Management is the art of making the right decision, at the right time and then taking the right action.
Decision-making is one of our primary tasks as leaders and managers. And there lies both the risk and the dangers.
Decision-making is the process of simplifying complexity, creating strategies, processing large amounts of information and making a decision that aligns with our organizational values.
Reviewing the time that we spent last year as an organization managing HR issues, I began to see a pattern. It was something that the Administrative Team and I have talked about and tried to understand. It is something I would like to talk to you about.
When things are going well you look out the window and acknowledge the great work others are doing. When they are not going well it is smart to look in the mirror and reflect on what you can learn. We are a learning organization and a culture that thrives in complexity. Therefore, it is time to hold up the mirror.
Most of us came up through the ranks and learned how to manage through the school of hard knocks. We have read books on leadership, maybe talked to peers and taken management classes.
For most of us, our primary area of expertise is the set of skills that propelled us into management and actual skills needed for management remain secondary. How do you make the decision to abandon those primary skills in lieu of pursuing a new set of management skills? Especially when you may have derided management as nothing more than a group of “pointy-headed-know-nothings”, and now you have joined their ranks?
It is all about risk, vulnerability and the transition everyone needs to face when moving into the work of management.
I know that decision-making is risky, and I know that there are other occupations that come with their own risks. Firefighters, coal miners, construction workers all have jobs that are easy to identify as dangerous. We do not traditionally think of management as risky in the same way.
There are jobs that have physical risks, and jobs that have psychological risks. Whether it is physical or psychological risk, both deal with the emotions of fear and anxiety. Both can cause stress.
This is why management is not a good fit for everyone. Over the next year, we are going to look at the art and science of management.
So what happens when we as managers:
- Don’t make the right decision?
- Don’t do it at the right time?
- Don’t take the right action?
It has a cascading effect across the organization and consumes time. Some of the impacts you can see and others are not as visible.
I am going share two scenarios to help illustrate this point.
Two staff members have a conflict. The manager observes the conflict, assesses what is going on and takes action. As an example, the manager meets with the staff members and talks through the conflict. The staff members express their thoughts and points of view. Conflict is a symptom of diverse thoughts – it can be very positive. The goal is to get to a shared understanding of the issue and resolve the conflict in a way that provides clarity to the opposing points of view.
Two staff members have a conflict. The manager is unaware of the conflict. The conflict spreads across the department as the staff members seek others in their department and other departments to choose a side. The conflict spreads and grows. The manager now becomes aware of the conflict but does not like to deal with conflict, so ignores the issue hoping it will go away or resolve itself.
One of the staff members contacts HR because they want a resolution and are looking for outside help since nothing is being done internally. HR contacts the manager’s supervisor and they meet and talk with the department manager.
The department manager becomes defensive and it is eventually discovered that the issue has been ignored.
Two things can happen. The department manager can then be asked to deal with the issue or their supervisor takes over and begins to start attempting to understand and resolve the conflict.
If the conflict has spread across the department or multiple departments, more people may need to become involved. Depending on the duration of the conflict and how embedded the positions are this can take a while. I personally have seen this take as long as 12 to 36 months
The invisible ripple is that the Administrative Team and County HR both need to monitor the situation.
When I see a pattern that distracts from the organization’s mission, I think it is good to talk.
There is an undeniable pattern where we as an entire organization are spending large amounts of time on internal conflicts, misunderstandings and miscommunications.
The net result is that these issues ripple across the organization and diminish the organization’s effectiveness in achieving our mission. The conflicts I am seeing are some variation of scenario two.
I was asked if new employees who did not know the rules caused these conflicts. The pattern I am seeing is that managers are failing to act when natural conflicts occur.
What do you really want as managers, for yourself and the organization? I know that you are like me and that you are committed to mission of the library. I know you are committed to managing in a way that will result in the outcome in scenario 1. Working with people, creating a common pool of meaning and resolving conflicts. I know that you are committed to maximizing the time you spend towards achieving this library’s mission.
So how do we find ourselves in this situation? This is what we are going to be working on over this next year. Making ripples smaller, resolving conflicts and using all the tools we have learned and adding some new ones.
I know that you are exceptional and that you committed to learning new ways to work with your staff, find and resolve conflicts. We all want to remove obstacles and create opportunities for the staff we manage.
The work of management is not prescriptive; it is the art of observing, assessing and then making the right decision at the right time.