During Steve's party, Mike, Amrit and I were lamenting the state of corporate America. The discussions centered around the distinction between those who do (workers) and those who tell what to do (managers). There is a lot of resentment among the workers against MBAs who lord over them solely on the basis of their newly minted degrees. But is MBA alone the problem? I work in a technology company where all the managers have an engineering degree. Although we do not suffer from the MBA blight, there is still room for improvement when it comes to managing people.
As Amrit pointed out, one key problem is the disconnect between the managers and the workers. The company is often organized as a hierarchy with a single manager handling anywhere from 5 - 20 workers. The manager is often only dimly aware of a subordinate - what he does at work, what are his dreams/desires or how he gels with others. Instead of nurturing a team, he is instructed to maximize its output. He is told to ignore the fact that Mike is an actual living being and instead treat him as a fungible resource. Guess what happens when the objective is to squeeze the last drop out of the team? You end up creating an environment where sociopaths are encouraged to infest the managerial cadre. The problem has become so acute that books such as the "The No Asshole Rule" have become overnight bestsellers.
The other problem infecting managers is cluelessness. When managers are picked from within the company, the honor goes to the one who is the most productive. Unfortunately, your success in writing code/making widgets does not guarantee your success in managing people. People, you soon realize are altogether a different ballgame. Very few companies provide training or guidance to newbie managers to walk them through one-on-one meetings, team lunches or sharing information. At the same time, most newbies assume that work will be more of the same. They never take the initiative to learn more about management, identifying role models and approaching them for mentoring.
What is the root cause of all these problems? - the unwritten rule that managers are more valuable than workers. If you are more valuable to the company, more money and power is made at your disposal. When your team's productivity is down, the less vauable workers will be axed rather than you. You do not have to fear the wrath of your boss, since he is also a manager and lives by the same unwritten rule. Smart people around you get the memo and decide to ditch the technical in favor of climbing the management ladder.
Is this unwritten rule valid? It may have made sense in a blue collar economy where brain ruled over brawn. But in today's world, the products are infinitely more sophisticated and the workers much more educated. A single manager cannot hope to understand all the nitty-gritty details any better than the average worker. Thus pissing off a talented worker is no longer a good idea. Before you know it, he may start a company or move to a competitor.
How should the company be organized to take this into account? How can you as a manager help? I will talk about these in a subsequent post.