Change diagram 01


2 Responses to “Change diagram 01”

  1. Okay, this post is probably joking in nature, but I’ll bite and criticize it literally. I may be but 25, but I’ve had two important managerial roles and a classical B-school education, and the above diagram is rotten.

    It is of course literally true that telling people what to do–assuming they are expected to heed direction–is to controvert their inclination to think and make their own decision on the matter. Of course!

    But to say that the “degree of management” is 100% correlated with the number of orders one issues is to badly define “management.” Management is understanding when the manage-e needs direction and offering it then, and not other times. It’s double sided. When I was an associate managing investment banking analysts–who take on difficult thinking tasks no one can tell them how to do without already having done the legwork–it’s true; I asked them to do something and rarely offered direction on how unless it was something I knew they hadn’t done before and wouldn’t be able to do right without direction. They’re expected to stay until 2:00am to get it right, putting in 100+ hours a week when necessary, particularly because it would take almost anyone else just as long, and somebody’s got to do it. If they have questions, of course you answer them.

    Banking is an example where good management is indeed way on the upper left of that cute little chart. 22-year-old kids just out of Yale’s History department take on insane amounts of autonomy with little direction. Naturally the upper left is the right place for their managers to be.

    But when I hire movers, I pack my boxes and label them very carefully so the movers don’t have to sit around thinking about whether I’m the kind of person who prefers his candle holders in the living room or the dining room (this is a lie, I live in NYC, only have one room, and have never hired movers). It’s precisely right in this situation for me to plan and do everything myself in advance so that the task of management is limited to describing the job and does not include granting any autonomy.

    I currently work closely in a long-term relationship with an India- and US-based software development firm. I started off our relationship trying to manage them in the upper left like I did my banking analysts. Didn’t work at all. I had designs swimming around in my head and the product acted nothing like them. Our relationship has evolved so that I now understand the types of things I have to be extremely specific on (most but not all) and the types of things I can leave open.

    Here’s the key: don’t dare say my developers are brainless zombies merely because I have to be extremely specific when I’m communicating a vision that rests in my head and describing an educational product that is a full generation beyond anything that exists to date. I hired outsourcers so I can spend my time learning about education, meeting people, and understanding schools’ needs, while my developers don’t need to build that expertise themselves as long as I make the product management decisions myself. There are things that I, as a manager, am good for, and things that they, as life-long coders are good for.

    In short, like all managerial relationships there’s an appropriate compromise. Banking analysts are highly intelligent engineers and thinkers while their managing directors have decades of experience in financial transactions and can dredge up techniques and contacts from the depths of their brains. Movers are strong and experienced in protecting furniture, driving big trucks, and other move-tastic stuff I don’t know a thing about, while people with stuff have a unique vision for where that stuff goes. Nobody involved is a brainless zombie, the question is, is a manager doing a good job allocating the right level of autonomy, rather than granting too little or too much.

    So it’s a manager’s job to
    1. Determine the proper amount of autonomy for the job description based on on how the job is completed most efficiently (movers vs. bankers)
    2. Hire people who will be capable of completing the intended tasks given the appropriate level of autonomy (if you’re going to hire movers and you’ve written the room names on the boxes in English, make sure your movers can read–sounds callous but it’s true; also, don’t hire bankers who aren’t very smart or who rush or who can’t triple-check their work)
    3. Communicate the task and the right amount of direction to the worker

    And a point not touched on above is:
    4. Invest in workers to the extent reasonable by teaching to mistakes and granting a little more autonomy each time around.

  2. Hi Jack, thanks so much for the lengthy comment. I always appreciate it when someone takes the time to contribute to the conversation.

    I think a growing concern in K-12 education is that the autonomy of teachers and principals is becoming increasingly constrained. Two quick examples: 1) scripted curricula where teachers literally have to read from a script with their students, and 2) districts’ narrow (and foolish) interpretations and implementations of standardized curricula. We are hearing from many teachers that the joy of teaching has disappeared. While that cannot be blamed entirely on this phenomenon, it’s at least partly a result of this. So… while the graph is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I also think a lot of K-12 educators would say that more and more folks feel they are being treated like mindless zombies, by their administrators and by policymakers.

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