Monday, October 04, 2010

...That Would Be Great

At work, everyone is saying "Happy New Year." I think it all a little silly to offer around that greeting, even if it is the start of our new fiscal year. But there might be some value in that greeting. I watched a video earlier today from the lead of our division and she talked about some of the important things of the new year. It made me think back to a video I watched this weekend (see below) and how I realized that the phrase "Yeah, if you could just put a cover sheet on your TPS report, that would be great." is a really bad thing to say.

Now... I did realize that in the past, I mean, if nothing else, that quote and everything about "Office Space" is a case study in what not to do. And so I had worked to curb it and I'm pretty sure I hadn't used it in awhile, that idea of "if you could...". But the video I watched over the weekend talked about what the particular phrase does. While it should be pretty obvious to both the manager (put a cover on your TPS report) and the employee (I have failed to follow the rules and it's been pointed out to me) what's being asked for, the manner in which it's being asked for isn't, as I once thought, soft, or even passive, it's much worse. It leaves the relationship undefined. It allows the manager to make a request without asserting authority or without identifying their position, and it allows the employee to be an equal, or to be more pals-y than it should. In the end, it undermines the bestowed authority, which makes it much more difficult to actually reprimand when the offense is far worse than a missing cover sheet. Or, worse yet, it makes the correction seem to come out of nowhere.

I have risen quickly to a decent level of middle management. I once again am overseeing a team as large as the team I was overseeing at Warner Bros. Online ten years ago. However, this place is far more serious. Money has a value, career development is intentional, the work is more complicated and the stakes are higher. Mistakes here have a bigger impact, failure to do ones' job (or to do it correctly) has a bigger impact on the organization and our group. In two words, this is a much "tighter ship" being run here than at any place I've been at in the past.

And for as much as I've been self-identified as a pessimist, when it comes to people, I am an incredible optimist. I want to believe the best in everyone. I want to believe they all want to give 100%. They all want to work hard, they all want to learn and grow. They are all ambitious and committed. They all see it more than just punching a time-clock. I should know that's not true. On two separate occassions working fast food during high school and college I made someone cry and quit after suggesting they weren't doing a good job and why were they even there if they didn't care.

But that may not always be the case. I don't want to go the other way and start assuming the worst, or looking for the cracks. But I don't want to turn a blind eye or assume that no one's looking for ways to get ahead (or stay below the radar) that aren't the best or might be at the expense of the greater good. Like everything, a balancing act, I guess. (Anyone else tired of realizing everything is balancing act?)

So, yeah, it's a new year. New development and SMART goals. Annual reviews just around the corner. And if it's a new year, perhaps time for resolutions or examination. So perhaps it's time for the next evolution of myself as a manager. I think this is the year I get more serious about telling it like it is, saying what I think. No more avoiding conflict or letting things slide because I don't want to deal with them. Some people will say that I run a tight ship and they admire how well my team works and heap praise on me. I prefer to deflect onto my awesome team. But there may be some cases where I've avoided saying things either to avoid hurting feelings or because I don't want to be the big bad boss man.

Well, you know what? I am the big bad boss man. I needn't be big bad, but I can make sure that I'm acting like what I'm paid to do... lead and manage. Right now I probably prefer leading over managing, but if I were a sheep-herder, I'd probably be doing both - not just leading the flock from one grazing area to another, but also circling around to make sure any that were wandering off the wrong way were redirected back to the right path. If I think about my own times of reprimand or coaching, they may have smarted a little, or made me upset for awhile. But, if I think about it, I've been counselled, reprimanded, coached, dressed down, shouted at, guided, nitpicked, henpecked and gently prodded over the course of my career by my supervisors. Some have done it excellently, some have done it rather poorly. But at the end of the day, it's either been a course correction that I needed to get back on track, or in a case or two, irreconcilable differences that suggested now was the right time to change course dramatically.

And in the case of the good managers, I've been able to respect and grow as a result of their help, even in the course corrections.

So, for the new year, I am not going to shirk from my responsibilities, especially the ones involving conflict and course correction. No more shrinking away from the painful, because it won't do my subordinates any good and it won't help me to grow and be prepared for whatever my next steps here hold.

Steven Pinker on language and thought... (July 2005, 17:33)
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