I’m meeting with every employee in the company, one on one. I’m trying to gain an understanding of what they do, why they came here, what they love, and what we could do better. Once I get that data absorbed and collected, we’ll more clearly be able to put out a list of priorities. Really, for the first month, it’s to continue to learn and absorb what we have.” Salesforce’s New CEO Tod Nielsen, Software Development Times, August 2013.
I always recalled how some new Air Force unit commanders would come in and start barking orders and causing everyone to jump and run. Their purpose was to “take command” and that meant establishing who was boss, right now. Boy, did that mess up a lot of good things that were going on because they didn’t take the time to understand before exerting their command authority and crushing some great fledgling efforts.
For example, Don’t Squash Your Pockets Of Excellence
It was really a simple proposal. I offered the new COO the opportunity to come visit my department and have all my department heads give her a quick overview of what we do, what our challenges were and what we thought we could do better. It was something a new leader often did in the military, when a new commander took over, he would make the rounds hearing about what everyone was doing as well as meeting everyone in smaller groups. I thought I was brilliant for suggesting it as no one else was doing it in this corporate environment.
The COO’s reaction? Suspicion. Why would she want to just come and hear details about the department? Was there a particular issue that we wanted to discuss with her? Was it something we had already sent her a brief upon? Had I given my immediate manager the chance to work the problems first?
We never did get the COO to come talk with us. I came to realize that she wasn’t interested in data driven, fact based management. Her claim to fame, as it turned out, was that she could always finger the person who did something wrong. She also refused to make many hard decisions and expected her subordinate managers to take the initiative, without her input, and if it worked out, she would take the credit, but if it didn’t, she would lambaste them for poor judgement and for not clearing it with her first (seriously, how do these people get to these positions?).
My manager told me I needed to manage closely a technical effort within my project. She in fact insisted that I go and, essentially, micromanage it into a success. The problem was, I didn’t care to micromanage experts (who knew more than I did) and that I wasn’t anywhere near an expert in what this team was doing.
I compromised and just spent the week with the team. They were bringing up new product hardware, prototypes, and it was a tricky business as it included all sorts of hardware security to ensure the products weren’t compromised while in use. My role became the guy to go get equipment, coffee, donuts, pizza, Chinese takeout — whatever the team needed at the time. I just hung out with them and asked them what they were doing and what they were trying to achieve at each point. They spent their time doing the work and explaining it to me.
I soon realized that I was helping and learning at the same time. By them explaining each step in the process, they verbalized and refined what they were doing. I watched as things went right and as they went wrong (messing up a prototype costed us several thousand dollars each). By the time the bring-up was completed and successful, I knew more about this aspect of our business and how to manage it than just about any other manager. For years, when we had to do this task, I became the manager everyone looked upon to assess if we had a real issue or if something was just normal during this process.
Also consider Is It Really A Crisis?
The general manager had called a meeting. What was strange was that it was a meeting with my managers. He never explained what the meeting was for, but simply asked a few questions. He then announced that the meeting was over. He said he had an idea on what he wanted to do and our discussion with him hadn’t really change his thoughts. He then left the room. He never told us what he was thinking about or what his plans were. We came to realize later that he had a notion that he should appear to be the expert, telling everyone what to do, and that new initiatives also needed to come exclusively from him and be seen as his ideas.
Compare with Successful Managers Without Successful Projects
The best managers I’ve worked with have always been those who honestly immersed themselves in the business. They wanted to understand what was going on and why things happened as they did. These managers acted from information and insight and not from appearances and power. They found ways to figure out how to understand what was going on and made smart decisions based upon this knowledge.
How do you go about getting the detailed knowledge you need to manage your project or organization?