Recently a good friend and former boss of mine and I were exchanging emails. The subject of management came up and he suggested that I write a blog about managing without “managing”. As I read on in his email I realized he was referring to the challenges that accompany managing a workforce outside of a formal organizational structure and absent the bureaucratic infrastructure, processes, and support networks that fortify an organization’s management efforts.
The two of us remember well our former hierarchical, management world with its numerous meetings, diverse substance areas, personnel evaluation boards, training programs, five-year budget cycles, formal performance reviews, career development plans, and a clearly defined career progression ladder. Now my friend operates a small “remodeling business” in a highly competitive market, an occupation in his words “like nothing I have ever tried before”.
I am certain that any number of my readers can relate to my friend’s challenge, thus this blog as he requested. However, I could not possibly do a better job of identifying the keys to success at managing without “managing” as he calls it, than he did himself in the rest of his email. So with his kind permission, and with a little highlighting assistance from me, here in his own words as often as possible, is advice that is about as good as it gets. My friend follows three simple rules.
REMEMBER THE KEYS TO SUCCESS IN YOUR OCCUPATION — In the Remodeling Business, says my friend, “my personal challenge is to do jobs faster, better, and cheaper than others in the same field”. Proof of success is “getting hired for the next job. Maintaining this sort of tight focus allows you to evaluate every potential undertaking in terms of the critical success criteria you have defined and to manage your risks as effectively as you can.
HIRE CAREFULLY AND WISELY — Getting jobs done faster, better, and cheaper puts a maximum premium on the quality of the workforce my friend has hired. “I have one direct report, a helper who does not speak any English, and about a dozen subcontractors who do most of the work”, writes my friend. “In this world, things such as training, career development, performance reviews, and long meetings do not exist. That means that the guys with whom I work must be very reliable, both in quality of work and staying on schedule, and very honest. I have found that the contracting world has many people who are either incompetent or dishonest, or both. Moreover, it is not unusual to find people who can handle the technical parts of a job but completely incapable of managing others, a schedule, or even themselves”.
“Thus one of the major challenges here”, argues my friend, “is the same as in most places — to pick the very best people“. Unfortunately, the feedback my friend gets from his subcontractors is all indirect so it is by the little things that he must judge the quality of those he engages on a job; for example, “my tile guy always gives me his very best setters and my painter will interrupt other jobs to get me out of a jam”.
Hiring well in any field is far more art than science. But getting it right more often than wrong, involves balancing intuition and gut feel with some hard behavioral data from references and sources you can rely upon. Nothing is more predictive of future performance than one’s track record of past performance. Take the time to gather your facts before hand, before you discover some undesirable traits on the job.
PERSONALLY EXEMPLIFY THE QUALITIES YOU WANT IN YOUR SUBORDINATES — ” The most important part of achieving the work conditions I want”, says my friend, “is that I be very reliable and predictable myself. The subcontractors need to know that the dates I give them are real and that the conditions at the site will be exactly as they expected. Otherwise they will not knock themselves out to do their part. Nobody asks me for money in advance but they all know that they will get paid immediately after, or even before, a job is complete.
Looking at each of these rules, one might argue that they represent good management period, whether inside or outside of an organization.. I would agree. However, when you are out there on your own with no support infrastructure behind you, these rules are absolutely an essential part of what the best managers know and do. While my friend calls it managing without managing, the success of his business demonstrates that he is managing very well indeed.