how-to-manage-people

Managing is partially about setting the direction, and partially about harmonizing everybody’s pace.

I believe in what I call Golden Rule Management. That is, you should manage people the way you want to be managed.

First and foremost, this means management by objectives — with a twist.

What is Management by Objectives?

In its simplest form, management by objectives (MBO) consists of collaborating with your reports to clarify and develop their performance objectives based on company needs. You then work with them to develop an action plan, or (ideally according to Dan Pink) give them the autonomy to meet those objectives in the way they see fit.

If you do MBO right, your reports are happier, more motivated, more independent, and more effective. (Or at least I am, when I’m managed that way.)

I like to add a twist, however, which I call MBEO: Management by Everybody’s Objectives. And for me, I think MBEO is the most effective management method of all.

Management by Everybody’s Objectives (MBEO)

Naturally, your company has objectives, and you, as a supervisor, have objectives. And it is always best to share all these objectives with your reports. But that’s not enough.

If you really want people to be motivated, you need to specifically add your reports’ own objectives to the mix. This way, you’re managing by everybody’s objectives, which to me, is key for making MBO work.

This is harder than you think.

I believe that every employee, at every level, in every function, has personal and career objectives of their own. People do not take a job just to earn money: they have hopes, dreams, and the desire to do well. Especially for those people in non-routine labor, they made a decision to join a particular industry and pursue a particular path for some reason. Perhaps this is a barely visible trail in a forgotten wood, but it does indicate something about people’s motivations.

The problem is that many people are almost never asked, why did you take this career? What did you hope to get out of it? What did you hope for? After a few years, it’s not uncommon for employees to be a little lost.

Now, lost employees can do work. They can be effective. But no matter what, people working for just a paycheck aren’t going to love what they do, and that’s going to mean more work for management.

So as a manager, I like to know what those personal and career objectives are. I do not feel that my role as manager is to simply impose my company’s objectives on unwilling and cantankerous employees. Rather, I see my job is to help align my employees’ objectives with those of my company. And I can’t do that if I don’t know what makes them tick.

If somebody wants to be a better X, I can take time to show them what to do, or we can find them classes. If someone wants to go to business school, we can find a project that demonstrates autonomy and leadership. If someone wants to learn about some new interests, we can find a project that the company needs while teaching them about their new field.

I don’t do these things just because I want people to be motivated, or loyal, or to leave me alone — although they are nice side benefits.

I do them because it’s what I want for myself — and it’s what I think everybody wants. And what kind of marketer would I be if I didn’t have empathy?

How to make up for the limitations of Management by Objectives

Now, I recognize that managing by objectives is not a panacea. Doing it right requires that you recognize its limitations and compensate for them.

I think MBO has two main problems: (1) it focuses on the ends, not the means, and that can mean a poor process which heads to an unsatisfactory fulfillment of the objective; and (2) it doesn’t tell you what to do if an employee doesn’t know how to attain the objective. My solution to this are, respectively, (1) quality control and (2) capacity building.

Quality control is necessary because only a small part of objectives are quantitative. Spelling errors, for example, can be counted; good, persuasive writing is much harder to define. To deal with quality control, I set concrete check-ins, usually around deliverables, that can help me make sure that the process is going smoothly. This may start with a written plan or creative brief, followed by draft copy or a visual, leading to a final, customer facing piece of creative.

It’s true that this is actually a more time-consuming way to manage at first. But this process also lets you diagnose areas for improvement and to address those problems before a huge amount of work or expense has occurred. (This is analogous to the best ways to develop software: with constant testing in advance.)  And, if you can fix a problem once, you are less likely to have to deal with it the future.

Capacity building may be necessary because not everybody knows HOW to achieve a given objective. When this occurs, I may need to provide internal training, assign them to train themselves, or send them out for training externally. This may not be just about the skills required to do a defined task: a person might need a deeper insight into the bigger purpose of what we’re doing, or a planning template, or perhaps help with communication or presentation skills.

A good manager needs to recognize these things and deal with them. While it takes extra time in the short term, in the long term you save time because your reports are more autonomous and self-directed.

In my experience, MBEO works. By aligning everybody’s objectives, I get better work and more autonomy from my reports.  They in turn get greater job satisfaction and personal fulfillment.  It’s a win-win for everybody.

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