Matthew Sekol

"The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words."

Category: Management

At the End of the Day, You Should Read This

No expression gets under my skin lately more than “at the end of the day”. Over the past few months, I’ve been challenging to get myself through a day without hearing it, but inevitably, it rears its ugly head. I believe this expression is one of the most over used phrases in modern business. While it doesn’t hold a nebulous meaning like “paradigm shift” or other corporate speak, it does have connotations associated with it, even if you haven’t realized it.

For this article, I’m mostly going to use this acronym ATEOTD because I don’t want to overwhelm you. Like me, you probably here it too much.

The Literal
I will concede one point. It is perfectly acceptable to use this expression as a reflection of actual time. ATEOTD could mean 5PM when the traditional work day ends. One could argue that your day ends when you put down your smart phone for the last time, but we’re not here to debate work/life balance. If a particular activity needs to be completed by the end of day, feel free to say as much. Usually, ATEOTD comes at the end of a sentence when used literally.

“I need to see you at the end of the day.”

Eep! That doesn’t sound good!

A Lazy Wrap Up
It is possible to use this expression out of pure laziness. Sometimes after a lengthy discussion or meeting, someone will throw out ATEOTD to wrap up.

“At the end of the day, we need this (project) to be done.”

If you have a manager that uses a sentence like this to conclude the meeting, their team may be underperforming. After a meeting, a statement like this enforces importance, but gives no direction and offers no consensus. Post meeting side conversations will crop up and be rife with confusion and floundering. Before proceeding on this critical project, the team will likely follow up with the manager that made that statement for clarification, wasting everyone’s time.

A better wrap-up would be to recap the discussion points and come to a consensus on next steps before closing the meeting with particular assignments for individuals.

That’s My Final Word
People sometimes want something so bad or believe in something so much, they will throw ATEOTD out to end the conversation and try to sway you to their point of view.

“At the end of the day, this is how we’re doing this.”

Don’t be fooled by this ploy. If you hear this and you don’t agree with the assessment or don’t understand something, question it. Someone may throw this out if they feel threatened and want to avoid conflict, but that doesn’t do justice to the issue at hand. Chances are there might just be a miscommunication that requires additional exploration.

A Life Changing Decision
We all have to make decisions in our career. Most day to day decisions are innocuous enough to have a short term impact, but some can be life changing. The latter choices come up rarely. You might hear ATEOTD being used to exaggerate the importance of a decision you are faced with to get you to hastily arrive to that decision.

“At the end of the day, this (solution, car, house) is the one you want.”

There’s some solace and comfort being offered for how you will feel when you look back on this decision and see that you have reaped some reward. Another possible translation here is “at the end of your career” you will look back and realize you made the right decision.

It should come as no surprise that this is a tactic used in Sales to get you to come to the conclusion quicker. The problem is that it offers no alignment to your goals. For the Sales folks out there, you will solicit more engagement if you restate the customer’s wants and align them to your offer.

A Question of Philosophy
This one could also be called The Inspirational Quote for the Masses. You might find it on FaceBook or in the title of some dubious articles on the internet. Come on, you know you’ve seen it (or worse, shared it).

“At the end of the day, you need to be able to live with yourself.”
-Some successful guy with experience

Unfortunately, these quotes are little more than Hallmark Card sentiment. They are typically obvious and still point to an undetermined timeframe in the future. Either the end of your life or at some crossroads.

The complexities of life simply cannot be summed up in a single quote. Your decisions will likely ebb an flow over the course of your life depending on your circumstances. If your mentor happens to talk like this, they aren’t really looking at the big picture, but they might think they are.

Why Does This Matter?
I hear ATEOTD quite a bit in a week. Sometimes, the intention is a combination of several of these examples and not just one. I challenge you to do two things.

  1. Listen to people when they talk and identify which ATEOTD they are using. Strike back and challenge them with questions to get to their intentions. The interesting thing about it is once you realize the motivation behind people using the expression, you can’t stop analyzing it.
  2. Make a conscious effort to speak more thoughtfully when you are talking and eliminate ATEOTD from your vocabulary. Strive to communicate more effectively and see where it gets you.

Now that you’ve read this article, you will hear ATEOTD being said by everyone (almost guaranteed). Remember to try these two things and see where it gets you!

Why You Should Trust
the IT Early Bird

When I moved down to Frederick, MD a few years ago, I learned pretty quick that I needed to adjust my work hours. The commute to Rockville some days and Bethesda on others was tough. The 30 mile commute was always close to an hour, and that was on good days. In order to keep my sanity, I would leave home at 6:30AM and leave work no later than 4PM every day (if I could help it).

I was working at a utility company that only had plants and offices based in the US. Operating power plants and gas transmission lines required 24/7 support, but IT was staffed during the typical 9-5 hours. At each plant, there was a smart hands person (one of these was my own mother), who would typically arrive very early in the morning. This person wore several hats at the plant and were excellent points of contacts for IT.

After coming in early for a few months, the plant contacts realized I was online early. If there were any issues overnight, they would usually call me up first thing and we would work through the issue together. There were benefits on both sides. I was learning plant systems and troubleshooting issues that other IT owners might have taken on if they waited until 9AM. For the plant contacts, they would get their issue resolved quicker, resulting in higher satisfaction and a growing trust with myself and, by extension, IT.

I was hired as a desktop support person. Within 5 years, I was the technical lead for the Platform Services team. A lot of this was due to coming in early.

No one seemed to mind that I left early in the day either. My managers were well aware of my commute and they saw the advantages from me coming in early.

Since then, I’ve had other jobs and I always try to show up early and leave early. After all, I check my email all night anyway and as remote access became ubiquitous, this became even easier and more frequent. Some managers and teams didn’t care, others did care though. Regardless of opinions though, I was still consistently a top performer who would find issues early in the morning and resolving them before everyone came in.

Moving into management, I’ve come to understand the delicate balance of this shift in start and leave times. Sometimes I would get complaints from others when they see someone leaving early. They would make comments under their breath like “banker’s hours” and the like. Before you try something like this, make sure your manager and team is on board and understand your work times. Your manager in particular needs to account for your time. Be sure they are comfortable with it and see the benefits. If they do, they (and your team), will have your back.

The IT early bird is someone that can be trusted. They’ve seen it all and have done most troubleshooting by the time the others roll in. This gives them a great general knowledge of systems that might be out of their direct line of responsibility. Keep an eye on these folks – you might just see them do some amazing things!

Gen-Xers Value Life Balance, Too!

house-w-white-picket-fence_000Another day, more articles about Millennials. Where are the articles for Gen-Xers? We’re out here and about to be the group that has to lead Millennials and the generation after them in the business world.

Consider that the last of the Baby Boomers will be retiring in the next 10 years. Stack that on top of Gen-Xers that have gained corporate and managerial experience over the last 10 years. Sure, there are Millennials out there that will make (or already are) great managers, too, but Gen-X has the experience to hit the ground running.

Let’s get one thing out of the way, a generation does not define an individual. There are large swaths of individuals in each generations that do meet these profiles though.

The Work/Life balance for Millennials is about satisfaction. They crave both professional and personal fulfillment. If they need fewer hours and less pay to get there, they will get it sorted out through creativity and remote access. To them, their life experience is worth as much as the money they earn.

Consider that Millennials are ditching high cost items, like cars and houses, things that Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers have always taken for granted as necessities.

Perhaps it is because Millennials have witnessed their parents work like crazy and get little in return, or worse buried in debt, in their non-work life.

Millennial Philosophy: Work to Live!

For Gen-Xers, Work/Life balance is about taking financial care of their families. Not only do they have kids, but they are taking care of their aging parents, who are going to live for quite a long time (this will eventually be a Millennial problem too, eventually). They do value their family, but feel that they are better served through hard work and financial responsibility.

Gen-Xers grew up with ‘greed is good’ and, having lost a TON of money over the years, they’re still trying to gain that financial security. Due to the Baby Boomers’ strong work ethic, they take the punches and just keep going.

Gen-Xer Philosophy: Live to Work!

What is Gen-X Thinking?
As a member of Gen-X, I can see the appeal in the Millennial philosophy. For me, my career is a race to stay ahead to ensure my family has the financial security to send 3 kids to college (all will overlap for at least for 1 year) while making sure I can take care of my parents, who are close to retirement.

A lot of Gen-Xers are so far down this path that they can’t stop. They’ve purchased homes and bought into the same American dream that our parents help set up. So, now what are they to do?

Here’s what it comes down to. Gen-X is seeing how the Millenials operate and realizing that the work struggle isn’t the legacy we want to leave our families. We’re picking up the same tools as Millennials and leveraging them to give us a flexible work experience. All of this is while maintaining and improving our results at work.

The Downfall of the Flexible Work Movement
The one thing that will kill off this movement though is same thing that will kill it off for the Millennials. Employers need to recognize that, in some cases where the job (and person) can handle it, working remotely is just as effective as working in the office. Of course, some companies can’t seem to figure out even how to have remote offices!

I’ve seen flexible and remote work in my own industry. In IT, you don’t have to be in front of a server to manage it. The cloud and global accessibility has hastened this argument. Since IT folks are highly technical, we’ve embraced collaboration tools to work remotely from the rest of our team. As a manager of a global team, I’ve been able to be effective without ever meeting half of my team in person.

Millennials have led the charge for a better Work/Life balance, but Gen-X is adopting their methodologies. As Gen-X move into leadership roles, expect more flexible and results oriented initiatives. On the flip side, they will ask for accountability, otherwise the model falls apart.

The Story of My Career: How to
Go from an English Major to IT

It was my 16th birthday and I was working at JCPenney’s in package pick-up. A co-worker heard it was my birthday and went over to the bookstore and purchased a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle” for me. I had just finished reading George Orwell’s “1984” and both books blew my mind.

This is what I wanted to do – read great novels and teach kids to love literature.

I went to Penn State with every intention of majoring in English and doing, well something. At one point, I took my LSATs. In the late 90s though, the Internet exploded! Penn State started offering web sites to students and professors. I was fascinated with HTML and volunteered to do everyone’s class page.

I still loved to read, but I found I had a knack for the technical as well. There seemed to be money in technology and, the best thing was I could see it coming.

A lot of colleges were behind the ball in offering classes in what would become IT in the professional world. Computer Science at Penn State in 1997 wasn’t an exception. Now, I had been tutoring Calculus for 2  years despite my Liberal Arts education. In my senior year, I went to the Dean of the Computer Science department and asked what it would take to switch majors or at least get a minor.

Turns out neither was an option, or at least that was my understanding. It was hard to glean the true meaning behind all the laughing. I actually walked out to the sound of laughter.

I refused to believe this was the end. I started checking into what kinds of IT jobs were out there.

I kept developing websites for folks over the next year and grew my computer skills in general. By my senior year, I found Microsoft Networking Essentials and the MCSE program. I came up with a plan.

I graduated with my degree in English in the spring of 1998, but my roommates and I had the apartment through the summer. I scrapped my TV and immersed myself in Networking Essentials over the summer.

In the fall, I went to work for my father’s company upgrading their servers and managing a customer database. He offered to pay me in MCSE courses. After a few months, I had my MCSE and was on my way.

Phew, 1998 was a long time ago. In that time, I’ve grown a strong career on collaboration tools and IT infrastructure. Now, I haven’t become CIO or anything, but I did get to be manager of an international team of IT engineers for a global semiconductor company.

Oh, and that English degree? It absolutely helped me get here. Nothing balances out a technical career like a Liberal Arts education.

I have no idea whatever became of the Dean, but I will never forget him laughing at me. Who knew an English major could get so far in IT? So, what about the dream of reading great novels and teaching kids to love literature? Well, I have 3 kids under 8 and if our growing library is any indication, I’m doing just fine.

How to Go from Peer to Manager

promotionsignI had the luck to work on a great team supporting Microsoft Enterprise products and VMWare for a number of years in a global Enterprise environment. Through hard work and learning new leadership skills, I became the person that the team looked to for answers. I led the team in an architecture lead and mentor capacity for a number of years, but wanted more.

After discussing with my manager, he gave me more and more responsibility and mentored me. Finally the day came when I got promoted and moved into management. I had been really close with everyone on the team and developed great relationships. It was interesting to make the move, and here’s what I found when I became a manager to my peers.

90 Day Plan
Let’s get the no-brainer out of the way first. You should have a 90 day plan for your team. End of story. Just do it, but don’t lose sight of the long term goals.

I Get It, They Aren’t My Friends
The number one thing you will hear is that you can no longer be friends with your employees. As a manager, of course your relationship will change. You will now be exposed to the complexities of the team’s inter-personal relationships. As a peer, you may have only noticed your individual relationship to each of them.

The first thing you need to work through is getting comfortable delegating to your subordinates and holding them accountable. If you had a good relationship with them as a team member, this can prove to be easy. You can’t become a pushover though. That will blow up in your face. Instead, give others clear directions and use a heavy hand if necessary.

There’s certainly no reason to stop going to lunch or getting coffee with your subordinates. You will likely find it can be an excellent way to get some feedback on how you are doing.

Quick Successes (or Problems) Lead to Bonding
A great way to help your team adjust is to create a short-term project with specific goals. Since you were on the team, you should know the quick-fire projects and get (and give) your team some praise. Step back and let them work.

This should help your team do two things. First, your team will have to figure out how to work without you in the dynamic. Second, the success and quick praise helps them bond.

Our company experienced a major email outage shortly after I took over the team due to a hardware failure. Everyone on the team got involved and it was a fantastic bonding experience for everyone. It also helped me learn some new management and communication skills.

From Mentor to Manager
If you don’t gel with the rest of your team, you probably shouldn’t become their manager. As I started down the management path, I found that I had a great tool already in my toolkit to help me build good relationships. Leveraging empathy in a peer role is great and can help you gain trust and respect, especially if you use it while mentoring.

Mentoring others is a great way to ease the transition into management and can make it feel more natural for your team. Also, you can learn a myriad of skills by mentoring, both management and those related to your job. When I became manager, it was well received by the team because I had already started down the mentoring path and built respect by helping my peers.

Engagement
My previous manager set aside time for both 1:1 and team meetings. I kept these meetings in place, and they turned out to be critical in the transition. Initially, I made both meetings weekly. I used these meetings to set the tone, learn about both technical and personnel issues, communicate changes, plans and ongoing issues to the team.

1:1 time was especially critical in the beginning and helped me get a better handle on what everyone was working on. This helped me prioritize, get others the help they needed to succeed, and organize the team more effectively. Beyond that, I was able to start identifying each team member’s unique personality from my new and different perspective.

Honesty
I was extremely honest during the first 90 days. I didn’t pretend to know everything because, despite being on the team, I just didn’t know everything about everything  or everyone. If I saw something that didn’t look right to me, I deftly asked why things were like that and led the team in directions to make improvements.

Don’t be afraid to question what you see and give honest feedback. You are now in a position to make changes and are responsible for ensuring your team is doing the best work it can.

Find and Build a Group of Management Peers
Your management peers can help you succeed. Since you were just promoted, they will have a lot of advice that can help you navigate the complexities of management. Reach out to them with questions. It may make sense to ask someone to be your mentor. Since my previous manager was still around, I was able to leverage my relationship and get feedback on my performance.

As you build new relationships with new manager peers, be sure not to neglect your old relationships with your team!

Summary
For many, going from a team member to a team leader can be an easy way to transition to management. How you handle the transition is extremely important for both your success and your team’s. This is no time to rest on your laurels! With the same hard work and planning you used to get promoted, you will succeed.

Awesome Corporate Mix Vol. I

Mixtape

Guardians of the Galaxy was a great and fun movie. In the movie, Peter Quill’s mother gives him a cassette called Awesome Mix Vol. I. If you’ve seen the movie, you know how well the music complements the action. I love watching my 8 year old dance to these old songs and make her own mixes on Spotify. Over the years, I’ve used music as I’ve worked to get things done, get pumped up for a project, and even get through the tough times. How about a Awesome Corporate Mix Vol. 1? Let’s kick it off with one from Guardians of the Galaxy!

Track #1
Fooled Around and Fell In Love by Elvin Bishop You’ve got an internship, just started, and you could just work here forever! Heck, you’ll be in charge after your first year! (You poor naïve sap.)
Relevant Lyrics: Free, on my own, that’s the way I used to be / Ah, but since I met you baby / Love’s got a hold on me

Track #2
Retreat! by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings Someone in your management chain (you know who I mean), is just a little off. You wonder how they got there and why they are still there. Bananas might be a good way to describe this person.
Relevant Lyrics: Step back, boy, because you can’t fix crazy!…Retreat, ’cause it’s my way baby / And I don’t care none about the rest of you

Track #3
Applause by Lady Gaga This one is for the millennials. If LinkedIn has taught me anything, this is it. I will cling to this stereotype forever, sorry I can’t be swayed otherwise. If it makes you feel better, you can consider me an angst filled Gen X-er (refer to the post you are currently reading).
Relevant Lyrics: I live for the applause, applause, applause / Live for the way that you cheer and scream for me / The applause, applause, applause

Track #4
Don’t Say Nothing by The Heavy Have you ever been in a meeting and you are just about wrapped up, but then BAM! Tangent Man arrives! He has the power to interject his 2 cents and hijack any meeting! His only weakness is not hearing his own voice for one hour.
Relevant Lyrics: I get it / If it’s wrong then it’s wrong /  But you say nothing /  ‘Bout all kinds of something

Track #5
Gimme Three Steps by Lynyrd Skynyrd Dedicated to all you Silicon Valley folks that try to interview across tech companies and then get found out. Oops! If you’ve been living under a rock, lift it up and go read this.
Relevant Lyrics: Gimme three steps Mister and you’ll never see me no more

Track #6
The Touch by Stan Bush It’s been six months and your project is over. Despite all the issues and marketing’s instance on miring you in a two week product name discussion, the widget is ready to ship two months early and $200k under budget. You are the king (or queen). Commence strut! Surely, this project will get you noticed!
Relevant Lyrics: You’re at your best when when the goin’ gets rough / You’ve been put to the test but it’s never enough / You got the touch

Track #7
That’s Not My Name by The Ting Tings Oh my gosh! The CEO is calling! This has to be about the great work I did on that widget!
You: “Hello?”
CEO: “Uh, hello, uh, Michael, congratulations on the success of the widget.”
You: “This is Matthew.” (I also would’ve accepted stunned silence here.)
CEO: “Ah, yes, well on behalf of the board, I wanted to offer my sincerest thanks! Keep up the good work!” (He hangs up here. You have a thank you, but no bonus.)
Relevant Lyrics: They call me Hell / They call me Stacey / They call me her / They call me Jane / That’s not my name

Track #8
Private Eyes by Hall & Oates *click, click click When did IT start blocking Facebook? *click I’m the social media marketing manager, dang it! (Pulls out phone and hops on the 4G connection to post anyway.)
Relevant Lyrics: Private eyes, they’re watching you / Watching you, watching you, watching you

Track #9
Patience by Guns N’ Roses Hello, Help Desk? Email is down. It’s in the cloud, you say? Not your problem anymore, you say? Get a coffee, you say?
Relevant Lyrics: Said, woman, take it slow / And it’ll work itself out fine / All we need is just a little patience

Track #10
Peace of Mind by Boston What do you mean, I can’t get the iPhone 6? My cubemate just called and got one! How can I show my face at work without it? What will my loved ones think?
Relevant Lyrics: But I don’t care if I get behind / People livin’ in competition / All I want is to have my peace of mind

Track #11
Tick Tick Boom by The Hives Look, I’ve brought up this risk 10 times over the past year. If you’re not willing to fund the fix, I can’t be held accountable (2 days later, the risk manifests and you are still blamed anyway.)
Relevant Lyrics: You get your head out of the sand / But its too late, it’s too late, too late 

Track #12
Too Much Time on My Hands by Styx Your group is being eliminated. The good news is that we want to keep you on just in case for another year. The bad news is that your resume just took a one year hit.
Relevant Lyrics: Well I’m so tired of losing I got nothing to do / And all day to do it

Track #13
Uprising by Muse Congratulations! Your company is being acquired. All your software, processes and staff are changing. Here’s hoping YOU make it through! You have 2 months to complete this mission. Good luck, random participant!
Relevant Lyrics: They will not force us / And they will stop degrading us / And they will not control us / We will be victorious

Track #14
I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor Your cell phone is ringing. It’s from that company that fired you last week…they have a question that only YOU can answer. You’re busy on a new project at a better company. You wonder if not answering the phone is considered burning a bridge?
Relevant Lyrics: And so you felt like dropping in / And just expect me to be free / Now I’m saving all my lovin’ for someone who’s lovin’ me

Track #15
Running on Faith by Eric Clapton The stock is at an all time low with no end in sight. Actually, the company’s end is in sight, you just refuse to see it.
Relevant Lyrics: Lately I’ve been running on faith / What else can a poor boy do?

Bonus Track (for Guardians of the Galaxy viewers only!)
O-o-h Child by The Five Stairsteps This one is a challenge. If you are in a meeting and Tangent Man shows up, here’s what to do.
Step 1: Stand up and start singing this song.
Step 2: Find your groove and start dancing.
Step 3: Challenge him to a dance off.
If you happen to get a video, send it to Twitter #danceoff and be sure to include @MatthewSekol!

What Weird Al can teach us
about Corporate Communication

No, I’m not talking about “Word Crimes.” If you are that far gone, please close your LinkedIn account to avoid embarrassment and check with your nearest 7 year old for assistance. I’m talking about Weird Al’s all too familiar generic corporate speak found in “Mission Statement.” The song is a parody of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” Go listen to both, I’ll wait…

I think the “Mission Statement” is great for two reasons:
1. The melody is technically proficient and catchy!
2. Anyone working at a modern business has been exposed to a mission statement similar to Weird Al’s interpretation and its ensuing spawn of generic corporate speak. Typically, when people hear these nebulous phrases, there is an uptick in self-inflicted head injuries.

As much as I’d like to discuss the finer points of Weird Al’s musical ability, that’s what Facebook is for. Let’s focus on number 2 and start with the mission statement itself.

In a few scant sentences, a business is expected to write a framework for its purpose. Think of it as an elevator pitch that justifies the company’s existence and its place in the universe. Furthermore, it relinquishes any responsibility to answer questions about your business’s true nature. Just refer to the mission statement!

The word ‘mission’ is jam packed with action! Didn’t you realize that your employees jump over hurdles and crawl under barbed wire? It’s the ‘statement’ that gives us trouble. An example of a statement is, “I am confused by your mission statement.” That’s it, one sentence. A quote from Disney’s “Aladdin” comes to mind – “Phenomenal cosmic power! Itty bitty living space.” This thing is doomed from the start.

But, we’re stuck with it. Someone long ago etched in stone that all companies must have a tweet-length summary to define itself – so say we all! The result is nothing less than a complete deconstruction of the English language into broad terms that could fit any company as Weird Al portrays. Quartz went as far to call out companies that use phrases from “Mission Statement.” See how many you can interchange! It’s fun for all ages!

How does a company move on from this blatant attempt to dumb down the true essence of the business?

1. Your employees, consultants, and fortune tellers need to know what exactly your company does and what your expectations are. Let’s help them get there. Look past the bland words that you’ve associated with your awesome business and define a clear strategy for the company with specifics. Something like, “we strive to be the preferred provider for 70% or higher of the widget resellers.” After all, you want to do well, right? Take those ideas (more than one paragraph is encouraged here) and communicate your expectations to your employees.

Adjust these paragraphs and ultimately your mission statement as your company evolves.

2. When selling, communicating, or interacting in any way to the outside world, use those same internal paragraphs to craft a concrete summary specific for the situation at hand. For example, “we provide our inventory to 70% of the widget resellers because ours are more yellow than our competitors.”

3. If at all possible, don’t refer to or publish your mission statement on the internet unless you can supplement it with honesty and specifics. Bury it deep down in your soul and cover it with junk food. Weird Al isn’t the only one judging you.

Well, we’ve got our mission statement and we’ve isolated it fairly well from doing any harm elsewhere by expanding it with specifics, or at least we though so! Out of left field, where all problems originate, we find a new communication issue that permeates a lot of organizations, stemming from the mediocrity of the mission statement – the dreaded convoluted management email.

This email is from anyone in charge to any group that is affected by some action. For example, it may be a CxO level email to a group that is being downsized or a director level email announcing a new goal for a group of teams. Typically, HR has been mistakenly encouraged to perform in an editorial capacity to soften the communication.

Beware! Danger! Watch Out! These might be typical signs I would flash at you before you click Send. While you might think you have written a carefully thought out communication, you need to reconsider if you’ve been infected by the mission statement virus. Here are some tips.

For bad news, don’t beat around the bush or pontificate, just get to the point! Folks have most likely heard rumors or at least understand what’s what and how your business works. They have either read the internet articles and analyst reports about your company or Gary in Accounting has told them the full deal (after all, Gary is the one who told the analysts). Give them some credit and be straight with them. Yes, it will suck, but they will at least appreciate your honesty, even if they hate you forever for whatever it is you’re doing to them.

If you are a manager or higher, you might find yourself having your hands tied as to what you can say and when. Assess whether it is the proper time to communicate the message. It might be better to wait until the complete picture has formed. If, on the other hand, there’s top secret machinations at work, but some communication still needs to get out (because information has a mind of its own, especially when HR is involved), you should be succinct.

For other news, set clear goals and timelines or at least communicate downstream and make sure the real message gets to the folks doing the work. Measureable results allow you to, get this, measure the results you get and hold people accountable! This isn’t rocket science, people (unless your company is building rockets, then I apologize).

The generic mission statement has infected our corporate culture, causing strife and despair across many companies. There are all sorts of reasons this happens. Sometimes people think they know what people want to hear and try to coddle them, but when a convoluted and generic ‘feel-good’ statement escapes, it can be a poison. Poor communication loaded with useless information only insults your audience and leads to mental uprisings complete with pretend pitchforks! Instead of being burned as a virtual effigy, modify your communication methods and be honest, specific and succinct.

Don’t be the target of internet ridicule for your mission statement! That’s what the comment section below is for!

When Top Down Management
and Disagree and Commit
Collide!

hand-grenade-5-1148586-mBattle Royale time! What happens when you take Top Down Management and mix in a fast paced Disagree and Commit strategy? Unhappy employees, poor decisions, and a culture of blame ensue. Before we get to that though, a little primer on both strategies.

Top Down Management
Top Down Management gives control of all decisions and discussion to the manager or executive. They are responsible for the long-term vision, goals, timelines and direction. This management style rarely takes input from employees, but does expect them to follow the lead of the decision maker. When mixed with highly skilled employees, the result can often be a disincentive to perform well because they are no longer stakeholders in projects or the long-term vision. At an extreme level, top down management can lead to poor decisions and high turnover if management isn’t low enough to determine the real needs of the customer.

However, as Jill Geisler points out in her article on the subject, there are times when it can be used very effectively. For example, if the manager has a higher level of expertise than the directs and the issue is urgent, it would be better to allow that manager to make the decisions alone. A good example of this would be the following scenario. A manager has given an important, quick-fire project to an intern due to resource constraints. The manager has the direction, but the intern has little knowledge or drive. The manager would drive the intern with clear instructions for completing the project. No decision should be made by the intern. The intern is nothing more than an extension of the manager, doing what is asked.

When I think of Top Down Management, I think of Gino Molinari, a character from Philip K. Dick’s novel, Now Wait for Last Year. Gino is the elected leader of Earth during a war with an alien species. He takes a drug that allows him to travel sideways into other universes where he pulls an alternate of himself back to his own timeline to lead as his health deteriorates (which it inevitably does, over and over). He trusts no one to lead the Earth or make decisions regarding the war except for himself, and any version of himself will do. All decisions rest with him and his vision guides the Earth, for good or bad. He even goes as far as to have a meeting with Earth’s allies while he is having surgery (on more than one occasion). Gino is an extreme example of how mistrust can be translated and excused with Top Down Management. If you feel a kinship here, you need to re-evaluate some things.

Disagree and Commit
This one can be fun if you’re surrounded by passionate people that can handle criticism, but it can also be inherently poisonous. This management style encourages open discussion and arguments in order to achieve a decision or strategy in the best interest of the company. Once that decision has been made, everyone commits to it and moves on. If you have someone who can’t commit though or feels that their opinion wasn’t heard, it can fester away and cause dissatisfaction with their role on the team.

Someone who used this strategy successfully was Abraham Lincoln. He installed a cabinet that, while disagreeable to his own views, were still honest. In Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, she outlines how Lincoln brought these rivals together and allowed spirited debate to influence his decisions, resulting in a stronger country.

Collision of Practices
Despite the benefits of each separately, when you combine them together, you create a scenario that augments the worst outcomes. Using Top Down Management, a manager drives the conversation, but relies on Disagree and Commit to engage their employees for feedback. Instead of employees discussing and deciding strategies at the team level, the information flows only back up to the manager alone. This is because the employees aren’t trying to convince each other, only their manager. Therefore, no productive discussion occurs at the team level, eliminating potential pitfalls and silencing helpful opinions. Any bias on the manager’s part is amplified and fed back to the subordinates because of the nature of the relationship. Regardless of their input, they ultimately do not receive the active participation that allows them to commit and move on. This can lead to feelings of low self esteem when identifying with the team and results in failed projects, delays or even attrition. The worst case scenario would be the delivery of a product or solution that isn’t in line with a customer’s needs.

Another consequence of these combined strategies is a lack of standards and consistency. By employing these strategies together, the manager, who has now taken the burden of owning the new solution or project, leaves his employees without a clear direction since the team isn’t involved in the larger conversation. Without this understanding, makeshift processes will build up around the decision to meet the real requirements. Operations will slow to a crawl and fractures in productivity will be rampant.

A good method to responsibly use Disagree and Commit is to encourage healthy discussion at the team level. If the team flounders, it is the manager’s responsibility to step in, get them on track and, if need be, make the decision. This gives everyone the confidence to define the best strategy and go forward with little or no regrets. Leave Top Down Management in your back pocket just for those instances when your employees need to focus on something intensely and just get it done. If a staff member lacks the confidence to complete a project, get involved and mentor the person to success.

© 2017 Matthew Sekol

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