Opposing Objectives

~ by Randy Wagner

Management Must Balance Opposing Objectives

Management is a juggle of contradictions and multiple balance points. Every person on the team has different strengths and weaknesses. Some tasks must move fast while others must wait to fit the correct sequencing. However, the core balance we need to achieve is independence with standardization.

Handholding Subordinates Takes Time Away from Strategic Work

Almost every manager will tell you they spend inordinately more time on inane things that don’t match their seniority or pay grade. There are times when a manager needs to jump into the middle of something moving too slowly to make a deadline or address personnel issues that can only be summed up with “Are you serious?” Ideally, a manager can identify a goal and hand it off to one or more competent individuals, who simply achieve the objective with little to no oversight. The amount of time a boss personally directs others is time not spent elsewhere. Strategic vision, maintaining a current understanding of the market and tools, or interviewing candidates for available positions are more valuable ways to spend time. And time is always money. Handholding subordinates is typically not as profitable as maintaining the corporate edge in the marketplace.

A Team of Strong, Independent Individuals May Lead to Differences in Opinion on Priorities & Methods

On the other hand, having a team of strong, independent characters is a lot like herding cats. It’s great that they take the challenge and run but if they aren’t all running in the same direction, we’re back to management spending time to coordinate, which yields less return. Too much of a good thing can be its own challenge.

Two Keys to Achieving Balance in Management

The balance can be found in where you start from and HOW you point out the new direction.

Where You Start From – Hire Go-getters & Self-starters

Start with solid people. You have to hire people who are self-starters. Even if they have no experience, have they learned a new skill on their own time? Have they spent time reading up on the industry or global market forces? The odds of hiring someone and then teaching them to be a self-starter is exceptionally unlikely. It’s not impossible but motivation is like any other self-improvement. You have to want it. No one can want it for you. So, start with go-getters.

How You Task Individuals – Define Standards and Guardrails

The HOW of tasking individuals becomes the second key to keeping the thoroughbreds running in the right direction. Start with standards. Define the guardrails for your team. What are the minimum expectations like clear acceptance criteria, unit testing, documentation levels, milestones, etc.? Define that and then let the team make whatever choices they think necessary to get the job done as long as they fit the standards. And if they want to diverge from the standards, they need to acknowledge it up front and get your approval. You want the team to be clear on where they are and if they are on track without getting into their weeds, unless they are missing milestones.

With Proper Management, Everyone Benefits

As we all learn growing up, freedom and maturity go hand in hand. You don’t want to burden them with management, but you can’t have so light a hand that they run amok. Good people, clear boundaries, and clear direction allows the team to run in the right direction.

Randy Wagner is Director of Quality Assurance for CastleBay Companies.  He has 20 years of consulting experience across private and public sectors, Guidewire InsuranceSuite, InsuranceNow, and Duck Creek, with specializations in quality assurance, project management, configuration management, and automation.