What makes a good manager? What makes a bad manager?

MAS (n.d.) describes a good manager as a manager that achieves a “hard working, productive and effective workforce that punches above its weight in its performance”. Some qualities a good manager should have, as Gates (n.d.) describes can be summed up as:

  • Working within a field that they enjoy.
  • Not afraid to fire people who are bringing the team down.
  • Uses his resources to create a productive team, whether by financial rewards or better working conditions.
  • Informs employees clearly of what defines success and what the goals are.
  • Interacts with all members of the team and creates a relationship (not necessarily friendship) between all employees.
  • Transfers his/her skills to the employees, train an employee to be better than the manager him/herself.
  • Gives employees a sense of importance, allows them to feel an important part of the company.
  • Is hands on, also takes part in work rather than simply delegates it.
  • Is decisive, must take time to make a clear, first decision and stick with it. Going back on decisions creates doubt.
  • Lets employees know who to please, allows employees to know what to prioritise in their day to day work environments.

About.com (n.d.) did a poll to the public to vote on what makes a bad boss, the results show the following from 19137 votes:

  • 34% – Manager provides little direction
  • 10% – Manager offers little or no recognition for success and hard work
  • 9% – Manager is indecisive and changes direction at a whim
  • 24% – Manager micromanages and nit-picks your work
  • 18% – Manager belittles and puts down staff
  • 3% – Miscellaneous answers

Personally, I would put the 2nd and 5th option on the same level as the 1st option as I feel those issues are all very important when it comes to management.

From my experiences I would consider the following points on good and bad management techniques:

  • Encouraging and motivating the team constantly. If the manager is consistent in their encouragement and positive attitude it is reassuring. A manager that is cynical and unmotivated when ‘relaxed’ comes across as being false when they decide to act motivated on cue when they are required to introduce a new project.
  • Managers who are willing to put in overtime hours with you to get a project done rather than leaving at the assigned closing time has proven to keep myself and my team-mates in these situations more motivated. Keeping a positive attitude rather than a negative one in times of missed-deadlines is also good. It is understandable that sometimes management is unable to stay but in these scenarios, staying available telephonically/via some form of communication is also beneficial.
  • Balancing the work-load correctly, being slammed with 12 hour working days for 3 weeks and then sitting idle for the next 3 weeks can create unnecessary stresses. In quiet times it is a good idea to keep employees working on something.
  • Assigning valuable work to employees. I have been assigned projects which were never reviewed and never used – purely to keep me busy while waiting on other departments. This did not make me feel important or necessary and cast out from the rest of the team.
  • Mutual respect. I have been lucky to deal with mostly managers that share a mutual respect and do not treat me as a “lower being”. Managers that treat their staff as lesser people than themselves, in my experience, alienate themselves from the rest of the company; landing up with nobody liking them at all, purely because of the attitude.

In conclusion, I feel that a manager must, most importantly, be personable and authoritative. They must be open to discussion on decisions but, as Gates (n.d) says, must not go back on their decisions unless absolutely necessary. I do not have a problem with a certain level of “arrogance” but, as with anyone who claims to be something, they must be able to prove their worth and earn their respect by performing their duties efficiently and correctly.

Reference List

About.com (n.d.) Poll Results – What makes a Manager a Bad Boss [Online]. Available from: z http://humanresources.about.com/gi/pages/poll.htm?linkback=http://humanresources.about.com/b/a/257578.htm&poll_id=5738279818&submit1=Submit+Vote (Accessed: 8 March 2011).

Gates, B (n.d.) A good manager has at least 10 good qualities [Online] Business Times. Available from: http://www.btimes.co.za/97/1102/tech/tech6.htm (Accessed: 8 March 2011).

MAS (n.d.) What makes a Good Manager? [Online] Management Advisory Service. Available from: http://www.mas.org.uk/management-advisory-service/what-makes-a-good-manager.html (Accessed: 8 March 2011).

 

Does team building help the cohesion of a team?

I do believe that team building activities will support cohesion of a group and improve effectiveness. Personally, I have not worked for a company that has sent my team and myself on team building excursions.

From my experience in conversing with colleagues who have been to team building exercises, the team building activities are usually not work-related and aimed toward the general character of the group members on a whole; for example, a male-only team of programmers were sent go-kart racing. Situations like this would set-aside the ‘roles’ of the members in the group and put everyone on a level playing field. All members get to compete with one another in a good natured sporting activity. This allows all members to come out of their shell and shine in a fun situation. One issue I find a bit unusual about this team building approach is that the team members are put against each other instead of together; this seems like an approach that would encourage individualism more than team work.

Another team building exercise that my colleagues have been involved in was a paint-ball game where the team was working together to defeat their opponent team which were just another group of people at the paint-ball game. I think this approach is far more effective towards building a team spirit. Each team member has their role in the “battle” and must look out for one another. In an activity like paint-ball I believe this will also potentially bring out the individual characters, the risk takers, the safe-players etc.

Richardson (n.d.) outlines some benefits of team-building exercises;

  1. Common Goal – Team-building exercises are aimed at working together, they allow the team to work together towards a common goal.
  2. Trust – Team members must trust their fellow colleagues in these exercises. Everyone has the spirit of agreement.
  3. Ideas & Participation – These exercises allow all team members to be involved and give their ideas and work together.
  4. Motivation – Team building exercises “creates an environment that motivates people to achieve the goals and objectives of the organisation while subordinating individual goals” (Richardson, n.d.).
  5. Rapport – Team members learn personal details about their colleagues which enables them to gain rapport for each other as well as increased tolerance towards each other.
  6. Organisational Benefits – Members of the team are driven towards achieving results more than individual recognition which will help the organisation as their employees will be more focused on the organisational goals than their personal goals.

Personally I would welcome more team building opportunities, not only from the view of an employer but also from the view of a team member. A team building event with the teams I work with for different clients as well as my small team of contractors would definitely improve morale. One of my largest clients is suffering from a low morale amongst employees and, from my observations, the employees are feeling disjointed and uninvolved – more team building would benefit them greatly.

Something I am in two-minds about is the possibility of physical team building exercises, depending on the individual team members, may also encourage “bullying” to some degree. If a “leader” is physically passive and a subordinate is physically dominant things may tend to go off track, especially if there are underlying resentments. As much as bullying should be left on the playground (if anywhere at all), adults are quite capable of childishness and bullying.

In conclusion, I think that team building is a good method of getting employees more enthusiastic about an organisation. I do believe it should be encouraged and even if it is not a high-budget exercise, it is better than none at all. As far as the exercise the team should be involved in, I think, it would definitely need to be something that involves the team working together (eg: the paint-ball scenario) rather than against one another (go-karting).

References

Richardson, M (n.d.) What Are the Benefits of Team-Building? [Online] eHow. Available from: http://www.ehow.com/facts_5191806_benefits-team_building_.html (Accessed: 27 February 2011).

Using variable pay programs to motivate employees

Looking at an example of IBM where the sales staff are paid using variable pay programs, whereas the software engineers are not. Why is this technique used on some staff and not others?

Variable-pay programs are programs in which employees are rewarded for achieving goals or receive profit shares on certain goals based on their performance. Belcher (1994) stated that at the time of the writing of the article, variable pay programs were being “creatively designed to meet the unique and ever-changing needs of the business”.

In my opinion, the decision to not reward System Engineers is not un-wise. It is safe to assume that IBM is not financially unstable but even in a company of that size there are limited resources. A broad judgement on the situation is that it is more than likely not feasible to offer reward programs to all aspects of the business.

If a sales person succeeds well at their job we can translate their performance directly into what value they have added to the company. Signing a 3 year contract at $1mil per year means that is what the sale person has brought to the company, working out how much of that he/she can be given as a bonus is quite easy, and if we have guaranteed more income, then we are most likely able to afford to give the sales person a bonus in relation to the sale they have just made.

As far as a Systems Engineer goes, while they are vital to the successes of the company it is hard to differentiate their successes as worthy of a bonus (an outstanding performance worthy of a reward) when comparing it to what one would expect from someone in that position. One could argue the same towards a salesman but fixing a server crash is not necessarily something that wins the company new contracts and livelihood.

Another point that is quite important to consider is the salary of the two different professions. If we take a look at PayScale’s (2011) national salary data for the United States the average pay for a sales representative (including profit sharing, commissions, bonuses and basic salary) ranges between $31 900 and $50 610 per year. Comparing this to PayScale’s (2011) average salary for Systems Engineers the amount is $62 297, which tells us that the average Systems Engineer in the US earns about $12000 per year more than the highest paid sales representative, including bonus, profit share and commissions.

In my experience as being both the employer and the employee on a day to day basis (due to the fact that I outsource some development, I have clients who hire me and developers who work for me), I personally would adopt the same method of payment as it is important to drive your sales team to achieve as many sales as possible. Basic salaries of sales people are remarkably less than that of engineers and most developers are satisfied with steady, decent salaries.

This is not to say that engineers do not want rewards; that would be a very inaccurate generalisation. But without the regular sales coming in, in most scenarios, it would become difficult to sustain constant rewards and bonuses.

To conclude my discussion I would like to say that it is in my opinion that the decision toward rewarding Sales people in IBM and not Systems Engineers is not to the detriment of the company. Comparing the two professions is like comparing apples and bananas – they are too different and one cannot easily apply the rules and rewards motivation as easily or feasibly towards System Engineers as towards Sales people. I do not believe that the Systems Engineers will be dissatisfied with the choice as they are more than likely aware that regardless of the rewards the sales people make, they are still earning a higher salary and would probably prefer to be in the position they are in than the position of the sales person.

References

Belcher, J (1994) ‘Gainsharing and Variable Pay: The State of the Art’, Compensation Benefits Review, 26 (3), p.50, SAGE Journals [Online]. DOI: 10.1177/088636879402600309 (Accessed: 20 February 2011).

PayScale.com (2011) Salary for People with Jobs in Network Administration/IT/Information Systems. Available from: http://www.payscale.com/research/US/People_with_Jobs_in_Network_Administration%2fIT%2fInformation_Systems/Salary (Accessed: 20 February 2011).

PayScale.com (2011) Salary Snapshot for Inside Sales Representative Jobs. Available from: http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Inside_Sales_Representative/Salary (Accessed: 20 February 2011).

Working in a large organisation vs. a small company – advantages and disadvantages for IT admins

Being from a majority small-company background I can empathise more towards the small company advantages and disadvantages. I do, however have a number of close friends who are in larger companies holding IT positions and have had numerous conversations on this subject.

Advantages for IT administrators in small companies:

  • Most of the time, the diversion from the IT administrators standard tasks will be to do other IT tasks, in this scenario I am referring to a position as “network administrator/ database administrator/ user consultant and others”. Doing these different IT tasks will enhance their ability and knowledge of other areas of the business which will increase their skill set as well as potentially increasing their skill at their assigned IT administrator position (better understanding of other elements of the business related to the IT administrator position).
  • There is less chance that the employee will become bored of doing the same thing on a daily basis. The IT administrator generally is quite a static job (physically) and performing tasks like user consulting, network administrator allow for more physical interaction which is appealing to some.
  • Working in a small business, performing many tasks helps develop the entrepreneurial abilities of the IT administrator. If the IT administrator is set to run his/her own business the experience here is valuable. Vitez (n.d.) states “Business owners can attempt to pass basic entrepreneurship principals to their workers by requiring them to complete functions outside their normal work capacity. This concept is often known as cross training”.

Disadvantages for IT administrators in small companies:

  • While the IT administrator’s skill set may be growing, the figure of speech “jack of all trades, master of none” springs to mind. If they are constantly working on multitudes of different IT “specialties” they will not have as much time to master their abilities. Comparing to an employee who spends all of their time doing any one of the tasks the small business IT administrator is doing, the IT administrator will more than likely be the less competent of the two when it comes to that singular skill.
  • On the contrary to the advantage of not becoming bored, there is the possibility that the small business IT administrator will become bored with their job. If the passion lies with being an IT administrator and they have a dislike for dealing with users, SQL or any of the other tasks they may become bored or more likely annoyed with their job. Perhaps the tasks they are required to perform are demeaning and “beneath them”.
  • The extra roles may end up being very demanding, the IT administrator could be overworked and burned out from the stress of performing too many different tasks. Small businesses usually do not have the funding for a multitude of employees for each function so the pressure may not be relieved due to financial restraints. Perhaps the business owner could afford a salary increase, but not a new employee.
  • Small companies often are new and do not offer great job stability.

Advantages for IT administrators in large companies:

  • Larger companies have employees for specific tasks. The IT administrator will not be required, or seldom be required, to perform tasks outside of the specific role. Almost all of the IT administrator’s time is devoted to performing and mastering their skills for their role allowing for them to become very specialised in the specific tasks.
  • Larger companies often have budget for furthering employee education. As shown by Buchanan & Huczynski (2010, p.156) the example of Barclays Bank setting up its own corporate university. This will allow the IT administrator to acquire more qualifications which bring more value to his/her expertise.
  • Larger companies often have larger budgets. Along with increased specialisation aided by my above two points, the IT administrator potentially has better earning potential within the organisation. The IT administrator also has potential for a subordinate to be employed to carry out the “menial” tasks required of their position.
  • Stability of working for a large company provides the feeling of job security.

Disadvantages for IT administrators in large companies:

  • The requirement for skills outside of their specific role is replaced by other employees. The IT administrator may become stagnant and may begin to feel redundant. The repetition of the same function may become boring. Vitez (n.d.) mentions an example of the Ford motor company which brought about the assembly line / mass production method of business. While the IT administrator is certainly not an assembly line worker, the same feeling of “disappointment or unrest” may occur as with the assembly line worker, doing the same task over and over again.
  • The IT administrator may not feel important or involved in the company. Lack of involvement in the everyday running of the business may lead to a feeling of detachment with the core value and identity of the business.
  • Larger organisations are often stuck in their ways, using legacy systems or processes decided by a predecessor and this may be a system/process the IT administrator is unhappy with or does not like. Changing systems and processes in a large company is an expensive task and often is “not an option”, creative thinking is therefore limited if it does not fit within the current bounds of the organisation.

The small vs large company employer does generally boil down to personal preference. From my experiences and discussions, a large company offers a more recognisable feeling of importance (eg: if working for a well-known brand), while small companies tend to be more casual and easy going. As Buchanan and Huczynski (2010) point out, different types of people prefer different types of working environments.

References

Buchanan, A. & Huczynski, A. (2010) Organizational Behavior. 7th Edition. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.

Vitez, O (n.d.) Specialization of Labor [Online] chron Small Business. Available from: http://smallbusiness.chron.com/specialization-labor-3890.html (Accessed: 13 February 2011).

Managerial lessons I’ve learned while working in teams

My initial studies to enter the IT world was for a Computer Science Diploma which was a yearlong course covering the basics of many computer science areas – project management, linux/windows, networking, technician work, SQL and two programming languages as well as a few other short modules. Due to the fact that I was a first-time employee I was not going to be employed as anything managerial of course, so I worked as a programmer for around 3 years.

After 3 years of programming, most of the theory I learned on non-programming subjects such as the management/project management area were long and forgotten. I had just been awarded a lead programmer position where the boss had encouraged me to be the teams leader as well and I was quite interested in this despite being the youngest member of the team.

Despite being “thrown into the deep-end” the boss of this company was a fantastic manager who was hands on and involved, watching him and listening to his methods was a great learning experience for me as he had all the employees proud to be part of the business, it was almost like a ‘cult’, without the negative connotations. His biggest focus was on communication and he stressed me to have group meetings with my team every week, which I ended up doing every Monday and Friday.

Another vital issue that was stressed across the entire organisation was quick and efficient responses to any form of communication amongst employees and of course with clients. If the issue requested was not yet completed, or required a few hours to complete, all employees had to respond instantly to any communications stating that they were “on it” and with any questions that came to mind, sooner rather than later. Failure to do so resulted in the boss questioning the misconduct in-front of all of the other employees (open-plan working environment). This, in retrospect, I would imagine was a tactic of making the rule stick in one’s mind.

These lessons that I had learned I have carried with me and into the past 4 years of running my own business and I believe, besides the obvious requirement of good work, that this has been the prime reason why almost none of my clients have left my services.

While these lessons may seem obvious in theory to most people, the ability to stick to it and actually carry through good communication is surprisingly lacking.

To generalise the lessons I have learned, I would consider training potential employees – managerial and non-managerial – on some fundamental guidelines of communication (stating my above “story” to help realise the lessons to be learned):

  • Put yourself into the “shoes” of the recipient of your communication. If you are dealing with a colleague, client or employee and require information pertinent to what you are doing, always communicate your actions or intentions of actions as efficiently as possible. Waiting on a response can cause irritation, stress and/or anxiety – which can lead to a negative attitude and can cause resentment and many other negative consequences. You are the expert on what you are doing and this needs to be conveyed correctly and within a reasonable timeframe.

Kumar, Kalwani & Dada (1997) state that “waiting experiences are typically negative and have been known to affect customers’ overall satisfaction with the product or service”, while this states a product or service I am comfortable in relating it to communications as well.

Especially in the current fast-paced world, the introduction of the internet, email, mobile accessibility and access to information, people require instant gratification and their needs must be met in order to keep good relationships.

My initial lesson learned regarding the team leadership and watching my boss lead the company, I would outline as follows:

  • Always be aware of the activities of the members in your team and let the members of the team be aware of each other’s activities.

Bring your team together as a group and have regular (without being regular enough to interrupt progress) progress reports from each member of the team, it is important that all members are listening to the progress reports of each other in case they are needed to help or take over at a point in time, they will not be completely in the dark.

Monitor your deadlines carefully against the progress of your team, speak to your team if deadlines aren’t being met to identify problems/causes of delays.

Do not let time wear away on your level of planning and meetings. Persist with your progress reports and meetings regardless of capacity and other potential external factors. It is important to keep to your managerial routine and maintain efficiency. Letting meetings slip, or become too casual can result in members of the team not paying attention, yourself losing track of the teams doings and deadlines being missed.

Maintaining these qualities, I believe, is an important element in maintaining good and successful business relationships.

References

Kumar P., Kalwani M. & Dada M (1997) ‘The Impact of waiting time guarantees on customers’ waiting experience’, Marketing Science, 16 (4), pp.295-314, Marketing Science [Online]. Available from: http://mktsci.journal.informs.org/cgi/content/abstract/16/4/295 (Accessed: 13 February 2011).