Wednesday, March 14, 2007
North American management is falling so far behind baseball in its ability to handle actual management work that national business columnists are having to push line staff to do managers' work for them...and be grateful for it. Baseball would never put up with managers who don't manage -- and neither should business or government or academia or any organization that strives to be adequate.
It's one thing for a manager to delegate decisions to people with domain knowledge -- as long as the manager tracks results and offers feedback. Connie Mack, baseball's longest-running field manager act, was famous for recruiting players who could be self-directed on the field. Mack was able to delegate many of the hundreds of in-game decisions to his "staff" and this built up their expertise and kept them engaged in the moment-by-monet urgency of winning. To do this, though, Mack needed to give feedback every inning. "Good choice," or "not-so-good choice", and if the latter why and what might work better, and why. A lot of mandatory feedback. Like close to everything management can do to justify their position and salary differential over line staff, managerial value results from feedback.
And so it was with a great deal of angst that I read the Sunday Seattle Times (and nationally-syndicated) workplace columnist Nick Corcodilos' column with the following headline and opener:
Do you ask your boss for feedback?
Kudos to those readers who ask for feedback from the boss without waiting for review time. I'm worried about those who don't bother at all, or who wait for the boss to tell them how they're doing. Feedback is an important part of doing a job well. In fact, feedback is so fundamental a control mechanism throughout our lives that I wonder how people could miss its significance in their careers. Kudos to those readers who ask for feedback from the boss without waiting for review time. I'm worried about those who don't bother at all, or who wait for the boss to tell them how they're doing. Feedback is an important part of doing a job well. In fact, feedback is so fundamental a control mechanism throughout our lives that I wonder how people could miss its significance in their careers.
Please understand, Corcodilos is a bright and insightful workplace columnist. He's usually contrarian and points out the foolishness of the status-quo approaches to recruiting and hiring and incentives. But he's ignoring a major hole in his swing, which is while it's a great idea for staff in the absence of a manager giving feedback to solicit feedback, a manager who isn't giving feedback isn't being a manager, and should be put on probation or let go. Period. If you work for a manager who doesn't give feedback, enabling him to continue in the job by taking on the responsibility of the single defining task a manager has is destructive of you and your organization.
ADVANCING COMPETITIVE ABILITY
The ability for an organization to be competitive or merely adequate at what is does rests on acquiring the right talent, deploying it properly, experimenting, collecting data on the results and then adjusting approaches based on the analysis and transmogrifying staff abilities through coaching/training/instructions and helping staff make the right new choices. That is, giving and getting feedback.
Baseball clarifies this most elegantly. Imagine a baseball manager who never gives feedback. No corrections, no pointing out how and why an individual or the squad achieved success. Imagine the players/staff have to ask for feedback to get any.
Well, go ahead and imagine, but there is no such thang. A team that had management and coaching staff whose jobs weren't built around the collecting of data, analysis of the data and the issuance of prompt positive and negative feedback would be close to guaranteed inevitable last place finishes. When The Talent Is The Product, feedback is management's core daily task.
Baseball does have managerial figures who give feedback but don't do it particularly well. That's a different case, sub-optimal, but at least capable of achieving adequacy. Frank Robinson, it's been told to me, can be excessively nasty in giving corrective feedback, probably because he is one of the greatest players ever and considers anyone who doesn't play as well as he did (that is 99.85% of all major leaguers) is slacking off. Vern Rapp, a short-lived Cardinal manager gave feedback that was nasty and not always germane (focusing on feedback on non-work related issues such as grooming), and his own superiors couldn't tolerate that. But in both cases, feedback there was, and that made adequacy a possibility, something neither manager could have reached without the minimum -- delivery of feedback of some kind on meaningful issues.
It's no different beyond Baseball.
If a manager is an adequate manager, without exception she gives feedback, and only an inadequate manager doesn't give feedback. If you work for such a manager, go ahead and ask for feedback. But point out to the manager in whatever way is most likely to alter future behavior that he needs to bring you feedback regularly. And be prepared to escalate the issue over the head of your manager. If her own manager doesn't realize she's inadequate, it's a bad sign, and if you can't see it through until it gets fixed somehow, be prepared to look for a different employer. Outfits with inadequate managers reporting to inadequate managers are not set up to survive any more than a team managed by Vern Rapp is.
Baseball makes that crystal clear. Organizations that keep managerial plaque around, individuals who don't make the provision of feedback a major daily effort, are doomed to inadequacy.
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