You don't have to be a manager very long to figure out that there are a couple of types of managerial behaviors out there, that can have a huge impact on the culture of companies. The one I hate most is the "Who made this decision? attitude. Even good managers can slip into this unfortunate behavior if they are under a lot of pressure from above.
The "Who made this decision? attitude sends exactly the wrong message to almost everyone. First it shows that there being in authority means being already locked and loaded with the idea that someone needs to shoulder the blame. Of course the one in authority isn't the one.
The second message that it sends is that people should be very careful trying anything because if they are wrong, they will be blamed. They should also avoid bringing forward situations which are building into a problem. The best thing to do is hide the problem or find some way to blame someone else.
The other kind of managerial attitude, which is the one that should be encouraged is, "The first time is a learning experience, the second time is a mistake."
The assumption that people can walk into a complex job and know everything about a business situation should be on the rubbish pile of business ideas. In today's fast moving world with businesses changing sometimes on an hourly basis, even long term employees are challenged as to how to handle some situations. You cannot write and revise employee manuals as fast as new situations arise so most companies no longer try. You have to trust people to do the best they can with what they know.
Time and time again I have seen customers who are facing problems, lack of correct information, or even their own mistakes. If you can get to them and talk to them, what they really want is a solution not someone to blame.
So why is one management style so focused on assigning blame? Well there are a number of reasons and they can change from situation to situation. Often it is a severe case of managing up. The manager really doesn't care about the problem, they just want to make certain they aren't to blame.
Sometimes it is pure inexperience as a manager and lack of confidence in those around you. Some folks have this mistaken idea that good leaders can never cut anyone any slack. That is probably the stupidest idea on the planet at a time when very good, hardworking people are very difficult to find.
Trust is a huge part of the equation. It you're looking for someone to blame, you probably don't trust those around you. You're questioning their motives, and unable to accept the simple fact that mistakes happen even with the best of intentions.
Sometimes customers want someone to blame, even though the real problem is a mismatch between their needs and the solution they have found. I talked to a customer of ours yesterday who found that our pricing scenarios on storage just didn't fit his needs.
At first glance it looked like he was looking for someone to blame for his situation. Some of the things he brought up were concerns that we also have and are trying to work through, but I had no good short term remedy for him. I finally told him that we try to be as flexible as possible, but his needs were just far different from those of our typical customer.
My recommendation was that he cancel his account and send me an email note. Since he liked a lot of the other things about our system, I told him that if and when things changed to make his needs closer to what we deliver, I would get in touch with him. I hope he does, but I also hope he appreciates the thirty days free trial that we do. It allowed him to figure out that what he wanted wasn't one of our offer rings. I also suspect he might not find anyone who has the option that he is convinced that he needs.
The best example of the corporate effects of "looking for someone to blame" is an incident that I remember from my Apple days. We had our corporate people sponsoring a seminar to talk about Va. Tech's System X Cluster. It was taking place at FOSE which is the largest government computer show.
Pre-registration at the event looked low. Having had a number of years of experience in seeing how people attend these events I was confident we would reach our goal of 50-75 people even though pre-registration only showed a much smaller number. The person in charge of the event from Apple corporate was so panicked by the low pre-registration that she wanted to cancel the event. She was afraid to be associated with something that might fail. Fortunately I won out, and we kept the event. We had a standing room crowd in spite of access to the event at the hotel being restricted to one door because President Bush chose the afternoon of our seminar to drop in to another meeting.
Instilling fear of failure is not a very good management tactic. Having people accept accountability for their actions is a totally different thing. If you get people afraid to act or afraid to come forward with situations that have gone sour, you create a situation of you cover your rear, and I'll cover mine.
That kind of climate makes it pretty hard to find solutions which sometimes need to be crafted on a trial and error basis.
There are some good articles out on the Internet today. I can recommend, I like Paul Krugman's article in the NY Times called, "The Road to Dubai."
"So what do I think of the Senate Judiciary Committee's proposal, which is derived from a plan sponsored by John McCain and Ted Kennedy? I'm all in favor of one provision: offering those already here a possible route to permanent residency and citizenship. Since we aren't going to deport more than 10 million people, we need to integrate those people into our society."
"But I'm puzzled by the plan to create a permanent guest-worker program, one that would admit 400,000 more workers a year (and you know that business interests would immediately start lobbying for an increase in that number). Isn't institutionalizing a disenfranchised work force a big step away from democracy?"
"For a hard-line economic conservative like Mr. McCain, the advantages to employers of a cheap work force may be more important than the violation of democratic principles. But why would someone like Mr. Kennedy go along? Is the point to help potential immigrants, or is it to buy support from business interests?"
I would agree. We need to figure out what to do with all the people who are already here, I'm not sure we should create a permanently disenfranchised work force. History doesn't have a lot of good things to show for that.
Thomas Friedman has a scary article in the NY Times about Iraq. It's called, "Iraq at the 11th Hour." In it he has this to say.
There is only one hope for halting this slide and that is the formation — immediately — of a national unity government in Iraq, with Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds sharing power, and the deployment on the streets — immediately — of massive numbers of troops and police, both Iraqi and American, to prevent more of these tribal killings. If a national unity government is not formed soon, and if these identity-card murderers gain more momentum, any hope for building a decent Iraq will vanish.
It is five minutes to midnight.
The final article I would suggest for consideration today, is one for families that have young males. It's in the Washington Post and called, "What's Happening to Boys?."
This phenomenon cuts across all demographics. You'll find it in families both rich and poor; black, white, Asian and Hispanic; urban, suburban and rural. According to the Census Bureau, fully one-third of young men ages 22 to 34 are still living at home with their parents -- a roughly 100 percent increase in the past 20 years. No such change has occurred with regard to young women. Why?
No answers from me, other than there are things happening that none of us can understand easily.