Here’s the thing: management isn’t intuitive

Management isn't intuitive

Logical people sometimes get confused about how so many workplaces can be so dysfunctional. You probably spend more time working than doing anything else in the middle part of your life, and yet most organizations have absolutely no way to make it purposeful for you. (You can insert an argument here that it’s not supposed to be purposeful, and the real deal is that you get a paycheck and that’s it, and there is some validity to that concept.)

For years, Google has been a company with a lot of noted success in the people space, which everyone runs around attributing to their market cap or margins or something — when in reality, it’s just a series of simple, people-facing concepts. Their man guy is Laszlo Bock, who’s the SVP of People (HR), and he wrote a new book. He’s been promoting it — I wrote about him in 2014, too, as an aside — and he recently spoke to UPenn. Here’s some of it:

He has a really good quote in this discussion that I think kind of summarizes everything herein:

The reason more organizations don’t do this stuff is it’s not always intuitive. It actually cuts against all your incentives as a manager, as a leader. The reason you get promoted is because you’ve done good work, you’ve hit your goals, you’ve made good decisions. You’re in this job, and of course, you immediately want to make good decisions, hit your goals, move things forward. You forget that when you’re an employee you want your manager helping and giving you advice and then kind of getting out of your way.

As a manager, your whole mindset shifts. [Y]ou start saying, I gotta make sure everyone delivers. I gotta micromanage. I gotta watch things. It’s not intuitive as a manager to give people more freedom and back off. That’s one of the things we’ve discovered — that you have to limit the power of managers. Then people perform way, way better.

That’s it in a nutshell. Management isn’t intuitive. You think it’s about control and making sure people hit their targets, just like you hit yours to become promoted. The last thing most people think about when they become a manager is “Oh, I should give people more freedom.”

The funniest thing about all of this is that managers are notoriously bad setters of their own priorities, and yet they typically run around hair ablaze screaming about deliverables and targets, which means they’re setting more ill priorities for others and then micromanaging them.

I’ll give an example and dump out: a couple of jobs ago, I had a chance to write a staff-wide e-mail every week with personnel-type updates, like “X-Person is working on Y-Thing.” Keep it snappy and short, you know? But if you’ve ever read this blog, sometimes I go off the rails, so people wanted to edit it before it went out. Eventually it became this meaningless list of bullet points that everyone ignored, whereas it could have been a real, organic thing. At one time, I think 11 people were editing it before it went live. I’m not over here throwing myself on the cross and saying “My art has been compromised!” but … here’s the point. If you really don’t trust a person to do something and not eff it up, you shouldn’t have hired that person in the first place. The hiring process is supposed to work as “Here’s a series of deliverables. It might evolve, but here’s a base. Here’s some money. Go do them.” It’s not supposed to be “Here’s a series of deliverables. I’ll hire you but assume you need to be checked at every step, which will in turn move me away from actual ROI and get down in the weeds about semicolon usage.”

Problem is, the latter statement is how most managers think. And why? Because it’s not intuitive.

Ted Bauer