01
Sep
08

Management Style

There are clearly two types of managers in this world: those that assign tasks and those that assign goals. It is also generally understood that the task master creates an unhappy work place, while the goal giver fosters the more productive arena. Why is this apparently so?

Let’s talk about the goal manager first. He/she specializes in putting together a team that is focused on achieving goals. A talent base. These goals are macro in nature and the manager doesn’t tell his team how to get there, just where there is. Increase sales, finish the building, make the customer happy. It’s up to the team to figure out how to accomplish the goals. This dynamic encourages dedication, innovation, and creativity. It also has a very real chance of failure if the wrong team members are chosen to participate. If they cannot step up, the goal will not be achieved.

The second style of management is the most commonly encountered “in the wild”. These managers do not want and do not encourage independent thought. They have spent a great deal of time and energy directing a program and the workers are cogs in the machinery of that program. In simple terms, the ownership of the goal is with the manager. The workers are expected to perform their assigned tasks in a specific way. This is the world of fast food, mall retailers and franchises. Unfortunately, while the short term success of this style in inarguable, burn out (for the workers and managers) is a common result, too. This is just not a long term growth/health/happiness environment. That doesn’t make it bad, just demanding.

So which is better? For the answer, I give you… it depends. Have a look at the concept of entropy, the tendency of a closed system to become more disorderly. Or put another way, a process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder. Entropy is very closely associated with the second law of thermodynamics. Some argue that the second law of thermodynamics means that a system can never become more orderly. Not true. It just means that in order to become more orderly (for entropy to decrease), you must transfer energy from somewhere outside the system, such as when a pregnant woman draws energy from food to cause the fertilized egg to become a complete baby, completely in line with the second line’s provisions. Why the physics lesson? It’s important from a management perspective because it’s “rules” also provide a guide to manageing people in a business environment.

The task master system is a closed environment. Without the regular introduction of new energy sources, the closed system is doomed to degradation and descent into uniform chaos. In order to maintain the system, “fresh meat” is a constant requirement. New workers, new managers… the old ones will burn out or get fired and must be replaced.  This can have a relatively high long term expense associated with system maintenance.

The goal driven system has a high up-front cost. The reason for this is that “fresh meat” is heaped into the system in the beginning and these resources have the ability to inject new energy into the closed system as needed. People that are successful in this system create successful systems… and increase their own value. So much so that retention becomes an issue. An interesting problem, eh? Choosing the correct system to deploy can be difficult and require enormous contemplation. You must choose between increasing the value of just one system or increasing the value of many.

Almost universally, managers shy away from the concept of helping folks to be succesful beyond the immediate system. “Why should I train somebody who’s just going to move on?” In reality, most all of the workers will move on. It really doesn’t matter which system you are in. So which system breeds more success? I’d like to think the goal-based system does. Through participation in those systems, I still maintain a large and viable professional network that still contributes to my own personal success. And the task masters are nowhere to be found in that network.

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