Category Archives: Management Craft

Management Quick Tip: Treat people like adults.

No no. Thank you!  by Aaron Stidwell

“Experienced self-starter.”          “Highly motivated.”          “Results-oriented.”

I find it utterly bewildering that these are the characteristics managers claim to value, yet so many still insist on monitoring their employees’ minute-by-minute productivity.

Limiting internet access.  Requiring that everyone arrive at the same time.  Tracking every second of paid time-off.  These things don’t increase productivity.

You know what does?

Engaged professionals who are not bogged down by arbitrary and insulting administrative policies.

Stop assuming that your team’s default position is to slack off and take advantage.

You’ve hired responsible, educated adults.  Treat them that way.


(Photo by Aaron Stidwell via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)


Management Quick Tip: Teach, in order to learn.

No, no.  Thank you!  by Aaron Stidwell (cropped)

If you’re trying to master something new, consider presenting a team workshop or training session around that topic.  Putting together a course outline will highlight gaps in your knowledge, and you’ll discover new resources as you search for examples and supporting documents.  Plus, working on a public timeline will ward off procrastination and keep you moving forward.


(Photo by Aaron Stidwell via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)


Combating a culture of scarcity.

Water drop in glass by Nick Kean

Growing up poor, I understand the scarcity mentality.  Never having enough money makes you view the world in a particular way.  There’s the sense of impermanence – what you have today likely won’t be there tomorrow.  The constant fear of upheaval.  Learning not to expect much.  Decision-fatigue.  You hear stories of hardship making you stronger, and maybe that’s true, but mostly it makes you anxious and unsettled, even when things are good.

The same is true in an organization.  An atmosphere of scarcity leads to an underdeveloped infrastructure and undervalued employees.  It also creates limiting behaviors across your team.  Scarcity makes people risk-averse.  It teaches them to protect what they have.  To fear failure.  And these are not characteristics you want in your team.  You want your team focused on what they CAN do, not on what they don’t have.  Your team needs the confidence to try new things, to risk failure, to shoot for crazy goals.  Without that, you’re not going to get the results you need as a manager.

So how do you combat a culture of scarcity?  You probably don’t have control over resource allocation decisions at an organizational level.  But you can have an impact on how your team responds to their situation.

Start with yourself and recognize when you use scarcity language.  Stop talking only about what you lack and focus on articulating what is possible.  The “Yes, and…” technique is amazing for reframing your language and opening up creative possibilities.  Share your grand vision and set bold goals.

We often respond to a sense of scarcity by assuming we need more help.  Have you ever been on a team that didn’t feel overworked?  I haven’t.  We always assume that if we could just hire one more person – maybe an admin to pick up all the little tasks that bog us down – we could get on top of it.  But work expands to fit the number of people there are to do it.  So look for efficiencies within your current head count.  Perhaps it’s training on time management.  Or a workflow analysis to highlight non-value-added activities.  Find the person on your team with the most effective approach to a process and then share that out.  Encourage your team to learn from each other to foster a sense of camaraderie and accomplishment.

A scarcity mentality is fed by a lack of information.  Human nature tends toward worst-case scenario thinking.  When we don’t have all the details about a given situation, we fill in the blanks from our imagination.  Or from past experience – Last time we fell short of quarterly numbers, there was a layoff.  So this time, the same thing will happen.  Avoid this by creating a culture of transparency and share as much information as you can with your staff.  You may not control all the decisions that affect your team but you can earn their trust and respect by being a resource and an ally.


How about you?  How have you experienced a culture of scarcity?


(Photo by Nick Kean via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)


Management Quick Tip: Learn to take a punch.

No, no.  Thank you!  by Aaron Stidwell (cropped)

Okay, maybe not literally.  (Unless you’re into that.)  But figuratively, in the sense of seeking out rejection.

My guess is you’re a high performer and you set a high standard for yourself.  You work hard to make sure you don’t fail.  That you’re not rejected.  That you don’t get punched in the face by life.

But don’t let your high standards get in the way of trying new, potentially painful, things.

Because that’s where the learning comes from.


(Photo by Aaron Stidwell via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)


Have you found your voice?

Singing to the Sunrise by Don McCullough

If you are a writer, blogger or creative of just about any sort, you’ve probably thought a lot about your “voice”.  You’ve worked hard to develop a unique style that expresses how you see the world.  You’ve figured out how to tell your story, as only you can tell it.

If you’re a manager, or aspiring to be one, you may not be as comfortable with this idea.  You’re not an “artist”.  You’re focused on organizing, planning, measuring performance.  Not on finding your “voice”, right?

But here’s why your voice matters:  It’s how we share our worldview.  How we reach people and connect them to our passion and our mission.  Our voice is why people follow us, even as situations change.  Because our worldview resonates with them.  And that’s a valuable component of leadership, isn’t it?

The connection between voice and worldview clicked for me as I read Jeff Goins on creating value as a writer.  Here’s how Goins describes a worldview:

“A paradigm.  A perspective.  A code of ethics.  It’s how we live our lives, whether we recognize it or not.  This is what sets a person’s voice apart from the rest of the noise vying for our attention: not what they say, but how they say it.”

Let me share some elements of my worldview that influence my voice as a manager:

  • Job satisfaction stems from meeting the basic human need for autonomy, purpose and growth.
  • Our environment matters.  The quality and character of our workspaces impact how we do our jobs
  • Systems need creativity to avoid becoming stagnate and stifling.  Creativity needs systems and structure in order to have a meaningful impact.

Now think about your own career.  What links all your different positions together?  All your assorted tasks?  All the decisions you make?  Your unique background and experiences have given you a unique worldview.  Your voice is how you share it.


(Photo by Don McCullough via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)


Management Tip of the Week: March 21, 2014

For the best snow cones in the Valley.

This tip comes from Veronika Sonsev, CEO and cofounder of InSparq, via an interview with Anne Libby on the iDoneThis blog:

“First, [Sonsev] finds out the top three goals you want to have on your resume when you leave the company, and then the top two things you want her to say about you in a recommendation.  Then every week, she does a planning session to figure out how to get you one step closer to those bullet points.”

What an engaged, thoughtful approach to management!  It recognizes that, as an employee, your resume is one of your most valuable assets. Sure, we should all be driven by passion for our work and  dedication to the organization.  But as managers, we need to realize that people have career aspirations beyond their current position.  Helping your team grow as individuals and professionals is one of the coolest things about being a leader.

What do you think?   Is this an idea you could implement as a manager?


(Photo by Aaron Stidwell via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)


Use that boring meeting to flex your management skills.

Donuts by Dave Crosby (cropped & saturated)

Let’s talk about business meetings.  Yes, the bane of our professional lives.  Those endless sessions where everyone is talking in circles and no one can seem to get to the point.  Time, and your life force, is trickling away before your eyes.

“Why is no one controlling this?” you wonder. “Shouldn’t someone step in and move this forward?”

Yes, someone should.  And knowing how to do so can be a huge asset to your career.  It’s relatively simple but, like most interpersonal skills, it does take a little gumption and finesse.  And here’s the bonus kicker:  it’s a skill that will also serve you well as a manager.

Great managers are clear thinkers who are able to sort through tons of information and break it down into meaningful actions.  They have a cohesive effect on their teams by helping everyone stay focused on a clear goal.  Great managers are awesome facilitators who are able to direct events toward a positive outcome.

Now, don’t you wish you had someone like that in those meandering, time-sucking meetings? Everyone does.  That’s why meetings are the perfect place to practice your management skills and demonstrate your ability to lead.  Here’s how:

Be aware of the reasons meetings are unproductive:

  • lack of a clear direction;
  • getting bogged down in detail, or
  • drifting off into high level visioning;
  • dominant and/or withdrawn participants;
  • personal agendas

Always practice effective listening.  I’ve covered this topic in the classroom, so I know you just rolled your eyes.  Yes, it’s basic stuff but I stand by its importance.  Be attentive and engaged, both mentally and physically.  Focus on the speaker, listen to what they’re saying and how they’re saying it.  Look for nonverbal cues and other subtle dynamics.  Fight the urge to zone out or work on other projects.  And most importantly, get in the habit of taking notes.

Learn to summarize and paraphrase.  Here is where your note-taking comes in.  Recording key words and phrases helps you focus in on the most important information being covered.  Check for understanding by conveying the information back simply and concisely.  Put the information into your own words but without questioning or judging.  Your goal is to facilitate, not force your own agenda or dominate the meeting.

Be respectful.  A warm, friendly and humble demeanor goes a long way.  If you’re not officially leading the meeting, be careful of overstepping.  Practice a few phrases to help you act as a clarifier, and be seen as leader, without insulting the meeting organizer.

            “I’m having trouble following multiple threads here. Could we focus on ____ ?”
            “Can we take a moment to recap?”
            “Just to make sure I’m clear, we’re saying ____”
           “Let me make sure I’ve captured this, our actions items are ____.”

And, ultimately, it never hurts to be the one who brings the donuts.


(Photo by Dave Crosby via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)


Deliberate Practice for Managers.

deliberate practice for managers
Today I am revisiting my very first post here on The Management Maven: Deliberate Practice for Managers.  I circle back to this topic often because I feel it is so important: 

Management, like any skill, needs to be practiced in order to achieve mastery


Ever wonder what separates Tiger Woods from the average golfer?  Or Jimi Hendrix from the guy in your neighbor’s garage band?  Behold, the power of deliberate practice.  The basic idea is that star performers in music, sports or other fields are not born great; they rarely have some innate mental or physical advantage that average performers do not.  Their achievements are actually the result of hours upon hours of very targeted effort.  Skills are broken down into discrete blocks and those blocks are practiced regularly and with increasing intensity.  The performer seeks feedback and results are diligently recorded, tracked and analyzed for improvement.

How do we use this idea to improve our performance as managers?

Identify a single competency and focus on improving in that area until we achieve mastery.  Unlike perfecting a golf swing or a guitar riff, management may seem too complex to lend itself to task repetition.  But there are core skills, such as presenting information or facilitating a meeting, that can be honed until they become second nature.

Be careful observers of ourselves and others.  As we encounter management challenges, we can reflect on them in an analytical way.  “How did that interaction go?  What did I do well?  What could I have handled differently?”  We can record these observations and use them to gauge our progress over time.

Similarly, is there a peer or superior who is strong in a key management area?  Watch and record what makes them successful.  Reflect on it, analyze it, and try to bring those skills to your own work.  Perhaps that person can be enlisted as a personal mentor or coach.

Utilize “what-if” scenarios to analyze how we would handle challenging management situations.  Business schools often use case studies to help students solve real-world problems.  Using this approach in our management practice allows us to hone best-practices and refine our management philosophy.


How about you?  How would you apply deliberate practice to management?


You might also like:

Notes To Self: Tracking Your Deliberate Practice


My love/hate relationship with travel blogs.

The Road - AZ by irishwildcat

Let me start by saying that the original title for this post was

“Does the world really need another travel blogger?”

But that just begs the question

“Does the world really need another management blogger?”

And let’s just say that’s a can of worms we can probably leave unopened for now.

But seriously…the reason I changed the title is because I truly enjoy travel blogs.  I love to travel and I love reading about other people’s unique and interesting travel experiences.

But here’s the thing: there’s a particular tone to some of these blogs that just rubs me the wrong way.  It’s the assumption that we all secretly wish we could quit our boring desk jobs and with just a bit of gumption, we too could live out the universal dream of world travel.  And if we’re not willing to pack it all in and hike across Slovenia or some such, then we must be soulless automatons who are dying a slow death at the hands of our corporate overlords.

Okay, perhaps that’s a bit dramatic (and no offense meant to the Slovenian hiking community).  I do realize I’m making a sweeping generalization, and I admit that my visceral reaction may stem from the fact that I have felt like a soulless automaton at points in my professional life.  But I resent the implication that the only solution to an unsatisfying career is to abandon it.

Work can totally suck.  I get that.  And the idea of a dramatic career reinvention can be tantalizing, and perhaps for you, an entire life overhaul is the best solution.  If that’s what you need to do and you feel compelled to blog about it, please do.  I look forward to reading about your adventures.

But if that doesn’t really feel like the solution for you, it doesn’t mean you have to be resigned to career stagnation.  There are so many ways we can improve our situations incrementally – by acting purposefully, by building on the assets we already have and by finding ways to intersect with our work in new ways.

Many of the reasons we are drawn to travel – freedom, adventure, meeting new people, challenging our personal limits – reflect basic human needs.  And if we think in terms of those needs, we may find the root cause of our dissatisfaction at work.

We need autonomy.   We need purpose.   We need to grow and be challenged. 

I believe just about any job can meet those needs, if we approach it in the right way.  And if it can’t, we can use it as a platform for the next job, or the one after that.

I guess that’s the basic belief that informs my work on this blog: There is a whole world of opportunity for a rich and fulfilling career between the extremes of dead-eyed desk jockey and carefree adventurer.

So please forgive the rant and let’s go make it happen.


(Photo by irishwildcat via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

Advice for the new manager.

advice for new manager

Over the weekend, I helped throw a baby shower for a good friend, and as I watched folks gather to offer their support and congratulations, it occurred to me:

Wouldn’t it be great if we threw a shower for a new manager?

Like parents-to-be, new managers are embarking on a new stage of their lives. They’re taking on unfamiliar tasks and new (terrifying) responsibilities.  Wouldn’t it be nice to shower them with gifts and good wishes?  Shouldn’t we come together to give them the tools and support (and cupcakes) they need to embark on the management journey?

While fun to imagine, it’s probably not going to happen.  But one element of the baby shower that did stick with me was the opportunity for guests to share a piece of advice for the new parents.

“Sleep when the baby sleeps”         “Always carry two of everything”

As I wrote down my words of baby wisdom, I considered what I would write if I could only give one piece of advice to a new manager.  Here’s what I came up with:

It’s okay to admit you don’t know everything.  Your team knows you’re new to this.  Be confident in your abilities but ask for help when you need it.  Your team will respect you for it.

How about you?  What singular piece of advice would you give to a new manager?