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Justin Locke

Management Skills 101

Little brother is watching you.

January 9, 2012
by Justin Locke

There is much to be said for learning at the feet of a master, but I must admit, some of my best management skills came from working with lousy managers. I saw how certain managerial behaviors got consistently bad results. Knowing what not to do can be just as important as knowing what to do.

Effect on Workforce

Managers who have power to hire and fire often fail to realize that every little thing they do and say, not to mention everything they don’t do or say, has an effect on the workforce. Once a manager leaves a room, every little move they make is parsed out and analyzed to the nth degree. They never see it happening of course and therefore never realize what is going on. Many managers I worked for would take a sea of poker faces at face value, thinking no one was really paying attention. They would then do something that was annoying, demoralizing or unprofessional, and would assume that “no one would notice.” Guess what? We noticed everything. 

Here’s one example: When I used to hire orchestras, I would of course hire the best people I could. But consistently, my friends would pressure me to hire them, or worse, the conductor would try to influence me to hire an old pal, or perhaps wife, husband, girlfriend or boyfriend, even though these people weren’t the best musicians. 

When I acquiesced to such requests and tried to conceal a second-rate viola player in the back row, nothing would be overtly said. But this would immediately result in everyone thinking, the standards just weren’t all that high. And suddenly, that intangible element of top-of-the-line excitement was gone forever. While everyone resented the second-rater in their middle, they resented me even more for bringing the person in. This is one of those management lessons I learned the hard way. 

There are many variations of the rationalization of, “well, we can sneak this in, and no one will notice.”  And it is true, you can pry a rivet off of a 747 and it will still fly. But at the same time, I can absolutely guarantee you that every single remaining rivet WILL notice that you did that, and they are now fully aware that:

  1. They are now part of a less than perfect airplane, and
  2. They all now have to pull just a little more weight than they were supposed to.

This consistently results in a more conservative attitude toward work output, if not downright contempt for management in general, not to mention the occasional total crash and burn. Yes, it was just one tiny rivet, but they all noticed. That missing rivet has far more effect on morale than all the mission statements in theworld. 

Conclusion

Employee hyper-vigilance is not a new idea. You have all heard of WIIFM (What’s in It for Me) and DITM (Does It Threaten Me), but WIIFM and DITM are usually thought of as isolated reactions to new policies or projects. In my experience, WIIFM and DITM are in effect 24 hours a day. The slightest raised eyebrow from a person in power has huge effect. Many managers I worked for failed to recognize this.

While this is a problem, it is also a boon, because once you realize how intently you are being scrutinized, you also realize that you can communicate with microscopic effort and get fabulous results. 

Either way, if you are a manager, little brother is watching you. 

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Justin Locke is an author and speaker. He spent 18 seasons playing the bass with the Boston Pops, and he is the author of Principles of Applied Stupidity. He was recently featured on author@google. You can find out more about his presentations on overcoming cultural inertia by visiting his website.

© Justin Locke