The Essence of Management

In a perfect world managers would understand their jobs.  I had one a year ago that did.  She told me once that her job was to set the team up for success and get out of the way (paraphrased, but the essence of what she said).  Her role was to understand the big picture, define the goals and objectives, define the time and budget constraints, and then let the people who get the world done…get the work done.

Secondarily, but in many ways of equal importance, her job was to help the members of the team learn, grow, advance and find satisfaction in their careers.  She did this through work assignments that taxed the knowledge or ability of various team members; the setting of personal and professional development goals; and giving recognition in public and counseling in private.  Amongst other things.

I remember those days fondly.  I looked forward to going to work.  Inasmuch as anyone looks forward to going to work, I mean.

This morning on arriving at work on the contract I moved to after the previous contract expired, I found an email in my inbox.  It was entitled “Productivity”.  In it was listed the number of SR’s (Service Requests) worked by each member of the service team.  It stated that productivity had fallen off to unacceptable levels, and then showed the number of tickets worked by each individual.

Now, to be clear, I install and move IT.  I do not work SR’s.  So my name was not on that list.  This post is not about me being angry for being called to the mat in public.  I wasn’t.  Yet, I am still angry.  Or perhaps it is more accurate to say I am disappointed.

These people who have been placed in positions of power have no idea what they are doing.  A couple of them are former military, and I am assuming they got these jobs because of that fact.  But the truth is, barking orders at subordinates in a combat zone is not the same thing as leading a team of civilian IT professionals.

Rather than set the team up for success, they roam the halls eagerly looking for examples of failure… and then publicize them.  Morale anyone?

Rather than offer the tools, training and support to get the job done effectively and efficiently, they reduce manpower, equipment and tools and then tell the guys to work it out and get the job done in spite of them, rather than with their help.

They make it plain for all to see that not only are they not interested in helping anyone advance their career, there is in fact no way possible to advance your career here.  This is very much like being a truck driver.  In 99.9% of cases, if you drive a truck you will always drive a truck.  You are not going to step out of the cab and in to the corporate offices.  The same is true where I work.  Whatever it is that you do, that is what you will always do.  Unless you find someplace else to work.

My company prides itself on “ethics”.  They make a big deal about ethics training every year.  Within two weeks of starting in this position I reported my manager for an ethics violation.  I know for a fact that the same manager, and one of the others, has been reported to HR for his treatment of employees multiple times.  Nothing changes.

In the business I am in it is common for a group of people to work at a position for years and then have the contract won by a different company.  Frequently that second company will offer to retain the current employees.  It’s the most effective way to have people in place that already know what’s going on.  So people move from company to company but stay at the same job.

I mention that because the people who are filing these reports against this management team are people who have been doing this job for quite a while.  20 years in one case.  So these are not new, young punks bristling at being told what to do.  These are experienced, qualified individuals, trying to do what they have already been doing.

The thing is, when new management takes over they have to change something.  Even if it’s just the paint on the wall.  They have to find some way to put their name to whatever project they have been assigned.  Because they too must answer to someone, and they need to be able to demonstrate their own productivity.  So they make changes, whether those changes make sense or not, and smile.  “See boss, I did something!”  Yeah… you screwed everything up, made life more difficult for your team, and set them up for failure.  Congratulations!

And somewhere, atop all of this, is a guy in a suit, at a desk, somewhere far away.  He may or may not have ever even been to the site.  It is almost certain he could not identify, on sight, any of his employees.  It is almost certain he has not ever actually done the work.  He just sends out proclamations dictating quotas and time frames, staffing and training requirements, etc.  And then he looks at the numbers.

If the numbers he gets back don’t meet or exceed his mandate, the shit starts rolling down hill.  And this is where my current management fails utterly, and my previous manager shone.

When someone with a title started running their mouth at my last position my old manager would pull them in to some place private and explain the reality to them.

For instance, we had a security incident that shut down access to a development server for what ended up being 3 weeks.  A customer representative came out to our office complaining that she was not paying an entire dev team to sit around doing nothing for weeks.  My boss pulled her in to a room and asked her if she would like her to fire the whole dev team.  Of course not! Who is going to develop the code when the server comes back up?  Okay… so what do you want me to do. send them home?  Yes.  Okay…how many of them do you think will still be available at some undetermined future time when the issue is resolved and I call them back?  Zero…that’s how many.

See, that’s reality.  And that’s having the balls to pull someone aside and explain reality.

There are no balls here.  Whatever comes down the email chain is what the deal is.  No explanations, no managing of expectations.  Double the work with half the men?  Yes sir!  Sign everyone up for overtime and then tell them afterwards that they have to take time off to compensate because we’re not allowed to get overtime?  Yes sir!  Talk to people like the are farm animals?  Yes sir!

One of the guys I work with is a 63 year old black man.  I was sitting here when he called HR (again) about one of our managers.  He told the HR manager, “I’m 63 years old.  This feels a lot like being a field hand on a plantation.”

Nuff said….

Note:  I realize that being 63 this man has first hand knowledge of segregation, not slavery.  His description of the way he feels he is being treated is his own.  I think the fact that he would draw a parallel between his current job and slavery and/or share cropping speaks volumes about where we work.


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