Monday, September 04, 2006

More Thoughts on Management (Pt #3). . .

I’ve been thinking about management quite a bit lately. I’m not sure why as there’s nothing particularly remarkable going on ‘management-wise’ around me at the moment, but, at least a couple of times a day I find myself thinking about management, and managers.

I’ve been fortunate, or unfortunate depending on your particular viewpoint, to have had several managers over the years.

I watched a show a few nights back where they indicated that in previous generations it was unusual for a man to work for more than two different companies in his career. They went on to say that today, a man can expect to work for, on average, seven different companies in his career.

When they said that, I realized I’d worked for at least seven before I was 35, and there’s been at least a dozen since then. There was one year where I received W-2’s from three different companies, and each job was a pretty good one!

So, as a result of all of this turmoil I’ve certainly seen more than my share of managers.

My first real job was working in a large retail store. This was in the mid-60’s and the company, while having a primarily ‘Auto parts’ theme, also sold a variety of other items, like Sporting goods, house wares, tools, lawn mowers, big ticket electronics like refrigerators, Window Air conditioners, TV’s and stereos. They also sold furniture, kitchen cabinets and roofing materials.

I still remember my first day there.

I arrived for work at about 8:45am as the store opened at 9:15am. When I arrived the manager told another guy and me that he was expecting a truckload of roofing that morning, and that while we were waiting for the truck to go down in the cellar and straighten up the stock that was there and make room for the new shipment.

The truck arrived about 11:00, a full flatbed truck with 20 ton, 40,000 pounds of “roofing”. Rolls of felt and ‘half lap’, as well as a more cans of asphalt roof and driveway coating than I’d ever seen on one place before.

We unloaded that truck, by hand, on to a freight elevator, down the one and a half stories into the basement and then carried it, again by hand to the area where this stuff was stored.

It was a little before 12:30 when we finished, and when we got back into the store, the manager urged us to go directly to lunch and to be back by 1:00 as there was another truck expected at that time.

That truck arrived, and was a full load of kitchen cabinets, another 40,000 pounds, this time into the elevator up to the second floor. This time however, while we unloaded the truck by hand, we had 4 wheeled carts to pull the cabinets to their storage area about half way across the building.

We finished that truck shortly after 2:00, and as it was pulling out, another was pulling into the alley, this one was full of toys for the Christmas holidays (keep in mind this was June!)… Once again, off the truck by hand, up the elevator, only this time the toys were stored in the same room as the freight elevator. That truck took us until 3:30 as I recall, and when we came downstairs, the manager greeted us with a couple of cokes and told us there was another, but smaller truck on its way and to wait there, in the ‘back room’ for it.

When it arrived it was smaller, a 20, maybe 25 foot ‘straight job’, packed floor to ceiling, nose to tail with sleds and toboggans (no, not the hat, the curved wooden things you’d slid down a snow covered hill on). I swear that truck was so tightly packed a butterfly would not have fit.

It was about 5:00 when we finished, the sleds also went upstairs, however this time we used a conveyor belt, Joe and I would trade off one of us unloading the truck and loading the conveyor, and the other unloading the conveyor and stacking the goods. Again this was a hand operation, and the sleds where in pairs as were the toboggans. I remember that last pair felt heavier than anything I’d lifted all day.

The next morning, the manager seemed genuinely surprised to see me, ready and willing to work, he even commented on how he’d thought I would bail on the job.

I didn’t, and I continued to work for that company, and him, throughout high school.

I found out, after observing similar days with other ‘new guys’ that this was all part of his plan. He’d hire folks to start on what would most likely be the toughest work the job would ever require, if they came back, he made a place for them. Most, the vast majority, bailed after that first day.

Years later, when I remarked to him that I thought another ‘new guy’ was going to work out, he responded by saying “A new broom, always sweeps clean.” I didn’t understand the meaning behind that, initially, but it eventually sunk in. He avoided making judgments about a ‘new guy’ until they’d had a chance to settle in a bit, and show their ‘true colors’.

As I think back on that job, over the 4 or 5 years I had it, only one or two guys hung in there. Most stayed a little while, but the manual work was more than they wanted to do. Me, I was just happy to be earning enough money to keep my car repaired and in gas, and to date on Friday and Saturday nights!!

I’m telling you this, because, to this day, I don’t think I’ve ever worked for a better, natural manager.

He also taught me at least one, very valuable, lesson that I continue to utilize to this day, nearly 40 years later.

“Never leave work today, without having a plan for tomorrow.”

Now, I’ve used nearly every excuse myself, and heard the excuses I didn’t use from others, as to why it’s impossible to plan tomorrow, today.

To some degree, all of the excuses make sense. It seems that no matter how hard you plan, something always happens during the day, to derail your plan.

However, that ‘derailment’, and knowing it’s a virtual inevitability, is precisely the reason you need the plan! So, that each and every time you come back from that sidetracking event, you know exactly what you’d intended to do, in the order you’d intended to do it

That way, before anything takes you off plan; you can hit the door running and have a shot at getting some things accomplished, without having to make those decisions first thing in the morning. Instead, you made them yesterday when the sense of urgency of each task was fresh in your mind.

My last activity, every day, is to make a short, prioritized, list of the things I intend to accomplish tomorrow. Often it’s nothing more than a list of things I couldn’t finish today. Some from yesterday’s list, others that were assigned to me during the day. It takes no more than 10-20 minutes, but in the morning, I’m working, productively, about as fast as I can get logged in.

Can you say that? Or are you spending the first 15-45 minutes in the morning ‘getting organized’? Reading email to determine the ‘hot list’ from over night… reacting to that, rather than adjusting your plan to place those things properly on your priority stack?

I have more of these thoughts, and I’ll be sharing them as I can get them written up.

As always, please leave me a note, let me know if I’ve struck a chord, if what I’ve said hits home for you, or is totally off base from your perspective.

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Chloe said...

Bill, it seems as though there's a bimodal distribution where managers are concerned: they're either great teachers/role models and a joy to work for, or complete jerks who make you wonder how they got the job in the first place. At least that's been my experience with the 7 or 8 managers I've had to this point.

Beth said...

I don't know about striking a chord. My mindset is always stuck on the house or the kids. I never think about managing. I'm good at it though. Haha. Well, I'm good at telling people what to do. =/

Bill said...

Chloe - You're just exactly right... there's not much 'in between' in my experience either!! It seems there's excellence, and disasterous, and not much in between!

Beth - It could be said, in fact I'm sure it has been, that managing a household is every bit as difficult as managing a company!! I suspect you're equally good at getting people to do what needs to be done, as you are at 'telling' them what to do! :)