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Measure of a Manager October 15, 2011

Posted by Tim Rodgers in baseball, Management & leadership.
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What does a manager do, exactly, and how should their performance be measured? I don’t think that’s an easy question to answer. It’s tempting to say that a manager has done well when the team they’re responsible for achieves some kind of success that’s consistent with the higher-level objectives for the business. But, how much of that success can be directly attributed to the decisions and deliberate actions of the manager? Might the tam have been equally — or, even more — successful under the leadership of a different manager, or even without a manager at all? Did the team succeed despite the meddling of a poor manager?

I’m a baseball fan, so bear with me. At this writing there are only four teams left in the Major League Baseball playoffs. One of those four teams will win the World Series, which is clearly a successful outcome. Is the best manager for any given year the one who leads their team to a World Series championship? The only thing we can say for sure is that this was the combination of team-and-manager who won it all, and there’s no way to assess their respective contributions to the success. Each year since 1983 the Baseball Writers Association of America selects a Manager of the Year for each league, and it’s rarely awarded to the manager whose team won the most games (or won the World Series). One manager actually won the award with an overachieving team that had a losing record (Joe Girardi of the 2006 Florida Marlins). He now manages the New York Yankees, a team with a higher payroll and higher expectations.

The point is that it’s hard to measure a manager. Managers aren’t just there to execute HR processes, communicate directives from above, and keep an eye on expenses. But, they also can’t be expected to exercise complete control over the performance of the individuals they manage, and they typically don’t have the authority to upgrade their team by bringing in new people with better skills. When managers blame their team when things go wrong, someone needs to ask: What did you do to help achieve success?

Here’s how I look at a manager’s performance:

1. Context and circumstances have a lot to do with a manager’s success. Each manager has resources at their disposal, particularly people and budget, but how does the manager apply those resources? For example, do they distribute the responsibilities and assignments among the members of their team to match their skills and maximize performance?

2. At HP we used to say that how you get the work done is just as important as what gets done. Does the manager collaborate effectively with peers and other partners? Do they have positive influence beyond their positional authority?

3. A manager must have the judgment to know when to step in and when to stay out of the way. When did the manager step in, and what was the impact of their decisions? What happened when the manager decided not to get involved?

4. Any manager can cut costs, but that doesn’t necessarily improve operational efficiency. Did the manager introduce new processes in an effort to increase the team’s performance? What happened as a result?

5. It’s often underrated, but the manager should provide coaching and career development opportunities to their team. Does the manager prepare people for more challenging and valuable roles in the organization?

6. Finally, a manager should contribute to strategic planning. Has the manager demonstrated an understanding of what drives the business; and customers, competitors, and technology trends? How did the manager apply that knowledge in their leadership of the team?

A good manager has a positive impact on their team’s performance, giving them a better chance of achieving their objectives than they would otherwise. They may not be able to control the actions of individuals, but they have a lot of control over the environment where those individuals work.

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Comments»

1. David Bennie - October 20, 2011

The six points that you refer to are exactly what a manager should be doing, no matter what level of management they are opperating at. The managers that understand and perform these actions well, are what I believe are true leaders within their organizations and should be rewarded well, as it takes considerable energy and constant focus.

In order to perform at this level, is a realization that a support network must exsist both in the work environment as well as the home invironment.

At work it is imparative that you have at least two levels of managment, above you, aligned with the direction you and the organization wants to go.

At home it is imparative that your family is willing to support the long hours you are going to have to devote to your work, both at home and on the job.

When either of these two support networks pulls back their support level, it will change the ability of the manager to deliver on the expectations of the respective members.

Cheers,
DB


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