About Johanna Rothman

Johanna consults, speaks, and writes about managing product development. She helps managers and leaders do reasonable things that work. You can read more of her writings at jrothman.com.

Do You Value Management?

I’ve met many managers who were in the wrong position. Sometimes, it was the Peter Principle. Sometimes, it’s managers who have been founders or who have been technically great and got promoted into management positions. Because they are so intelligent, and because they do not read about management, they don’t know or don’t care about management. That leads them to do wacko things.

One of the things they say is, “We don’t discuss money here.” Well, that’s fine. But a business exists to make money. You don’t want to discuss it? How the heck will we know if we are making money? Worse, how will we know if we are losing it, and what to do about that?

Something else they might say is, “We hire for cultural fit.” That’s fine if they know what it is. More often, they think it’s about hiring their friends. Or hiring for personality, without regard to technical skills. No, you still need to hire for technical skill. But you can see which technical skills are essential, and which are comparable with the ones the candidate has.

Hiring for personality alone with no regard for technical skill is not hiring for cultural fit. That’s stupid. Plain stupid. How are you going to get the work done?

Normally, I discuss these things on Hiring Technical People. In fact, I wrote a post called When is “Hiring for Culture” Discrimination? But the conversation on  Twitter and the comments on that original post, Please stop “hiring to cultural fit” have expanded to what unseasoned managers do. And that’s fodder for this blog.

It’s fine to be an unseasoned manager. I was once. I learned. I started with one person and learned to manage. I asked for help. I wasn’t so arrogant that I thought I had all the answers at 25, 30, or even 35.

Now that I’m older, and write books, essays, and yes, even myths for managers, I still don’t think I have all the answers. When I coach managers—yes, I have an active coaching practice for managers and executives—I still assume that coaching is a two-way street. I’ve seen many things work. I’m open to new ideas. I know that the manager I’m coaching has something that is unique to that manager. I know I will learn something from that manager.

I have learned a few things:

  1. Not talking about something, whether it’s money or “cultural fit” doesn’t make it go away. It pushes the topic underground and makes it undiscussable. I have never seen that to be a good thing. We might have to go meta, and talk about why things are discussable or not, but making something undiscussable almost never works.
  2. Experience counts for something. You can gain experience the hard way, by working. You can ask for experience with coaching. You can gain experience with experiential education. Traditional education where teachers attempt to pour learning into you doesn’t work too well. You can try to ignore experience, and assume that the people with gray hair are idiots. But you ignore experience at your peril, especially if you are at the top of the organization.
  3. The higher you are in the organization, the more your words and actions are amplified by your position. You might not like this, but it’s true.
  4. If you repeat the same year of experience over and over again, you haven’t gained any more value. You’ve repeated the same year. That’s expensive and will get you in trouble sooner or later.

If you are a manager now, and you haven’t practiced on just one person to gain management experience, try reading Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management. Mike Talks loves the book. He also loves Hiring Geeks That Fit. (Thanks, Mike!) You can gain experience slowly as a manager, practicing. You can get coaching to help you learn more quickly.

If you work for an unseasoned manager, use feedback to help your manager learn.

You smart people, acknowledge that management takes separate skills from your technical skills. Don’t fall for the myth that the best technical person can be the best manager.

Anyone, if they care about creating a great environment and care about the people, can become a great manager. Great management is work, and it’s not interference or a power grab. It requires creating an environment in which people can do their best work. And that’s not one in which you hire for personality. That’s ignoring the needs of the people.

What do you think? What did I miss?
 

Reference: Do You Value Management? from our JCG partner Johanna Rothman at the Managing Product Development blog.
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