Planning, Startups, Stories


Tim Berry on business planning, starting and growing your business, and having a life in the meantime.

Can You Define Good Management Technique? 1

With due respect to some of the great thinkers who have, I don’t understand how anybody even tries to define, teach, or even predict good management technique.

Even if it’s just one manager and one person being managed, there are already three huge factors: the manager, the other person, and the situation. Both the people involved have their strengths and weaknesses and all that. And the situation itself, what’s going on, is an entire additional set of factors. Then there’s baggage from the past, and, well, it becomes an infinite problem. Higher math. Condemned to infinite case-by-case analysis. screen shot

I think about what I’ve heard about coaches in professional athletics. Sometimes a supposedly hard-nosed, tough coach will win the championship, and sometimes a supposedly “people person,” softer coach, will. And occasionally you hear about a coach who is either hard or soft to each individual player, depending on his sense of how that specific player responds. There too, though, with coaching, it’s a pretty complex problem, because it’s about the nature of the coach, the nature of the player, and the nature of the situation.

So too with wielding authority in your own business.

What reminded me today was Karen Hough’s Handling Tough Conversations in 3 Simple Steps, on Small Business Trends. She’s sharing data from interviews with more than 1,000 of managers in larger companies. She found that the hardest part of their job was “tough conversations.” Here’s a quote:

Conflict makes most people nervous, so we avoid having those tough conversations, even if we know it may produce a better outcome. A study of more than 1,000 project managers across 40 companies found that if project leaders were willing to break a code of silence, they could substantially improve their ability to execute on initiatives.

Although that study was done with middle managers in larger corporations, I know that it applies very well to small business and entrepreneurship. The code of silence is a reluctance to deal with poor performance, bad news, and negative feedback. It’s certainly a problem every manager has to face.

In her post, Karen shares is three-pronged strategy to break what she calls the code of silence, changing the motif from authority to coaching. It’s not a cure-all by any means, but it could help. And I wish I had a better solution to offer, but I don’t.

  • CWebb

    This is truly a subject you learn from doing and experiencing. I had bosses who were great at this and those who were very poor at any conversations. It was not limited to middle management. My experience in management was that when I cared enough to maintain regular one on one dialogue and be clear of the expectations, the tough conversations were not as challenging. The whole team had an understanding of what was out of order and had respect when you took action . I always had concise notes with 3-4 points to make during the conversations and kept on script to avoid diversions. These points had clear resolution expectations and timelines included to avoid ambiguity. If I felt the conversation needed a witness, I had that in place. However, I never got to this place without initial conversations so that there were no surprises. My watershed experience though was a time when I was able to move an employee out of a bad experience that would have resulted in firing into a perfect job fit in a different area in the company. This happened during the conversation to fire them, when I had the calmness to ask one simple question before we went through the paperwork that we both knew was final. My motivation was to understand what was going on that had created such a nightmare situation. I was told at that time that this employee actually hated the position, but had felt this job was important for their career and therefore felt stuck. Wow! That definately changed the course of our dialogue. This person become an award winning employee once moved to an area that matched their strengths. I learned a lot as a manager during that experience and it made me commit even more to the role of one on one dialogue. There is no substitution for this as people are the number one asset of the company!