What is a Manager?

Dear Management Doctor:

To begin, I would like to give you a brief background about me. I have been the Director of my department for the past three years. I have taken several general management courses and have attained my management style through on-the-job training. I am honest to say that I do not do everything right, nor is it even in the realm of being on the right track at times. But I do my best, work closely with my staff team members, and keep heading forward. My department is small, consisting of 20 staff team members. We have not been afforded the luxury of a lot of workspace, so we are all somewhat crowded together and frequently run into each other in the hallways. On average, we serve 100 - 160 people, take approximately 1,100 telephone calls, attend a minimum of 15 public hearings, and generate more than 5,000 copies - all in a month. Needless to say, we are all very busy. Currently, I am in the middle of a grievance hearing because I had to fire a subordinate that would not adhere to ordinances, complete his work in a timely manner, or resolve his negative behaviors towards administration and other staff members. This person had been an employee for more than 12 years and once was the director for the department. As all grievance hearings go, I am a ball of nerves and feel that I am being attacked personally. The entire hearing is surrounding my management style versus his management style. No matter what anyone says (good or bad) I feel extremely guilty for not doing this or that. But for me, I have taken on the perspective that I can learn from all this about ways that I could improve myself as a manager. The grievant states that I have micromanaged him and did not give him all the tools he needed to complete his tasks timely. I contend that I have and even went beyond the call of duty to assist him personally to complete his work and get him the tools he needed to do his job. Although he states that I have micromanaged him, I have staff team members say that I am not involved enough. My question is, what is the right amount of involvement of a manager in the daily functions of the office? Do you have any suggestions for me?

Learning to be a Manager

Dear Learning to be a Manager:

First of all, there are various styles of managers and different personal styles can be successful. The key is to recognize that you are not hired to be an operator, you are hired to be a manager and your management tasks must take priority over your operational task. What are management tasks? Setting a clear mission, training staff, motivating staff, delegating and empowering, setting a strategic direction, handling political issues, and selecting and placing the right people. Firing an employee is also a management task, and firing a past director of the department is never easy. I can't comment on the micromanager question with the information I have. Keep in mind that a good manager learns to manage each employee in a different way depending on their needs. Ken Blanchard coined the term "Situational Leadership", saying how one leads depends on the situation. You might want to try one of his books on the subject. I hope this helps - stick in there. Other readers - please e-mail us your thoughts.

The Management Doctor

Reader Responses

I sympathize with Learning tobe a Manager. What I would encourage any manager with staff problems to do - particularly when there is an apparent difference of understanding of the duties and responsibilities of the employee - is to meet, negotiate, and WRITE IT DOWN. I've always thought that managing was a bit like parenting - tell what's expected, explain the consequences of behavior when a problem occurs, and then follow through.

With adults, I think there needs to be an agreement on what is expected, rather than an expectation established solely by the manager. The main omissions that I have in managing staff are failure to explain consequences of poor behavior when it first occurs so that there is a clear basis for performance, and failure to follow through with consequences - like firing someone.

Anyone that fires someone should be prepared to go to court. It is not that much trouble to keep records, but few appear to do so. This doctrine of consequences cuts both ways. The consequences can fall on you if you are not doing your job.

Keep up the good work,
Nancy Brown

I read the question. I have had a similar problem...employee being insubordinate, backstabbing and making excuses for everything. I have been told by other managers to document...document...document...every time the employee doesn't meet a directive or deadline; then you will have the reasons with the dates you told the employee they didn't meet deadline, directive, poor performance, etc...It is hard to argue if you have dates. My particular employee must be given written directives and deadlines. He lack initiative. Thus, I spend a lot of time writing what and when he must get things done. I have been unsuccessful in termination with this employee in the past due to lack of my management support. Good luck. Don't forget to praise the employees that do a good job.

Betty Clack

While I have been a manager for a division for a short period of time, one of the things that I found to be very useful is documentation. We are now using a performance measures system that provides for management and staff to set measurable goals. When the goals are not met without a justification, it is easy to see the problem. I think the other issue with deadlines can also be addressed with documentation. I keep a record of all of my e-mails and notes that I send to staff. In addition, I keep a journal which provides a brief overview of each day, so that I can refer back to it. I think this takes away the subjectivity in evaluation.

Vanessa McMillan-Moore

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