Thursday, March 29, 2012

Insights on Management

Despite my efforts to move up the corporate ladder and become a manager, I hadn’t been making much progress. I reasoned that perhaps my work ethic was not management material. But a management course I recently took helped me realize that work ethic was not the impediment to my advancement. The problem lay in my understanding of the career transition to management.

Moving to a management position is not a career progression – it is a career change. Management is more about managing people than it is about managing work. And managing people is very, very different than managing work.

Napoleon Hill (author of Think and Grow Rich) said, paraphrased in my words, that if you are good at your job, you are exactly where you should be in your career, but if you go beyond your job description, you become worthy of career advancement. Thus, working harder and better in my current role would not lay me a management position. Taking initiative on managerial tasks would.

The course also clarified the motivation for being a manager. Money is a deceptive motivation, because managers may get paid less per hour than an employee, and the potentially greater stress levels may not justify the higher pay. As the saying goes, “Senior position equals junior freedom”, and, “By working faithfully eight hours a day, you may eventually get to be a boss and work twelve hours a day.”

Recognition is also not a noble motivation, and in truth, the employees – the ones doing the actual work - are more in need of recognition.

I thought that achieving the bottom line – the goal of a given project or timeline - was the natural motivation. However, through the course I took, I learned that seeking the bottom line is also not an accurate motivation. More on that later.

The true motivation for being a manager is this: to see employees succeed in their roles - through the manager’s coaching and support. It involves winning the employees’ loyalty and enthusiasm, bringing out their creativity and skills, and expanding their potential. It is very similar to the motivation for raising children.
The bottom line, money, and recognition follow as a consequence.

This people-centred approach to management – putting people over the bottom line, can be better understood through one of Aesop’s fables, which Stephen Covey narrates in his Seven Habits: the story of the goose and the golden egg:

“This fable is the story of a poor farmer who one day discovers in the nest of his pet goose a glittering golden egg. At first, he thinks it must be some kind of trick. But as he starts to throw the egg aside, he has second thoughts and takes it in to be appraised instead.
“The egg is pure gold! The farmer can't believe his good fortune. He becomes even more incredulous the following day when the experience is repeated. Day after day, he awakens to rush to the nest and find another golden egg. He becomes fabulously wealthy; it all seems too good to be true. But with his increasing wealth comes greed and impatience. Unable to wait day after day for the golden eggs, the farmer decides he will kill the goose and get them all at once. But when he opens the goose, he finds it empty. There are no golden eggs -- and now there is no way to get any more. The farmer has destroyed the goose that produced them.”
The goose represents the employees. The golden eggs represent the bottom line. Focussing on the bottom line may bring about short-term results, but will likely create long-term problems through unmotivated employees, poor collaboration, high turnaround, and ultimately no golden eggs. Focussing on the goose will ensure sustainable, long term solutions to tasks.

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon Him) was of those that focussed more on nurturing the geese i.e. guiding, educating, and developing his companions (may Allah be pleased with them), than on pursuing the golden eggs. His golden eggs, in a worldly sense, were negligible: he owned very little wealth, and his empire only included the Hijaz and Yemen. It was only after his passing, through his companions that he developed, that the golden eggs became visible – the swift expansion of the Islamic empire, the Muslim contribution to academia and arts, the wealth and power, etc.

The reality is that we are all managers at some level. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon Him) said, All of you are shepherds and each of you is responsible for his/her flock.” (Agreed upon).  Whether we are a spouse, a parent, or a corporate CEO, we are managers. Whether we own a toy box or a company, we are managers. And we are all managers in the sense that we have to manage our own selves (a good metric to determine if we can manage others is to determine if we can manage ourselves).

We can take the Prophet’s example (peace and blessings be upon Him) in all our management roles, whether at work, at home, or elsewhere. Let us be of those that focus on people before outcomes.

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