the literature or in an academic course or train-
ing program; do a little research and add it to your toolkit.
If you want to test some of your leadership skills, there
are many volunteer and non-governmental organizations that
could use you as a consultant. Take advantage of the opportu-

Mastering the Manager’s Job

nity to look at group interaction and hone your skills in a

place where your career isn’t on the line. Of particular interest
(and a bit of a challenge) is the fact that volunteers generally
don’t respond to authority very well. Instead of giving orders,
you will probably have to learn to work with people—even
the difficult ones (trust me on this). It will be a humbling but
important learning experience.

Your Manager Is Part of the Group

Your own manager’s biases, beliefs, experiences, and expec-
tations are an important part of the mix of people and values
that shape the dynamics of your group. (In fact, those prefer-
ences might be shaping your choices more than you realize.)
Even so, people senior to you frequently want their influence
to be expressed explicitly, and to be able to see or hear evi-
dence that their influence is being manifested in daily opera-
tions. It’s not a smart move to keep your manager at a dis-
tance, or worse, to signal that he or she is being intentionally
ignored. Good headwork dictates letting your manager know
that you consider him or her part of the team.
That’s why people say that the dumbest thing you can do
at work is to propose something to your boss that you know
he or she is dead-set against doing. That’s probably good
counsel, but even better advice is to be sure you know what
your boss really wants from you.
Of course, the job you hold should be executed compe-
tently. Your behavior in that role should be above reproach. It
goes without saying that your direct reports should also con-
duct themselves in ways that do not attract criticism. But
beyond these generic standards, there frequently is something
in particular your manager wants or hopes you will do: If you

Working with Others

can figure out what he or she wants from you or help solve a
continuing problem or do something that will give your boss
a political boost, you will earn your manager’s support and be
free to engage in the developmental activities that produce the
results you were hired to achieve. New managers don’t usu-
ally get this piece of advice, but it’s wise counsel! It may be
the key to your ability to get the other success-producing
ideas in this guide to work for you.
Here are a couple of suggestions: Maybe your boss has a
strong commitment to equal employment issues and making
sure that minority employees get fair treatment. If so, it might
be an opportunity to do some strategic positioning so that one
of your own minority employees gets to lead a special, high-
profile project team or otherwise demonstrate his or her
competencies. Choosing one person among several for a
special assignment generally involves subjective decisions,
and knowing what’s important to your boss is one of the
factors that will have to be considered. And then, it’s not
immoral to make a decision that you know will please your
boss. Suppose your boss is passionate about cost-reduction.
Figure out ways to demonstrate that your team is saving
money for the company. Or maybe your boss is a fiend about
punctuality: You could consider holding five-minute stand-up
meetings that begin first thing in the morning. That way, your
people are not only at work on time, but already into their
Consider holding a brief meeting each morning that
covers what didn’t happen yesterday that should have; what
won’t happen today that was scheduled; and what’s the plan
to get back on schedule and budget.

Mastering the Manager’s Job

This not only starts the day with a sharp task focus, but it
will keep everyone’s eye on schedules, costs, and quality.
One federal government manager in San Francisco actually
had several stand-up tables, such as you might see in a coffee
shop, installed in his office for early morning coffee and brief
discussions about schedules, problems, and opportunities. A
Canadian manager I worked with sometimes held his staff
meetings in a room without chairs. His meetings were always

Remember, the manager’s job is just a role some-

one has to fill, so put some panache into it, and get

If you watch and listen to your manager, you will be able

to identify his or her “hot buttons.” Pictures on the office wall
or the boss’s desk tell you something about their interests. If
conversations are peppered with golf or football analogies,
that will tell you something else. If the boss is a fitness freak
or an avid bicyclist, you’ve discovered a gold mine of ways to
please. Once you know your boss’s interests, look for related
magazine articles to pass along. Attach a note that says
something like, “In case you didn’t see this…” and initial it—
not every day, but often enough to let the boss know that
you’re an unusually thoughtful person. After some time, the
boss will start to think of you as a particularly observant and
reliable individual. That can only be to your benefit.
Not everyone will like these suggestions, but the reality is
that there are a lot of competent people who do their jobs well
enough who never get promoted. Nothing suggested here is
dishonest, dishonorable, or sleazy; it’s just a matter of paying

Working with Others

attention to the people who are important in your life (one of

whom certainly is your boss). Remember, no matter how
good you are in your role, other people will decide whether or
not you get more money or get promoted or are otherwise
recognized. It makes sense to make it easy for those people to
see why you’re deserving.
And now a word about getting along with the people you
work with in your job as a manager. Beyond your direct
reports, there is a complex network of relationships you need
to create and maintain, and your initiative here is really
important. People who are well-liked seem to have more
career success than those who aren’t. This is not to say that
being popular is more important than being effective, but if
you can be both popular and competent, why not? Getting
along with people at every level is far more important in
corporate advancement than we give it credit for. It might
make a lot of difference in how your career plays out. Yes,
you’re in a paid role, but you’re expected to perform in a
highly social environment in which interpersonal skills are no
less important than your technical skills. Don’t underestimate
the power of savoir faire, good manners, sincerity, and being
thoughtful and considerate. It will keep you afloat in the wash
of office society.
Now, how well do you know the following people, and
what have you done for them lately?

Office administrator. Most often, this is a woman, but who-

ever is in this role knows where all the gold is buried. You
really need to have an active and positive relationship with
her. Begin with cordial greetings and be sure to express
appreciation for even routine distribution of office informa-

Mastering the Manager’s Job

tion. When appropriate, provide compliments. Don’t waste

her time, but let her know that she’s prominent on your radar

[Note: If you’re a guy, you probably have a lot to learn about

paying attention to the people around you—hair styles, hair
color, new clothes, engagement rings, no rings, black eyes,
broken arms, a new limp, vacations, illnesses, marriages,
babies. There’s a story behind each of these, and most people
are willing to share theirs with you or at least will appreciate
the fact that you noticed. That appreciation often results in a
positive return to you, sometimes when you least expect it
and when it will really pay off.]

HR manager. If you aren’t in HR, there’s a lot you don’t

know about laws and company policies regarding selecting,
disciplining, promoting, firing, and rewarding your direct
reports. Why make a potentially costly mistake when infor-
mation you may need is available, a phone call or short walk

IT manager. Self-explanatory.

Diversity manager. This is an important person in your

professional life, since there are so many ways to “get dirty”
in this arena. If you hear any suggestion of inappropriate
behavior among members of your staff, it’s a good idea to
invite the diversity manager to make a presentation at a staff
meeting or a meeting you convene for that express purpose.
The presentation does not have to be about alleged wrong-
doing on anyone’s part, but an occasional brief refresher

Working with Others

course on rules and roles can prevent a rumor from becoming

a responsibility that you must handle.

Maintenance manager. Most office air conditioning and

heating systems can be tweaked to resolve complaints that it’s
too cold or too hot, or there’s not enough fresh air. Taking
care of your people includes responding to such issues, and
generally that’s not something you can or should do yourself.

Managers in other functional groups. There are always

opportunities for cooperation and mutual support (sometimes
for advancement, but always for information about what’s
going on in the larger organization). Over time, you create a
resource network of people with skills and knowledge you
don’t have who can help you. Also, you become more
valuable to your manager when you have problem-solving or
information resources. Such referrals often lead to job-
enriching temporary assignments for yourself and others.

Skilled individuals across the organization. Regardless of

their hierarchical level, it’s always beneficial to know smart
people. Maybe you connect because of outside interests (bik-
ing, hiking, etc.) or because you worked together on a project
team, but the more people you know and the more people
who know you, the more likely you are to hear things of value
and the more likely you will get specialized help when you
need it. And do remember that out-of-channels information
can sometimes give you a competitive edge; many times, it’s
the unexpected call from someone in your network that pro-
vides you with a breakthrough opportunity. But also keep in
mind this question: Why should anyone give you a heads-up
call? It really depends on whether or not you have earned it.

Mastering the Manager’s Job

Depending on your organization and the nature of the

work you do, there may be others you need to know. But keep
in mind that your organization is a social system, a neighbor-
hood, a community of people with a common economic
interest: The more people you know and the more you know
about the company and its work, the more valuable you
become as your leadership potential is enriched by your

In Closing…
The significance of two of my own life lessons was con-
firmed one day at lunch when I was interviewing the general
manager of one of America’s finest hotels. The first lesson is
that people are always important. Here’s the way this fine
hotel manager put it: “This is an equal opportunity environ-
ment. Every employee has an equal opportunity to displease a
guest and drive revenue out of the house. No employee and
no task is unimportant.”
The second lesson is that no detail is too small to be over-
looked. If you choose to overlook it, you erode your stan-
dards. As we walked the few meters from his office to the
dining room, this same hotel manager spotted a handprint on
the glass door into the lobby, some twenty meters away, and
dispatched a bellman to clean it. Then, as we were seated by
the hostess, he suggested that she change her apron as there
was a small spot down in one corner. “And while you’re at
it,” he said, “there’s a smudge on that mirror over there.
Could you find someone to take care of that?” I had to look
carefully to see the offending spots, both on the apron and on
the mirror.

Working with Others

With the exception of a medical setting, I have never

experienced managing at such a high level of detail. But as
much as the detail was a surprise, I was equally impressed by
the fact that my host spotted these discrepancies while
escorting and chatting with me. That takes a practiced eye and
a level of vigilance that can come only from keeping the stan-
dards his hotel must meet constantly in the front of his mind.
“For some of our guests,” he said, “our best room may repre-
sent a reduction in the quality of their life, and at our rates,
guests should not be confronted with substandard perform-
ance.” We got through the lunch without his mentioning fur-
ther discrepancies. Intentional or not, he made a powerful
impression about the importance of managing at high levels
of detail.
A similar story came from a friend who, as a high school
dropout, was fortunate to be hired as a busboy in one of San
Francisco’s most prestigious restaurants. “My first lesson,” he
remembered, “was learning how to set a table, and it took
weeks for me to be able to set the entire dining room without
something in my performance being criticized, some mis-
alignment of a knife, a fork, or a glass. I’m not talking about
inches,” he said. “I’m talking millimeters!”
My friend learned and succeeded, and was hired away
when he was twenty-one into an impressive and lucrative
corporate role. But his success in the restaurant and in subse-
quent roles began, he said, the day he learned to set a table to
his mentor’s satisfaction. The really important point I’m try-
ing to make in these stories if you want to master your job as
a manager is not the importance of discipline, as impressive
as that is, but that there are managers who insist that stan-
dards be observed in all things and at all times. Your job in

Mastering the Manager’s Job

such situations is never secure until performance routinely

complies with really precise standards.
I can only imagine that where you work it would be diffi-
cult to discipline employees to perform against those stringent
standards. But isn’t that what the companies that have
adopted the Six Sigma standard are doing? Getting people to
perform at previously unimagined standards, and to do it rou-
tinely? If everyone understands that Six Sigma performance
represents job security and works with and for managers who
know the standards and are involved in compliance, maybe it
won’t be so difficult.
All the stuff about treating people well and building trust
is just foundation material. Once those concepts are in place,
you can really start managing. In Part Two, we will focus
more tightly on the tools and skills required to permit you to
manage at increasingly precise levels of detail, and indeed to
master the manager’s job.

Chapter 5
The Whole Ball of Wax

F or every individual who becomes a manager and gets pro-

moted up the corporate ladder, there are countless others
who don’t get the opportunity because one or several key
competencies are missing or are not reflected in their per-
formance. The manager’s role is complex, as we will illus-
trate in this short chapter.
Managers must possess a host of competencies, as well as
the technical skills specific to their professional or academic
discipline. Several years ago, a client and I were trying to find
a way to make the point to his managers that there is much
more to management than timekeeping and task completion.
Our notes turned into sketches and a final graphic illustration
encompassing nearly forty subjects. That’s a lot of major and
subordinate competencies for anyone to master! It’s almost
intimidating, until you realize that there are a lot of intercon-
nections among the elements. Knowing about one thing leads
you to having to know (or wanting to know) more about
something else within the circle. Pretty soon, you find your-
self working on every element because you understand the
role each one plays in managing effectively.
There are a lot of factors critical or related to your suc-
cess that do not appear within the “ball of wax” in our illus-
tration, such as organizational politics, your own political
sensitivity and skill, career development for larger roles or
work in global organizations, and current events that can
impact your industry or organization. And don’t forget the
psychology of motivation and commitment, interactions

Mastering the Manager’s Job

within and between groups, and the important observations

that can be made through the filters provided by cultural
anthropology. Then, when you think about the global econ-
omy, there are a host of cross-cultural issues to consider, too.
So, mastering the job of manager isn’t a quick fix: It’s a proc-
ess that you will have to shape. The best strategy might be to
take on the subject in bite-sized increments. Over time, you
will find yourself having flashes of awareness that you are
developing new managerial competencies; you will become
more sure-footed, more knowledgeable, more effective, more
intuitive, and more confident about the actions and decisions
you’ll be making.



CHI ING S Routine Replication CI
NG AL of Processes and IN
O Procedures for Profit




The Whole Ball of Wax

One thing to consider in particular: Every organization

needs people with different and specific competencies to help
shape the organization and to work together to create and
sustain a stable, healthy environment needed to master any
job. As you consider “The Whole Ball of Wax,” think about
your colleagues in other areas of the organization and the
skills and competencies they must have to be effective in their
roles. Try to see how they complement your own abilities and
how you can help one another collaborate more effectively.
Let’s look at some of the terms used in the illustration:

What business are we in? This is the most important ques-

tion a manager can ask. People who have worked in the same
place for many years do not respond the same way to that
question. They tend to respond by saying what they do, such
as “accounting” or “purchasing,” instead of, say, “We’re in
the business of providing services to medical rehabilitation
and custodial institutions.” What’s your organization’s mis-
sion statement? It’s really difficult to build an effective
organization until everyone knows, understands, and agrees
with the mission statement.

Service request refers to the form used to request service. It

is analogous to a sales order, providing specifics about the
kind of service requested and its level of urgency. As service
requests are retired, they can be used to record worker time
expended, materials used, and costs. When the same or a
similar repair or action (routine maintenance) is required, that
information, recorded in a “work package,” will be valuable
in scheduling and budgeting.

Mastering the Manager’s Job

Manage performance, not people. This is a key concept: If

you try to manage people, you cannot oversee the activities of
more than a few (seven subordinates is said to be the opti-
mum span of control). But if you manage the performance of
individuals and groups by collecting and analyzing informa-
tion, you can manage the activities of many people. Consider
the manager of a department store who gets information each
morning about the previous day’s performance of thirty or
more departments (automotive, lingerie, white goods, shoes,
etc.). This “management by exception” allows the manager to
zero in on those departments and managers where targets are
not being met. Most department managers do not need daily
supervision, but the senior manager must make sure contacts
with department managers or other employees are positive
more often than corrective, adversarial, biased, or negative.

Knowledge, skills, and abilities. These characteristics

needed for competent performance are the “know and know-
how to do” competencies used to define requirements for spe-
cific jobs or positions. Competencies are increasingly the cur-
rency of job security and advancement, though defining them
is still a work in progress in many organizations.

Repetitive tasks. Some part of all work is routine, and it is

those repetitive tasks that give managers an opportunity to
demonstrate that routines can be performed in the most cost-
effective manner, with time required and costs involved
declining with subsequent repetitions. Further, for more
effective utilization of resources (scheduling), it’s necessary
to know all the details about the tasks within your work proc-
esses. This is knowledge that takes time to acquire—usually

The Whole Ball of Wax

months. They might appear to be a deadening influence, but

repetitive routines are required for organizational effective-
ness and stability. Such routines are the “binding agents” of
organizations, the matrix that supports the money-making
activities with which most readers of this guide are associ-
The tasks and responsibilities seem intimidating, but they
can be grouped into three chief managerial competencies.
Here they are again:
• Setting Goals and Standards
• Planning Work and Scheduling Resources
• Managing Time and Prioritizing
The rest of the book will focus on these three competen-
cies. Keep in mind that these competencies are considered
significant and extremely important because nearly 100,000
managers in some of America’s largest and best-known com-
panies identified them as being the most important parts of
the manager’s job.

Chapter 6
Setting Goals and Standards

B efore we delve into the weighty subject of goal-setting,

consider these few words about standards: Standards
make excellence possible and attainable. They put the steel
into goals. The higher the standards, the more evident the
competence of organizations and workers becomes. When
Motorola determined back in the mid-1980s that it could not
remain a world-class competitor unless it elevated its manu-
facturing standards, it reversed its fortunes and launched a
quality and management revolution. It was a bold move,
based on the vision of Motorola’s president at the time, Bob
Consider such popular advertising claims as “world
leader in its class” and “#1 in our industry.” What do these
slogans communicate? To employees, such terms represent
job security and the possibility of higher take-home pay or
expanded benefits. To consumers, such terms imply that the
product is of undeniable quality. That’s the power of
brands—they can “promise” quality. What images are
invoked by the names Sony, Kleenex, Timex, Rolex, Armani,
and Adidas?

The Importance of Vision

Operationally, a vision is hard to achieve until it is framed as
a goal—that is, put into a short declarative statement that
spells out the organization’s intent. Goals are like the front
sight on a rifle, which allows the focusing of all the power of
the propellant and the shooter’s skill toward a designated

Mastering the Manager’s Job

point. But the word goal is seriously misused: It’s frequently

attached to such trivial and short-term outcomes as complet-
ing a report or compiling project costs. To cast goals in a
more appropriate context, consider this illustration:

Goal #1

Objective A Objective B Objective C

Target Target Target Target Target Target

Goals sit at the top of a hierarchy of achievements,

accomplishments, or completions. When the organization
establishes a goal, it must then define the steps that have to be
taken to achieve the goal, and then set up a structure so that
progress can be monitored on a regular basis. The depart-
ments and divisions within the organization must be vectored
toward or aligned with the goal. Division A will have specific
objectives to work toward, as will Divisions B and C. Thus,
all the steps toward achieving the goal can be covered.
The goal is a somewhat broad intention. The steps toward
achievement can be considered objectives—specific to-do
lists of accomplishments that together allow you to reach the
goal. Then, for each objective, there are subordinate collec-
tions of work that have to be performed: targets. Targets are

Setting Goals and Standards

near-term assignments—points at which smaller increments

of work will be completed. Objectives and targets are “mile-
stones” in a project plan. In terms of time, goals might be a
year or two ahead, objectives 6 to 12 months ahead, and tar-
gets up to 90 days. But even if you say, “Our goal for this
year is…” you’ll need to set some intermediate points
between now and twelve months ahead so you can assess
progress, realign resources, and make sure teams and indi-
viduals are all focused on the goal. But more importantly, you
need some places where you can stop the action long enough
to tell the people doing the work how well or how poorly
they’re progressing. A year is a long time to wait for feed-
back, and feedback at that late date is essentially useless as a
basis for learning or improvement. (Remember this the next
time you hear annual performance reviews being discussed,
and you will understand why workers have always resented
them.) Periodic checks or reviews of progress are absolutely
necessary to support serious goal-seeking. They can help you
identify errors or mistakes that will be costly or impossible to
remedy further along in the process.

Aligning Forces and Energies for Success

Goals have to be part of the organization’s normal function-
ing. If an organization puts effort into programs or engages in
activities that do not contribute to its goals, it’s weakening its
ability to meet those goals. You might want to translate this to
read: When an organization dissipates resources on activities
that do not directly support its core business, its ability to
compete effectively and to survive is compromised. This is
another driver in the trend toward outsourcing, allowing
needed services to be bought from contractors, rather than

Mastering the Manager’s Job

having them compete with core-business goals for manage-

ment’s attention.
Goals, objectives, and targets all must be tangible,
achievable, and measurable. Think in terms of what’s to be
done, how much or how many, and when the results will be
seen. Here are some examples:
• Reduce lost-time accidents to no more than one per
quarter, beginning immediately.
• Increase customer sales calls from 5 per day to 8 per
day throughout each week of the fall quarter.
• Reduce cost-per-unit from 25 cents to 21 cents within
the next 90 days with no loss in quality or quantity.
• Reduce customer complaints from 19 per month to
no more than 5 per month within the next 60 days.
• Reduce sick days in this division by at least 15 per-
cent over the next six months.
• Provide a year-end dividend of at least 33 cents per
share for all Class A shareholders.
Each of these statements of intent can serve as a goal or
an objective. Even the “year-end-dividend” can be an objec-
tive used to demonstrate a positive result from restructuring.
Likewise, to turn any of these statements of intent into a real-
ity will require specific actions, efforts, and results by desig-
nated individuals or groups, and if results are not realized,
individuals should be held accountable.
Objectives tend to be interlinked as you move down
through the organization. Here are statements that suggest
such linking:

Setting Goals and Standards

• Sales cannot exceed the amount that can be produced.

• Receipt of products cannot be guaranteed without
first reviewing existing commitments and inven-
• On-time, cost-effective deliveries to customers can-
not be maintained without strict attention to vehicle
maintenance requirements and driver retention pro-
• Productivity goals cannot be met unless equipment
maintenance schedules are adhered to and vendor
deliveries are managed.
• Rigorous attention to scheduling, controlling, and
anticipating all resource variables must be made a

What business are you in?

We stressed in the previous chapter that everyone in the
organization needs to have the same understanding about the
mission, and preferably with the same, well-chosen words. A
mission statement can provide the words, but it must be more
than a motto or slogan. Ford’s Quality is Job 1 and the Los
Angeles Police Department’s To Protect and To Serve are not
mission statements (though they are catchy and effective!).
A mission statement describes why the organization
exists, what it does, how well it intends to do it, and for
whom. (As simple as this sounds, it’s usually very difficult to
get a group of people to agree on these four elements and then
to turn their agreement into a simple statement.) Mission
statements can be as short as a dozen words or as long as

Mastering the Manager’s Job

several pages, and may include bullet points or other

attention-getting devices. The development of such a state-
ment is a worthwhile exercise: It provides focus, and brings to
light interesting misperceptions of functions and roles.
I was working at one point in my career with the racially
mixed staff of a city’s low-income housing department. They
had an acrimonious relationship with the city council, which
the staff attributed to racism among council members. How-
ever, it turned out that the entire staff, from the director down
to clerical workers, were so focused on the citizens they
served that they never realized that their primary client was
the city council. This amazing oversight was discovered when
I assisted them in developing a map of their division’s
workflow. When the group proudly presented their work-flow
map (the first time they had ever participated in such a proc-
ess) and described their work step by step, I asked the ques-
tion that changed their perception of what they did, why, and
for whom: Where’s the city council in your map? What fol-
lowed was a subtle discussion of how city governments are
organized. Their department was finally put in a proper
perspective. Even the most reluctant of them had to admit that
they helped create the hostile relationship with the city
council. Therefore, when they crafted their mission statement,
they defined themselves as representatives of the city (and by
implication, the city council) in delivering their services.
Let me assure you that these were “cause-oriented” peo-
ple who envisioned themselves as doing really important
work on behalf of disadvantaged clients. But as is so often the
case with “true believers,” their sense of themselves and their
mission became distorted. In a similar case, I worked one

Setting Goals and Standards

summer with a group of dedicated educators, preparing them

for their new roles as aides to classroom teachers in “main-
streaming” or integrating severely handicapped children into
ordinary classrooms. After watching and listening to them for
several days, I gave them an exercise to perform individually,
and then I compiled their responses. The task?
Rate yourself and your mission among the other ten
employee groups in the school.
The result? They ranked themselves second only to the school
principal! We had reached a point at which some serious
learning could take place. I asked them this question:
How do you think you’re going to be received by teach-
ers, psychologists, assistant principals, and others in the
system whose support you must have in order to succeed,
if you think of yourselves and your roles as more impor-
tant than theirs?
You cannot hold such self-perceptions without communicat-
ing them, and that will kill the program.
Perhaps these are extreme examples, but I am including
them here to suggest to you the importance of missions to the
success of individuals, programs, and organizations. Here are
some mission statements to consider if you haven’t already
drafted your own:
A municipally-owned electric utility: To provide reli-
able, cost-effective electric service to our cus-
An up-market hotel: To serve our customers and
guests in a manner consistent with the highest quality
of life.

Mastering the Manager’s Job

The U. S. Central Intelligence Agency: We are the

eyes and ears of the nation and at times its hidden
hand. We accomplish this mission by:
• Collecting the intelligence that matters.
• Providing relevant, timely, and objective all-
source analysis.
• Conducting covert action at the direction of
the President to preempt threats or achieve
United States policy objectives.
As you can see, companies and institutions use different
styles in crafting mission statements explaining why they
exist and what their roles and purposes are. Mission state-
ments are almost always framed and displayed throughout the
organization to help employees remember what business they
are in, and many even have their mission statement printed on
wallet-sized cards that employees can carry. But a caution:
Don’t underestimate how difficult it is to develop a mission
statement. Be sure to involve representative employees in the
drafting process; they not only bring input from across the
organization, but they also legitimize the mission statement
for those who were not involved. Once the mission statement
has been drafted and agreed upon, top management has to go
out there and promote it as well as see that it is included in
every public relations and marketing document. Otherwise,
it’s just a slogan.
The mission statement should be a performance driver.

Setting Goals and Standards

Raising the Bar

Standards for performance, for cleanliness, and for grades of
meat and vegetables and milk are measures of quality. They
are developed from past practice and best practice by equip-
ment manufacturers, professional and technical societies, and
a variety of government agencies. Like targets on a shooting
range, standards are needed to assess performance (marks-
manship). Of equal importance, they create the foundation for
an important kind of workplace democracy: Anyone who is
performing competently at his or her job can look anyone else
in the eye without apology. There are no unimportant jobs:
The people who pack boxes for shipping are just as important
in the service equation as the field sales representative and the
customer service manager and you and me.
Standards are not static; they continue to evolve as time,
technology, and competitive pressures drive us to more preci-
sion. Likewise, the more precise the standards, the more nec-
essary it is that we recognize our interdependence. In a room
full of people who perform their tasks with competence, any
individual has the potential to make a suggestion or propose
an idea that solves a major problem. In the hierarchical
organizations of earlier times, labor and management did not
work together to solve problems—social convention discour-
aged it. Such collaboration can be effective, however, if these
four conditions exist:
• All work is measurable against established standards.
• No work or worker is less important than any other.
• Everyone knows that recognition comes to those who
earn it.

Mastering the Manager’s Job

• The manager is unequivocally committed to meeting

When each individual is a necessary part of the whole,
when the failed performance of one jeopardizes the success of
the rest, and when there is no one on the company payroll
who does not have useful and meaningful work to do (how-
ever menial it might seem), bosses and workers can sit down
over coffee or a beer and solve problems. This is recognition
that there are realistic divisions of labor, talent, skills, abili-
ties, knowledge, and an understanding of the “street value” of
one’s own bag of tricks.
At this point, it’s possible to abstract some principles
regarding standards:
• The work of the organization—serving customers or
clients—is the first priority. Everything else is sec-
• It’s necessary to use a correct-it-here-and-now
approach to get people to maintain performance stan-
• When performance standards are clearly defined,
anyone who has necessary qualifications and wants to
learn and perform can do so.
• Every employee must not only know how to do
things, but why they should be done.
• Standards can be maintained if every worker knows
the organization’s business, market, and preferred
customers AND makes sure that every action and
every decision reflects these things.

Setting Goals and Standards

• Deviation from standards can be discovered quickly

when work is managed at high levels of detail.
• Maintaining standards requires 100% utilization of
resources for cost-effective performance.
• Reward those who model the standards of behavior
you want to see replicated by all employees.
We live in a world of standards, but too often they’re
implied rather than expressed. Let’s use so-called “Casual
Fridays” as an example. Some people will fall short of meet-
ing even relaxed standards if they don’t have written or stated
guidelines that describe “appropriate attire.” But even when
standards are posted, sometimes they’re ignored. It’s the
manager’s job to deal with those situations. In the egalitarian
traditions that have contributed so much to American life,
there is generous support for the underdog and for the loyal
but never-quite-successful employee. Sometimes managers
overlook performance deficiencies because of the dogged
effort that almost produces satisfactory (up-to-standard) per-
formance. Such compassion is commendable, but it’s mis-
placed. There’s no room in contemporary organizations for
people who cannot perform—that is, who do not meet estab-
lished standards, consistently and without great effort.
When fully satisfactory performance cannot be depended
upon, your organization loses the confidence that goals will
be achieved without a last-minute scramble for recovery.
That’s hard on workers and managers, but also damages the
organization’s reputation.
Standards are your criteria for performance. They sepa-
rate okay from not good enough, and thus provide ways for
managers to discuss marginal performance with direct

Mastering the Manager’s Job

reports. Often more implicit than explicit, standards define

the cultures of organizations and work groups. Years ago, the
standard attire for IBM’s male employees was a dark suit,
white shirt, and a conservative tie. Even the handicapped men
who distributed interoffice mail wore suits and ties. This visi-
ble sign of conformity existed within a context of cultural
identifiers, from cars and homes to entire neighborhoods
associated with one’s place in the hierarchy (not unlike the
social stratification often associated with military organiza-
tions). Today, such conformity is alluded to in statements of
“corporate values” or standards about “the things we believe”
and “the ways we treat employees, clients/customers, and our
host communities.”

Standards, Behavior, and Job Mastery

Standards underlie every managerial choice and decision, in
the same way that Douglas McGregor asserted nearly 50
years ago that every managerial action is based on a set of
beliefs about people at work. His conceptualization of Theory
X and Theory Y as polar opposites in management style
became a cornerstone in the evolution of contemporary
managerial theory and practice. His ideas about “hard” and
“soft” management (autocratic vs. democratic) provided a
window into the ill-defined and subjective issue of people-
management performance standards. Since then, acceptable
management practices and civil rights legislation have estab-
lished standards for inclusion and exclusion, as well as stan-
dards for hiring, retention, and promotion.
How we behave in any social setting is more or less
determined by our understanding of the norms or mores
(street standards) that are already in place. One of the ways to

Setting Goals and Standards

spot outsiders in any group is to look at behavior (including

manner of dress) that does not conform to local practice. In a
work setting, learning how to fit in and contribute should not
be a guessing game! Delay in bringing new people fully into a
work group is a waste of resources; managers need to make
sure necessary standards are in place and adhered to regarding
new employee orientation and anything else that’s important.
In an ideal environment, standards and rules would be
constructed along the lines that anything not prohibited is
permitted. Most organizations have not achieved that ideal,
however. In the meantime, it’s useful to remember that most
people perform best in situations of relatively high struc-
ture—that is, where people agree on routines that can be
easily mastered for repetitive activities and on making sure
there is no “What do I do next?” uncertainty to frustrate new
workers. It does not mean denying or limiting decision-
making prerogatives. (Quite the opposite is intended.) How-
ever, if you’re going to involve others in making decisions
that affect them, make sure the decisions are substantive and
that they draw on participants’ work experience and intelli-
Mastering the manager’s job means, in large measure,
making it easy for members of work groups to do the right
things in the right ways at the right times. Begin improving
performance by setting clear goals, creating clear standards
for performance, and making sure everyone “gets it.” Then
coach people, especially new hires, and measure progress.
The next chapters will outline the remaining two compe-
tencies you must master if you want to master the manager’s

Chapter 7
Planning Work and Scheduling

P lanning work and scheduling resources are surely the

backbone competencies of management, because a man-
ager is responsible for organizing people to do things in some
kind of systematic, predictable way. That’s what planning is
supposed to offer—an orderly sequence of activities that will
allow tasks to be completed at a designated time. Too often,
planning takes a back seat to action, despite the fact that
intelligent action requires that you have a map before you can
plan a trip. That’s why one of the first things a manager
should do when taking over a new group is to map its work
processes, and to confirm the map’s accuracy with the people
who actually do the work. Then, and arguably only then,
planning pays predictable dividends.

Mapping Your Work Processes

It’s not difficult, and it doesn’t take long. Two colleagues and
I created a workflow map of almost 100 elements in a little
over three hours on a Saturday morning for a process that was
presented as “impossibly complex.” Even more important,
when we reproduced and circulated the map among sixty
people who actually performed the work, it came back to us
with only five or six corrections. We then formatted the map
following all the planning conventions, had it reproduced, and
circulated it so that nearly 2,000 employees could all see the
approved standard for steps to follow in managing the com-

Mastering the Manager’s Job

pany’s primary business: removing hydrocarbon contamina-

tion from ground water and soil.
What may be of most interest to you is that I have no
understanding of soil mechanics or hydrogeology, but I did
have some experience with mapping, and I was lucky to enlist
the support of two really sharp geologists/project managers.
The problem I set out to solve emerged after clients started
complaining that reports prepared in different offices of the
same company did not conform to a single standard. Of
course, defensive project managers said the cause was the fact
that eight or nine different remediation techniques were being
used in site clean-ups and there were many local variables,
which made a standard report impossible. Still, I knew there
was a solution, so I undertook this small project on my own
initiative (which is why the original mapping was done in my
home on a Saturday morning.) I’m including these details
with the hope that my experience encourages you to replicate
these steps to solve problems where you work.
As I read project reports, visited remediation sites, and
listened to conversations among the technicians, I became
aware of three important facts:
1. The choice of techniques to be used to separate
hydrocarbons from soil or water did not influence the
basic steps in managing a remediation project.
2. There was no standard protocol for managing pro-
jects within the company, so project managers did
what they’d seen others do.
3. Therefore, non-standard reports to clients was a logi-
cal result. (Note: Reports verifying return to safe use
levels of water or soil was the “product” of the com-

Planning Work and Scheduling Resources

pany’s work. Reports were legal documents, required

by local governments to justify issuing permits to
develop previously-contaminated property.)
The next step was to present my ideas to people who
understood the mechanics and science of the work. That was
done over lunch on a Friday. We created the map the next
morning. The rest of the story is described above.
There are some important points in this discussion about
the mapping process and the subsequent impact:
1. Anyone who knows the work, with a little help from
friends, can do such mapping in hours.
2. It’s necessary to have your map validated by others
who know the work and the organization.
3. Your map proves that you understand the work to be
accomplished and have defined the way the work will
proceed, from start to completion.
4. Your map is a powerful signal that you are serious
about managing the work, not just the workers.
5. If there are project delays, you can pinpoint the
place(s) in the workflow where the delays occurred.
If skill gaps are involved, you can provide short-
interval remedial training (or make corrections if
there’s a structural or information-sharing problem).
6. If someone suggests subsequent work-process modi-
fications, those changes can be considered in terms of
impact on the total flow.

Mastering the Manager’s Job

7. The map provides a way to orient new people to how

the group’s work is done, explains how each person
fits into the flow, and how delays at any point in the
flow can impact the scheduled completion date.
8. It facilitates planning and scheduling, because you’ll
want to continuously monitor the duration of each
activity and the time required to make decisions in
order to make sure that workers are getting the work
done effectively. Further, if work is delayed because
decisions are not being made on time or because
there’s a political or a competence problem, you’ll be
able to address the problem immediately.
9. The work-flow diagram will help you make sure that
no steps are overlooked when you begin planning,
scheduling, and budgeting new projects.
10. Mapping and planning should be done at a high level
of detail. The more steps or activities you include, the
more detail you’ll need. The more visible your work
processes become, the greater your ability to monitor
and improve times and costs associated with each
task and sub-task.
11. It will be easier to ensure that no steps in the process
are overlooked when planning, scheduling, and
budgeting for new projects (and this does happen, as
will be illustrated below).
Pitifully few managers take time to do this kind of planning,
yet it practically assures success at mastering the manager’s

Planning Work and Scheduling Resources

Work-Flow Planning
Now that we’ve made a case for mapping your organization’s
work flow, let’s delve into more detail about the process,
beginning with a simple definition: A plan is a description of
the steps to be taken to get from one point to another, from
“here and now” to “there and then.” A plan should be an ideal
representation of how you want things to be. Lay out the
work the way it ought to happen, even when you know that
the ideal plan isn’t going to work, so you don’t overlook
anything. Plan like you mean it! (When you have to change
your plan, there’s another process that kicks in at that point.
It’s called scheduling.)
A plan can be written, but that’s cumbersome. Better it
should be a kind of map or chart that shows the activi-
ties/steps in relationship to each other. Better still is a
sequence of activities connected across a page, with a time-
line across the bottom of the page so you can see time and
activities together. (The famous Gantt chart, invented about
1905, was important because it used horizontal lines to show
times alongside a vertical list of activities. This was the first
time that tasks and times were demonstrated on the same
piece of paper.) Gantt charts are still used and are considered
generally effective. Look at charts and graphs in publications
and check your software programs for sample project-task
lists. A planning document is most helpful when it depicts a
left-to-right network of two or more chains of activities con-
strained by fences—that is, points at which no further work
can be done until activities on the constrained chains have
been completed. It will look like this:

Mastering the Manager’s Job


Time / / / / /

This small graph shows several things:

1. Neither activity B nor C can begin until Activity A is
2. Activities B and C can start at the same time.
3. Activity B does not have to start at the same time as
Activity C, which takes twice as long. Therefore, B
can start when C is fifty percent complete. (The extra
time B has is called “float” since the activity can float
along to permit optimal resource scheduling, just as
long as it completes at the same time or sooner than
Activity C).
4. Activity D cannot begin until both Activities B and C
are complete.
5. The chain A, C, D is the critical path (the shortest
path through the network).
This approach to planning, known as the “precedence
method,” is used universally because it’s really straightfor-
ward, and the logic is compellingly simple. In their relation-
ship to one another, activities can relate to other activities in
only one of three ways: Some activities must precede other

Planning Work and Scheduling Resources

activities (A must precede activities B and C); some activities

must follow other activities (D must follow activities B and
C); or some activities can be in process at the same time (B
and C can go on concurrently).
That’s it! That’s all the options there are, whether you’re
dealing with 30 activities, 300 activities, or 3,000 activities.
Paperwork projects, power plant projects, new product intro-
ductions—the logic is the same. Want to plan a wedding? The
logic is the same, even in project-management software
programs. (For more information on this approach to plan-
ning, track down the Mulvaney book listed under Recom-
mended Reading in the back of the book.)

Getting Started
One of the easiest approaches to creating a workflow diagram
is to use flipchart paper and Post-it notes. It’s a good way to
allow others to participate in crafting the plan, because if
there’s discussion about more-logical steps, the sticky notes
can be rearranged. Instead of arguing in abstract terms, you
can say, “Look, if we do it this way, we can save time and
make three other steps unnecessary.” This is participation at
its best—hands on and people off their butts and on their feet,
Other than being able to move them around on flipchart
paper, what’s so magic about sticky notes? They can repre-
sent cards printed in this format, and they are easily replaced
if you want different text.

Mastering the Manager’s Job

Activity #: Resource:

Activity description:

Duration: Person hours:

Imagine that every one of the sticky notes is formatted

this way:
• Top left: Activity number (your numbering conven-
tion, or assigned by computer)
• Top right: Resource (Who will do the work? Carpen-
ters? Programmers?)
• Center: Activity description (a simple task descrip-
tion of about four or five words)
• Lower right: Number of resource hours
• Lower left: Duration (How long will this activity
take, start-to-complete?)
With this kind of information, you can manage. If you
intend to put your plan on a computer using project-manage-
ment software, this is the information that the computer needs
(minus the activity number—the computer will assign it).
Some elements of all jobs have been done so often they are
routine, so be sure you know how long routine tasks take,
who can do them, and how much they cost. Effective

Planning Work and Scheduling Resources

managers want to know that every activity in the workflow is

being done better, faster, and cheaper. Are the numbers
accurate? Will they get better? Tracking the results allows
you to find out.
Sticky notes can be a planning manager’s best friend. A
desk top or conference table can become an instant planning
board, with a network created in minutes that converts hard-
to-follow abstractions to a picture of task relationships. Net-
works for repetitive activities or maintenance procedures can
be stored in the computer to reflect changes from the most
recent replication and be there ready to use when a task needs
to be replicated or a piece of equipment crashes or comes up
for routine service. A sailing friend came up with a clever
application: He writes on separate cards each step involved in
pulling his boat out of the water and winterizing it. Then, he
laminates each card, punches a hole in the top-left corner, and
puts them all on a steel ring. When fall decommissioning time
comes, he follows the cards. In the spring when the boat goes
back into the water, he follows the cards in reverse. When
there are a lot of important details and procedures to follow,
this is a good way to avoid costly errors.
There’s a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln that comes
up every so often: “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I
would spend six hours sharpening my axe.” That means
preparation and planning. (Have you heard of the Six Ps?
Prior planning prevents pathetically poor performance.)
Save yourself a lot of grief and pay attention to this: Plan
first and fully. Then schedule. Do you know what a schedule
is? It’s a plan expressed in time. Therefore, if you do a half-
hearted job of planning, you will end up with a schedule that
you cannot maintain. That’s why most over-busy managers
are busy cleaning up work others should have done.

Mastering the Manager’s Job

Regardless of your plan, the thing that really determines when
work gets done is resource availability. Sometimes the people
and the equipment you need just aren’t available. When they
are, sometimes it makes more sense to use them someplace
else. As the saying goes, the best laid plans of mice and men
have to give way to larger realities, to facts that didn’t exist
when the plan was being drafted. Life happens. A key
player’s parent dies and he’s gone for five days. A col-
league’s child is seriously ill and she’s out for several days at
a critical point in the project. The company picnic was sched-
uled for today, but there’s a tornado warning.
This is why it’s important to have a good back-up plan or
someone who really knows how to scramble to use available
resources to the best advantage. That person could be the
manager, but more likely it will be a very experienced worker
who has a knack for scheduling. (Some say that planning is a
science, but scheduling is an art. Skilful scheduling can
extend resource utilization by as much as twenty percent
without causing anyone to work overly hard or work over-
time.) A new manager who hasn’t really mastered the work
flow and doesn’t know the primary and back-up skills of all
staff members and who isn’t keeping up with the progress of
all work in the shop is not in a position to optimize available

Planning Work and Scheduling Resources

Effective scheduling means knowing this specific information:

• Which tasks are involved
• What kinds of skills are needed
• People who possess those skills that are needed to get
the work done
• Materials and equipment needed
• Lead times for getting materials and equipment
• Dates when resources are needed
• Availability
• Whether or not it is useful to double-up a resource (and
which ones) and/or reduce activity duration
• Which workers can be pulled off other jobs (if necessary)
• Stop-points if work has to be interrupted
• If there are budget impacts, how you will be able to cover
• When a piece of equipment is scheduled for mainte-
• Which materials will be available when, and which
materials will be difficult to get or will be delayed

Most of the people I’ve met who are best at this don’t
have a college degree, but they all have years of experience
(generally in several functional departments). As I watch
them work, I suspect that they possess deep knowledge about
the tasks for each job, including allowable durations and
costs. They also seem to have a kind of intuitive ability for
arranging tasks in ways that allow people to get surprising
amounts of work done in a normal, unhurried manner.

Mastering the Manager’s Job

One of the secrets of effective scheduling is to force tasks

to early closure and then report each closure immediately.
Then, people and equipment can be shifted to another task. In
much the same way that your computer begins to choke down
when you have too many programs running at the same time,
work groups begin to slow down when too many tasks are left
open or unfinished, waiting for something or someone. Tasks
left open tend to end up causing further delays; this consumes
resources, which impacts costs as well as productivity.
The time to get input from your co-workers is during the
planning process. In fact, it presents a great training opportu-
nity for your staff: What if you not only allow them to
participate in planning, but also get them to do the schedul-
ing? That’s learning in real time! Scheduling is like almost
everything else in the manager’s job: You don’t have to do it
yourself—you just have to see that it’s done. And the more
eyes, the better. It seems something always gets overlooked
when one busy person tries to remember and do everything
Here’s a classic example of a scheduling failure: Power
plants have a turbine deck, from which turbines that generate
electricity can be serviced. Above the turbine deck is an over-
head crane that travels the length of the building. To perform
major maintenance, the heavy steel jacket that covers the tur-
bine must be removed, requiring the overhead crane. If you
fail to schedule the crane in advance, it might be tied up
somewhere else. In one turbine overhaul I observed, 45 con-
tract technicians, each being billed at $100 per hour or more,
stood on the turbine deck for over an hour waiting for the
crane. On a project as expensive as an overhaul, $5,000 or so
is not a lot of money. But $5,000 is a huge penalty for a small
oversight—failing to schedule the overhead crane.

Planning Work and Scheduling Resources

Estimating and Budgeting

It doesn’t make sense to talk about plans and schedules with-
out also spending some time talking about budgets. First, a
simple definition: A budget is a plan expressed in dollars. It’s
developed by adding up projected costs. Suppose you have an
activity that calls for six hours of carpenter work, and car-
penter work costs $25 per hour. What’s the labor cost for that
activity? $150. When you go through your plan and add up
labor costs for each activity, cost of materials, and license
fees or other administrative costs (such as staff time to obtain
permits), and then add the profit target and 5 to 8 percent for
contingencies, you will have a fairly accurate budget.
Remember, the best budgets are based on plans developed at
high levels of detail. The more details, the more accuracy in
the accumulated numbers. When estimating for competitive
bidding, there’s no substitute for knowing the work, the
workers, and a host of other variables. This is one of those
places where mastering the manager’s job pays big dividends.
Let’s now turn to the last set of critical managerial

Chapter 8
Managing Time and Prioritizing

T his chapter on time management is about using common

sense at work. Compare time management to the parental
edict to do your homework before watching TV or playing
computer games. Maybe a twelve-year-old can’t always be
expected to appreciate the priorities associated with that
parental edict, and maybe he or she will think it’s just another
authoritarian gesture. But in an intelligent organization,
whether a family or a for-profit corporation, priorities must be
respected and served. And by the reckoning of management
gurus and researchers, understanding and responding to pri-
orities is a corporate “soft spot” in all kinds of organizations.
Performance deficits often get stuck with the generic cause-
label of “poor time management.”
As you might infer from these introductory comments,
I’m not a fan of time-management training as a corporate
expenditure, for one simple reason: Believing that working
adults cannot come to grips with priorities and thus need
time-management training as a source of discipline is just a
step away from treating them like the 12-year-old who can’t
“get” why algebra homework is more important than TV.
And isn’t that what’s happened in many organizations? Let
me suggest a correlation for you to consider: The more
authoritarian the organization, as defined by low levels of
participation, the greater the need for time-management

Mastering the Manager’s Job

Is not managing time the real problem?

Okay, who buys time-management training, and why? Man-
agers and organizational leaders turn to courses and work-
shops on time management because they’re looking for ways
to get their workers to focus more clearly on their assigned
tasks and duties, and to be more effective and productive. My
experience as a consultant—and before that, as a worker since
age nine—tells me that the problems addressed in such
courses usually cannot be solved by those who attend them.
Among those problems are: indecision, lack of organization,
lack of attention to detail, failure to prioritize, and low pro-
ductivity. Let’s take them in turn:

Indecision about what to do next. Employees should always

know what to do next. Before a manager decides that there’s
a “time management problem,” he needs to gather informa-
tion about the circumstances: Have the next tasks been sched-
uled? Is there an element of the task being performed that was
not explained properly? Is there a checklist or set of instruc-
tions to follow? Is there anyone close by who can be asked to
resolve the issue or answer the question that’s causing the
indecision? Maybe the problem isn’t the employee after all.

Lack of organization. In this instance, we’re talking about

being disorganized: no files, procedures, places for every-
thing, logical systems for moving or placing documents—
something more than simply putting in-boxes and out-boxes
on each desk and a wastebasket nearby. How can you handle
each piece of paper only once if there’s no obvious and des-
ignated place for all the paperwork that crosses your desk?

Managing Time and Prioritizing

Employees need task-completion structure, and it’s a man-

ager’s responsibility to provide it.

Lack of attention to detail. If details cause frustration, many

people will avoid tasks that are detailed and put them off until
later. Why do we procrastinate? Because the task is some-
thing we don’t want to do, don’t like to do, don’t get any
reward for doing, or don’t get punished if we don’t do it.
Maybe the task seems useless, and we just get angry when we
have to deal with nonsense. This reluctance to perform can
only be resolved on-site, not in a training room. If we hear,
“We fill out this form because the boss wants it!” we’ll do it
first and dispense with it.

Failing to prioritize. Before a manager concludes that an

employee is not prioritizing, he needs to step into the
employee’s shoes for a minute. What, exactly, are we sup-
posed to do first? Which order/request from someone senior
are we to honor? The first directive? The second order? Or
the most-recent request for a right-now response? And what
does “right now” mean? Does it mean ‘when you’ve finished
your current task’? Or does it mean, ‘Stop everything and
serve me now’? Some people are not very flexible and have
difficulty with multiple or seemingly-conflicting requests, but
a good manager should know how to work with all his or her
employees’ strengths and weaknesses.

Problems related to productivity. If productivity is the

problem, it will not be solved by talking about time manage-
ment. That’s only a symptom, and treating symptoms gener-
ally allows problems to get worse. The manager should be

Mastering the Manager’s Job

looking and listening more closely in order to identify why

people aren’t productive.
Here’s my point: Managers need to address any failure to
produce desired results, and to understand that the majority of
employees do perform up to standard—if there’s a standard
they understand and accept. In my experience, failure to per-
form as the manager expects is directly linked to the man-
ager’s attitude and approach; that is, if people at work respect
their manager, work gets done. When you and I don’t respect
a manager, it’s probably because he or she doesn’t respect us!
In that situation, if there are other problems like those
mentioned above that we can’t resolve ourselves, we aren’t
going to tell the manager. You know the response: “That’s
not my job!” And if it’s a fact that people aren’t working up
to standard, rewarding them with time off to go to a time-
management class hardly seems like an effective strategy.

Making the Most of Your Time

Another reality in dealing with people is that it’s usually easy
enough to correct small errors in their performance if you
spot those errors before they become set in an individual’s
work pattern. Managers have actually told me, “I don’t have
time to be a nursemaid to these people,” to which I always
respond, “What do you do with your time?” The answers I’ve
heard over the years lead me to suggest a few ways to opti-
mize the use of a manager’s time:
1. Know what you are paid to do in measurably spe-
cific terms. Many people at work have only a vague
idea about their exact responsibilities. That’s why
many things fall through the cracks. Don’t be a task

Managing Time and Prioritizing

collector, working overtime and weekends doing

things others won’t do. Stay out of others’ job
responsibilities to keep roles clear at work. When you
do the work others should be doing, you’re doing
what they’re paid to do, but you’re also rewarding
them for ignoring their responsibilities. Worse still,
managers who do the work of others usually are
doing things compensated at a much lower level. Job
descriptions can and will change, and sometimes
quite rapidly. Be sure that the changes in your
responsibilities are documented and formalized,
perhaps with a signature from your manager.
2. Delegate. Don’t do anything that someone else can
do. Learn to delegate tasks to direct reports who will
learn from the experience, or delegate to people who
have special expertise and are happy to help you.
You need time to coach, counsel, think, and plan, and
this is one way to get it.
3. Find the courage to ask for help. Many managers
are reluctant to ask for help, and end up spending
hours on tasks others could have handled in minutes.
Organizations are full of people with specialized
expertise; use them. Be clear about the help you need,
and ask for help early on, so that your work gets into
the helper's work schedule without creating a crunch
for either of you. And be sure to express appreciation
in some tangible way that’s reflective of the interests
of your helper. Maybe it’s an article of interest, a
used book, a bottle of wine, or just lunch in the com-
pany cafeteria. But do something that suggests that

Mastering the Manager’s Job

you have made an effort to reciprocate in some small

way. (This is important. See the next item.)
4. Build your own support system. Once you've mas-
tered the art of asking for help, it's natural to extend
the process to develop a broad range of resource
relationships. People love to be asked for advice, but
do your part: Don't ask for help until you have pack-
aged everything they’ll need to help you. Be prepared
to reciprocate, and when asked to do so, don’t hesi-
tate to say yes. This kind of informal networking
makes a lot of sense.
5. Block out your day. The routines of most jobs can
be divided into three categories: morning work,
afternoon work, and homework. Interoffice mail and
other routines will take time to deal with, so don't
fight the system. Most morning work can be done in
an hour, so do it right away. Afternoon chores can be
left to last, leaving a six-hour hole to be filled with
high-energy activity. Whatever the pattern, formalize
it and allow yourself enough time to complete and
close each task. If you take public transportation, use
commute time for planning and scheduling.
6. Don't apologize if you’re busy. Much productive
time gets chewed up with impromptu visits from
colleagues in which the main agenda is office gossip
or non-work activities. The people who generally
organize the office football pools are not the high
achievers! If someone stops by to chat, don’t be
afraid to say, “I’m really busy right now. Can we talk
later, maybe at five o’clock?” Maybe you can get a

Managing Time and Prioritizing

“Do not disturb” sign for you door, like you see in
hotels. Your managers should disturb you, of course,
but the sign might keep away the pesky hall walkers.
Remember, they’re not just stealing work time—
they’re also stealing your peace of mind by prevent-
ing you from closing tasks and getting them off your
7. Cancel every meeting you can. Meetings can burn
up incredible numbers of hours. The problem with
meetings is that they involve too many people who
don't have the data or authority to do anything about
problems being discussed. Don't use meetings to
solve problems. Instead, use them to identify prob-
lems, and then to assign responsibilities and due
dates. (That's do-able in 15 minutes or less.) Then, if
a problem needs immediate attention, stay with the
few individuals who have relevant information and
involvement, and let the rest return to work. Don’t
make others waste their time listening to discussions
of issues with which they are not involved. Set time
limits for meetings, and stay within the schedule.
Start on time, end on time. Earn a reputation for
being a tough meeting manager; it might be more
important than you imagine (and it’s one sure place
to demonstrate time management.) Remember this,
too: Meetings aren’t cheap. Multiply the average
salary of participants by the number of participants
by the duration of the meeting, and add 10 or 15
minutes transit time on both ends of the meeting. The
meter is running faster than you think!

Mastering the Manager’s Job

8. Give everyone a chance to succeed. The first and

greatest managerial responsibility is to make sure
everyone knows what he or she is expected to do, and
what constitutes satisfactory performance for each
task. Most people can perform successfully if they
know these two things, but in truth, many people
don’t have that kind of certainty, and so they con-
tinuously look over their shoulders for a signal from
the boss that they’re doing okay. Even the people
who cut grass along roadways have more independ-
ence than most office workers—they at least know
what they’re supposed to do and how much grass
they have to cut. They know when it’s cut enough,
and when it looks okay. Shouldn’t office workers
have the same security in knowing what’s okay and
what isn’t? Not knowing wastes time and limits pro-
ductivity. Give them the information they need to
9. Quit taking each other to lunch. Use lunch hours
for learning or selling. Meet a customer, read a book,
sleep if you can't read—anything but waste time with
cronies rehashing office gossip. Set up a brown bag
study program with colleagues to improve skills.
Exercise or do something else that’s constructive,
rather than sag into the discontent that rehashing
office gossip feeds.
10. Remember that you have to manage only three
things, regardless of organizational level, industry, or
technology: schedule (Will work be performed within
the allotted time?); cost (Will work be completed
within budget?); and quality (Will the completed

Managing Time and Prioritizing

work meet technical specifications?). When it comes

to people, manage data about their performance and
resolve any performance problems when they arise.
This will save a lot of time. If you have people who
need your close attention, wean them away from
close supervision or remove them. But if you need
people to be dependent on you, that’s a disaster
waiting to happen. Such chains of mutual
dependency do exist, but they’re always problematic.
A final suggestion that pertains to most of these tips: Use
checklists. Why risk looking stupid, careless, or disorganized?
A clipboard or electronic device will help you create check-
lists to cover all routine or promised results. Lists are a man-
ager's best tool. Airline pilots use them before, during, and
after every flight. When details matter (like lowering the
landing gear on descent), checklists go a long way toward
preventing disaster. To err is human, but to make an easily
preventable mistake is inexcusable.

Closing in on Priorities
Let me call your attention to something you may not have
noticed: One priority in your organization—and across the
country—should be to come to grips with low morale. As
long ago as 1976, longshoreman-philosopher Eric Hoffer
warned that we were in a period of low morale, and we’re still
in it. Look at the time-management issues we just talked
about: low morale, low self-esteem, and lack of respect
almost jump off the pages! Writing in his wonderful book In
Our Time, Hoffer said the only antidote is esprit de corps,
bringing to mind the U.S. Marines and their motto, Semper
Fideles, always faithful. Given today’s prevailing attitudes,

Mastering the Manager’s Job

that might not be the imagery many want to adopt, but there
are a host of corporate and civic issues that will not be
resolved as long as low morale is an impediment. However,
Hoffer offered something hopeful: You and I and others who
are capable of enthusiasm have unparalleled opportunities to
be influential, to be leaders, to make a difference in how we
work with others and infuse them with our positive energy.
It’s really up to us, because as Hoffer read the recent past and
probable future, this is not going to be an era of great
galvanizing leaders anywhere in the world. His insights from
thirty years ago seem to have been prescient.
Many times the boss, too, is without a clear idea of priori-
ties and is dancing as fast as possible to please an even more
senior manager who is working by whimsy, rather than by
plan or schedule.

Priorities and Sequencing

“What’s my priority? The last thing my boss told me to do.”
This old cliché notwithstanding, the issue of priorities comes
down to three questions:
What task do we do first?
What task must be completed first?
If work must be interrupted, when does it make sense
to do so?
Again, managers manage only three things: schedule,
costs, and quality/quantity. One of those is of prime impor-
tance and one is least important. There are no exceptions! A
manager’s priorities can and will change, but there cannot be
more than one #1 priority.

Managing Time and Prioritizing

From this assertion come other realities about priority

• Schedules drive cost. The quicker something must be
done in the usual organizational setting, the more it
will cost. If the schedule slips, there are limited ways
to regain the original schedule. You can spend more
by paying overtime or pulling people off other work.
You can modify quality/quantity criteria by deliver-
ing fewer items than scheduled, or reduce the quali-
tative specifications. You can go to the client and
apologize, and hope that he or she will accept a
change order.
• If cost is the priority and the original estimate proves
inadequate, you can either allow the schedule to slip,
change the quality/quantity criteria, go back to the
client with a change order, or accept the associated
• If quality is prime and non-negotiable, as it would be
in a medical or pharmaceutical setting, both schedule
and cost have to yield to quality.
• If resources have to be diverted from other tasks in
order to meet a commitment, do not bury or hide the
additional costs in order to avoid blame. Eventually,
resource expenditures will have to be accounted for.
If there’s dishonesty, it will have to be dealt with in
some way (i.e., you will have to hold someone
accountable, or you will have to bury the costs and
allow dishonest accounting to go unreported).

Mastering the Manager’s Job

• Never interrupt work in progress until you have

brought it to a natural stopping point and “locked
down” all the parts and pieces. Then, when work is
resumed, you won’t lose more time looking for and
recovering loose pieces.
Lack of managerial respect for priorities and failure to
respond to their internal drivers (agreeing on schedule, cost,
and quality as primary, secondary, or tertiary) is confusing to
workers. The financial sleight-of-hand that follows leads to
disbelief in any of the posted numbers; no one is sure what
anything costs, so they have less commitment to efforts at
cost-effectiveness. Understanding priorities, in the manner
described above, is necessary in the quest for profits.
But so is the support and commitment of workers, and
these are negotiable qualities. Workers are not stupid, and
they’ll respond in kind to the way they are treated by man-
agers. They can be misled by managerial smokescreens a
couple of times, but pretty soon they’ll realize that someone is
fudging. If schedules, costs, and quality don’t matter to man-
agers, or if managers don’t partner with workers to set and
meet those performance targets, why should workers care?
Morale and organizational performance are casualties.
How do you break such a cycle? One honest and disci-
plined manager at a time.


M astering the Manager’s Job was written with one objec-

tive in mind: To offer ideas that you can implement
independently, without asking anyone’s permission. All
organizations are full of constraints and reasons why you
must not do anything outside the boundaries of daily routine.
It’s always easier to stay inside the box of local customs and
practices than to experiment with new ideas and new ways of
getting work done. If you have to ask permission to be a more
participative manager or to be more inclusive of others when
you’re making decisions, or you need permission to hold
stand-up meetings at 8:00 a.m., the chances are good that you
won’t do these things—why risk hearing the word no? Work-
ers in fear-based organizations are afraid to go along with
participative management because they have learned long ago
that it’s safer to keep their heads down and avoid being
If you want to master the manager’s job, however, you
don’t have to master the status quo. With a little effort and
persistence, you should be able to show your colleagues how
to distinguish themselves as outstanding performers and con-
tributors without their having to ask for permission. The sug-
gestions for job mastery offered in this pocket guide are pre-
sented as natural extensions of things you should be doing as
a manager: Becoming more inclusive; providing growth
opportunities and pushing people to take them; setting targets
and measuring results; giving supportive feedback; celebrat-
ing when people try something new and succeed; and study-
ing the examples provided by the country’s best managers, as
well as examples set by people in your own organization.


The three core management competencies that came out

of Scott Parry’s research are essential for success in mastering
the manager’s job. However, there are two things that man-
agers commonly overlook: ethics and simple honesty.
Unfortunately, these values are not part of daily operations in
many organizations. There are few things at work more dis-
couraging than hearing your manager lie to co-workers or
clients or customers. That’s truly poisonous to relationships,
respect for the leadership, and for morale—and it’s not a rare
occurrence. “White lies” to cover mistakes, late deliveries,
failure to get awards or rewards for deserving employees
(“Sorry, Fred, they just didn’t go for it” when Fred knows no
effort was made), and so on. Small stuff? Not really.
Beneath the headline-grabbing misbehavior of large cor-
porations and their leaders and the sweatshops that exploit
illegal immigrants in nearly every large city in the country,
there are countless daily violations perpetrated against the
interests of individuals and groups in companies large and
small. This is not a new phenomenon, but there are those who
say the situation is improving. A major step in that direction
was taken when Kenneth Blanchard and Norman Vincent
Peale collaborated to write The Power of Ethical Manage-
ment in 1988. Their small, easy-to-read book became the
basis for discussions of ethics in staff meetings and training
rooms of hundreds of organizations. The authors came up
with a simple and comprehensive way to assess proposed
actions and decisions. The Blanchard and Peale “Ethics
Check” consists of just three questions:

Mastering the Manager’s Job

1. Is it legal?
2. Is it balanced and fair to all?
3. How will it make me feel about myself if my family
and friends find out?
Perhaps it’s just coincidence, but since that book was
published, many companies have added to their mission
statements a code of ethics and set of statements of belief. But
even before 1988, Rotary International was sending out its
own ethical message on ballpoint pens:

Four-Way Test of the Things

We Think, Say, or Do:
Is it the TRUTH?
Is it FAIR to all involved?
Will it build GOODWILL and better friendships?
Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

Either of these useful screens for managerial decisions

and actions can help prevent you from doing something that
might be perceived as racist, sexist, or otherwise dishonest.
Believe it or not, both Machiavelli and Attila the Hun have
been touted as management theorists in recent books. It’s
unlikely that any contemporary manager could be held up as a
role model for using tyrannical tactics that put others at a dis-
advantage. Today, even an isolated incident is likely to result
in litigation against the manager and the company. This has
repercussions beyond reputation, affecting morale, produc-
tivity, and profitability, in that order.


We talked earlier about Bob Galvin of Motorola, who

possibly more than any other individual was responsible for
bringing an entirely new focus on quality and management
into the public domain. An early convert to participative
management in the 1960s, Galvin was a believer in scrupu-
lous honesty; he once admitted that Motorola was doing a
poor job of manufacturing management. He was a manager
who truly mastered his job.
Successful managers who have become public figures
have a lot to teach us. It might be interesting to collect infor-
mation on such leaders and compare their styles, contribu-
tions, and philosophies. If you have friends or colleagues who
want to take job mastery to the logical next step, consider
studying the achievements and advice of these super-manag-
ers. It would be a great theme for a series of brown-bag
lunches. As you travel along the road to mastering the man-
ager’s job, you’ll see that helping others learn is just a natural
extension of your other duties.
To return one last time to that most basic managerial
duty, planning, consider the words of a contemporary indus-
trialist-turned-consultant, Sir John Harvey-Jones, former
chairman and CEO of ICI in the U.K.:

Planning is an unnatural process; it’s more fun to do

nothing. Sometimes, the nicest thing about not plan-
ning is that failure comes as a complete surprise,
rather than being preceded by a period of worry and

Mastering the manager’s job is possible. You just have to

decide to do it.

Recommended Reading
Blanchard, Kenneth and Norman Vincent Peale. The Power
of Ethical Management. 1988. New York: William
Morrow and Co. This book provides a platform for
talking about some of organizational life’s most
compelling issues.
Harris, Philip R. Managing the Knowledge Culture: A Guide
for Human Resource Professionals and Managers in the
21st Century Workplace. 2005. Amherst, Massachusetts:
HRD Press, Inc. This is a resource-rich book, useful for
managers, HR and training professionals, and students.
Add it to your library.
Herzberg, Frederic. The Managerial Choice: To Be Efficient
and to Be Human. 1976. New York: Dow-Jones-Irwin.
This is a powerful and still-relevant voice in releasing
human potential, with a surprising and thoroughly
validated model.
Hoffer, Eric. In Our Time. 1976. New York: Harper and Row.
Maybe the last philosopher unafraid to be politically
incorrect in public and in print. Hoffer was an
unapologetic advocate of the integrity and innate wisdom
of working people.
McGregor, Douglas. The Human Side of Enterprise. 1985.
(Twenty-fifth anniversary printing). New York: McGraw-
Hill/Irwin. The original text was published in 1960, but is
still fundamental in discussing management styles and

Creating a Winning Management Style

Motorola University. Participant’s manual for a one-day

briefing on Six Sigma at the Phoenix, Arizona facility
(taken from SSG PG-11-1 6/15/88). As presented and
currently, Six Sigma is the standard for quality and
organizational excellence.
Mulvaney, John. Analysis Bar Charting: A Simplified Critical
Path Analysis Technique. 1989. Bethesda, Maryland:
Management Planning and Control Systems. This small,
easy-to-read manual is a planning master work.
Murray, W. H. The Scottish Himalayan Expedition. 1951.
London: J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd. Perhaps this is
remembered most for its insight into commitment.
Oncken, William. Monkey Business: Are You Controlling
Events, or Are Events Controlling You? 2000. Provo,
Utah: Executive Excellence Publishing. An innovative
tutorial, now reaching a third generation of managers, but
still fresh.
Senge, Peter. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of
the Learning Organization. 1990. New York: Doubleday.
This author has been widely quoted and studied for his
innovative ideas on achieving organizational potential.
Stack, Jack (with Bo Burlingame). The Great Game of
Business. 1994. New York: Doubleday/Currency. This is
the most useful book on management and organization
I’ve ever read. A decade later, the authors released A
Stake in the Outcome (New York: Doubleday/Currency,
2003), to validate their achievements. Read them both.
U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Mission statement, posted
April 25, 2005 at
About the Author
Woodrow H. Sears earned one of the early doctorates in
human resource development, studying under Leonard Nadler
at George Washington University, the man who coined the
term and created the professional and academic discipline
known as HRD. Before beginning his career in management,
Woody was a photographer; a newspaper reporter; a Marine
officer; and later an editor with the Cooperative Extension
Service at North Carolina University, where he earned a
master’s degree in adult education. He worked at Leadership
Resources, Inc., one of the country’s first behaviorally-
oriented consulting firms, and served as HR manager and
later the director of training for an environmental company.
He has provided consulting services for a broad range of
industries and technologies, U.S. federal agencies, and
Canadian crown corporations and provincial governments.
After extensive Civil Rights, EEO, and police training,
Woody Sears shifted his focus to project management, devel-
oping project-management systems for domestic and interna-
tional clients and lecturing at universities. The author of Back
in Working Order: How American Enterprises Can Win the
Productivity Battle (Scott Foresman, 1984) and co-author
with Audrone Tamulionnyte-Lentz of Succeeding in Business
in Central and Eastern Europe: A Guide to Cultures,
Markets, and Practices (Butterworth-Heinemann, 2001),
Woody was in Slovakia as a volunteer with the International
Executive Service Corps in 1998 when he was asked to go to
Lithuania for a one-month assignment. He is still there.
Contact Woodrow Sears by e-mail at: woodysears@