Tuesday, November 27, 2012


After more than three years of having your ear, I am bringing ManageAdvice to a close.  Simply, I have written virtually everything I know about management.  You have honoured me by following my thoughts and perhaps implementing some of my advice.

In more than thirty years of management with several organizations, I have learned that listening carefully and acting decisively are important skills for managers.  In writing ManageAdvice, I have discovered that there remains a creative “je ne sais quoi” in managing people and organizations.  All good managers develop their own abilities to recognize, assess and act for the benefit of their customers, organizations, colleagues and staff.  ManageAdvice blog will “always” be available in cyberspace, and perhaps you might recommend it to other staff as they build their management skills. 

Writing a blog has taught me a lot, and I have transferred that learning to my new travel blog, BeenTouring.  Like ManageAdvice, my new blog fulfills a commitment to myself, this time to “do something” with years of travel notes and photos.  If you haven’t joined me yet on this new venture and would like to receive reminders, email me at beentouring@gmail.com.  Or you can follow me on Twitter @beentouring.

Best wishes to all managers and aspiring managers.  Regardless of the challenges faced every day, you have the power to encourage creativity and to change circumstances.  Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Lead With Ideas

While managers have many oversight responsibilities, we also need to have and develop good ideas that move our organizations towards their goals.  At least from the manager level and up, individuals come up with the ideas – not some nebulous “they”.  Thus “they” are not the (only) ones to solve problems and create new services.  “We” are the ones.

How do we have ideas?
  • Be alert to our service environment.  While performing oversight responsibilities, actively consider if processes could be changed or if service gaps are turning away customers. 
  • Listen to involved staff.  Both front-line staff and supervisory staff have observations about how they spend their days.  Although acting on every comment would be unproductive, we can mentally (or actually) note the observations and develop ways of effecting change that addresses the comments.
  • Participate in professional activities.  Other organizations manage and work differently from our own, and these differences can spark ideas for change and transformation.  Inquire further, and in support of a really promising idea, ask for a tour or other type of informative meeting.
  • Chat with colleagues.  Informal conversations are great idea generators.  Have coffee more often with colleagues, not just the “usual” group, but also with managers in other departments and organizations.  After the talk about the Grey Cup, minds often turn to the links you have and the ways things could be improved.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Inspire Me!

A long time ago when first I was a manager (in the early 80s), we were asked how much budget we needed to deliver the required services.  The crash in the late 80s led to drastic budget cuts, then decades of constraints, then … Oh! Budgeting hasn’t changed since then!  Good or bad, managers need to abandon the vocabulary of cutbacks and fiscal constraints.  The words are discouraging; they are the language of a crisis used to describe the norm.  We need to find the language and the reality of inspiration! 

The budget available is simply a fact, amongst many other business facts.  We must cease replying to suggestions with, “We don’t have the money.”  We need to find answers that inspire more and richer ideas that will change the way we provide services.  The good answers will not be simplistic and may require our mentoring the idea generators to help them learn to fit sparks of inspiration into the work environment.
  • “Interesting idea!  Let’s talk about that at a team meeting.  Could you work out how this might be implemented and make a presentation to the others?”
  • “That’s a big idea!  Have you considered how it might be accomplished through several steps?”
  • “What a new approach!  Let’s do some analysis to understand how this new process could replace what we are doing now.”
Gradually build understanding within your team about how ideas should be analyzed, supported and implemented in the actual environment of your organization.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Despite how irritating they can be, Challengers are an invaluable part of any team.

Supervisors, analytical and other professional staff are not in place just to keep the peace and ensure smooth running.  Without Challengers, an organization could run smoothly into a ditch.  Good Challengers understand the wider environment or have expert knowledge in a specific field, or both.  After several decades, I still remember the rather prickly analyst who persuaded our management team to authorize a particular domain registration and to reorganize accordingly, well before the internet had widely penetrated business.  Although I had only a foggy understanding of his recommendation, I agreed because his logic was clear and his convictions even clearer.  This one valuable moment was the salve on all the raw spots he caused throughout many years of rubbing managers the wrong way.

Challengers are people who have really good ideas, not philosophical time-wasters who are just as irritating. The efforts of Challengers need to be channeled so they can build on their own ideas and make them actionable.  Time-wasters perpetually seem to think their ideas will emerge with just one or two more conversations with their managers, co-workers or even customers.  As managers, we must distinguish between the two: encouraging the former and providing stricter goals and boundaries for the latter.

Are you a Challenger?  If you have good ideas, pursue them energetically.  With some skills in diplomacy and interpersonal communications, you can help steer the organization into a healthy future without irritating your staff, colleagues and bosses. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Do What?

Recently, two people have asked me, “What do managers do?”.  From outside the office, it seems that the staff are doing all the work.

My favourite metaphor for management is the Chinese trick of balancing plates on sticks.  One project gets started. Then manager focuses their attention on a new staff member, keeping an eye on the project to make sure it doesn’t stall.  As the new staff member starts working, the manager responds to a request for information and action by a customer; when the first project starts to falter, the manager steps in to eliminate problems.  And so on, for many projects, many staff, many customers, and probably several bosses.

The main streams of a manager’s responsibility need attention almost simultaneously.

  • Oversight of staff performance and development:  If the organization is large enough, the manager can be blessed with good supervisors who work daily with staff members to ensure they understand and are performing work according to set goals.  In smaller organizations, the manager may be responsible for supervisory functions, and as people always present challenges, these responsibilities can be time-consuming.  For example, resignations and promotions can mean hiring and training over a period of weeks and months.

  • Goals converted into projects and the assignment of work tasks:  The manager is primarily responsible for designing, organizing, and overseeing the delivery of project goals.  Staff expect the manager to touch base on a fairly regular base, and both official and casual conversations are a good sources of information about progress and roadblocks. Regardless of the difficulties encountered within projects, the manager cannot simply accept that work will remain unaccomplished.  Steps must be taken to re-arrange assignments, find more resources, or re-negotiate goals with senior managers.

  • Important relationships with many stakeholders:  Customers need attention, on an individual basis for some organizations.  Suppliers form a critical part of the manager’s information network.  Senior managers who are kept informed will be supportive in responding to requests.  Colleagues should be kept current with a manager’s work to ensure that the various parts of the organization are meshing to the benefit of all.

  • Personal work: Often mangers will be assigned their own projects, such a researching new technologies and their relationship to the organizations goals.  A significant amount of time must be set aside to conduct research, analyze details, prepare reports, present findings, and probably follow-up on recommendations.  A constant need is keeping up on changes in the organizational, business and economic environments to ensure that decisions are viable.