#13 Management Extremes

by Steven Cerri on October 23, 2006

”And the winner of the Best Management Style is….!”

Good evening!

In this blog, I want to continue the thread I started two blogs ago in the blog of 101606. The topic is how best to manage to get results. I’ve introduced Andy Card’s comments in the book “State of Denial” and the situations brought about by Carli Fiorina and Mark Hurd at Hewlett Packard.

The basic message is that different situations require different management styles to get results. I want to give you two more examples to bring this important topic home.

Example #1: “Who’s going to take that hill?”

Imagine you are a U.S. Army Sergeant. You have group of privates under your command. Your team comes over a rise and spots the enemy on top a three hundred foot hill about a thousand yards away. Your mission is to take that hill. Either capture or kill the enemy, but take that hill.

This is the situation.

The question is: What’s the best management style to get the job done?

The answer:

It’s probably self-evident that you can’t use a “coaching” or “participative” management style and get the mission accomplished. Can you imagine the sergeant huddling with his men discussing and asking the following questions: “Ok fellas, who thinks they can get to that hill first? Who has a family? Single guys, without wife and kids, you probably ought to go in front. What do you think? What’s the best approach here?” It becomes obvious that neither participative or coaching management styles wouldn’t be a very effective management here.

The rationale :

The risk to life is very high. The time frame is short and intense. The battle is immanent. The weapons are known and understood. The terrain is known fairly well. This is not a new and uncertain situation. While there may be uncertainties, the team has practiced for just this event over and over. The leadership style is very directive. The sergeant knows exactly what the best approach to success is. The sergeant knows what the choices are. And therefore, the best management style is one in which the choices are limited, the training is called into play, and the most effective management style is a directive, authoritative one.

Now let’s go to the other end of the spectrum.

Example #2: “How creative can you be?”

Imagine you are managing a software team and your goal is to come up with the functionality of a new software program to compete with Intuit’s Quicken program. What functions will you want to include in order to provide a better product than Quicken and what functions will you leave out? How do you know which functions fall into which category and why? How much work will the various functions take to implement?

This is the situation.

The question is: What’s the best management style to get the job done?

The answer:

It’s probably self-evident that you can’t use a directive, authoritative management style here (although a good number of managers try to). Can you imagine sitting around a conference table and “dictating” that people come up with ideas and forcing a specific process to get the answers? Can you imagine a manager saying something like, “OK, I want thirty incredible functions that Quicken doesn’t currently have that are going to make our customers switch to our product, and I want the product to be cheaper than Quicken. And I want this product out the door in six months.” It isn’t going to happen.

The rationale :

Using the parameters discussed in Example #1 we know that there is no risk to life. The timeframe, while short as projected by the manager, may not be as short as six months. There is no battle around the corner. The elements of success are not really known. The functionality that will provide success is not known. This whole project is filled with uncertainties and what is most needed is creativity and decision-making, or even action. The group needs “ideas”. Therefore, the best management style is a “participative” management style that allows everyone in the room to contribute their best AND worst ideas.

With these two extreme examples you can see that a management style that works in one case will fail in the other. These extremes are everywhere in our everyday work environments. In the morning you can faced with a discussion about what equipment to purchase for your intranet and in the afternoon you can be faced with a crashed server that has to be brought up as fast as possible. These two situations can require two very different management styles.

On Thursday I’ll generalize this across a broad spectrum of situations and tell you what a coaching client says about the best approach.

Be well

Steven Cerri

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