Working for someone is always an “iffy” situation. When you’re going through the application process, everyone is one their best behavior and you only see the person that is recruiting you. You really don’t have a clue as to that person’s managerial abilities, peccadillos, flaws or day in and day out personality.
Sure, you can ask other employees or friends or co-workers or others on down the list of people that “know” your future boss, but you don’t really know how YOU will be treated or handled or managed until you actually start working day in and day out for that person.
Now, with Covid-19, hiring is done via Zoom or Hangouts or Teams or Webex (did I forget anyone?) and management is now done from afar! How do you motivate and inspire and “manage” a group of people or one person when you don’t “see” or “sense” how that employee is doing from 9-5 or 4:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. and then again from 2:00 PM to 8:00 PM (or whatever the hours that the employee is sitting and focusing on their PC’s or Laptops)? What’s the new normal for innovative and inspirational management?
So, a “distance” management style is now extremely important and far from irrelevant.
When I was growing up as an employee, I had amazing managerial role-models.
My first managerial role model was my father, Robert Lipman. He owned the local radio station, KTOB, in Petaluma, California. When I was in the 7th grade, I’d ride my bike from Junior High to downtown Petaluma (about 2 miles – something that, today, would expose a parent to arrest for child abuse or abandonment) where my dad’s office sat in the heart of Petaluma’s business district. As I brought my bike to the storage closet in the back of the office, I’d pass by his office and if the door was closed, I’d trot back to his office manager’s cubicle and ask Phyllis Brewer (later Hart) if she had any work for me to do. If his office was open, I’d stop inside, first, and ask him if he had any errands or work that needed to be done and sit in one of his guest chairs and tell him about my day. On his desk was a one-word placard where normally, the name of the business owner would be. And on that placard was the word: Empathy.
As I got older, my next boss that influenced me greatly was Charlie Schnell Sr, the owner of Perry’s Deli.
Charlie was an amazingly happy and good-natured boss. He greeted every single person that entered his shop with a sincere and rousing “How are you doing, buddy!?” “How’s everything going!?” “What can I get for you!?” He meant it. And he connected with everyone who ever walked in the door and everyone who did became his friend and a customer for life. Including me.
Later, as a “millennial” I went to work for my uncle, Fred Lipman at Lipman Insurance Administrators, Inc. in Fremont, CA. Working for him was the greatest professional experience of my life. Over those 20 odd years, I learned more about being a human being first, and a manager, second. That humanistic approach created a team of over 60 employees who never ever left unless they moved out of state or something equally life altering occurred. His team loved him and would do anything for him…to this very day.
On the day my uncle promoted me to be a manager, my father bought me a book that included the topic of Managing by Walking Around:
The concept was originated by HP’s David Packard in the 1940s, and later popularized by business guru and best-selling author Tom Peters. MBWA, a relatively simple but effective approach to corporate success, delivered far greater dividends than any amount of computer processing and bean counting.
I took the lessons in that book to heart and made sure that I was always accessible and transparent in dealing with my team.
If anyone has watched Ford vs. Ferrari, and paid attention to the suits’ contributions, or Matt Damon and Christian Bale’s description of Ford’s managerial ability, you know that disdain is a mild description of the Ford Company’s Executive or Managerial efforts. Their three floors of lawyers description typifies American business’s history of corporate stupidity and mismanagement. And in this age of Covid-19 and or Corporate America’s response to the inference of Institutional Racism, American Managers face probably the most difficult set of hurdles to success and profitability and, in the end, actual survival than in our previous history.
The goal is to win. Right? You’re in business to make money. You’re in business to make customers raving fans. You’re in business to uplift your employees. Corporate responsibility or charity is an offshoot of being successful. You can’t donate profits that don’t exist.
During a scene in Ford vs. Ferrari, one of the Marketing Suits wants a Ford man to drive a Ford Car and the result is a Ford Loss. Their Call. Right?
Even though the obvious choice was the best driver and the employee who made the best contribution to making that race car the best it could be, Ford, initially, chose image over substance.
But after a brutal loss, Henry Ford II, pointing to a factory that churned out 3 out of every 5 American Bombers in World War II, tells Carroll Shelby to “go to war”. And what does Carroll Shelby say? “Thank you!”. Hell yes! Any motivated employee who believes that he or she has the undivided support of their boss or manager would say the same thing! “Thank you!”. “Thank you for believing in me.” “Thank you for trusting me”. “Thank you for giving me this shot!”. And hopefully, Thank you for supporting me.
In the next month, managers are going to have to figure out what the heck is going on with their employees and their companies via Zoom. They must divine image and substance and real effort. Not by walking around the office and viscerally feeling the intangibility of winning or losing. They’re going to have to look at the employee on the video and check the spreadsheet or reports generated by Salesforce or Hubstop or whatever system they’re using to measure performance. But whether those numbers are real and reflect potential success, that takes a manager who sees beyond the image and beyond the reports.
Right now, in this remote work world, the biggest tool that a manager thinks they have in their arsenal to manage their future is a weekly “standup” meeting or “sales” meeting or group meeting to go over what’s going on. Ideally, these meetings set up the upcoming week’s agenda or milestones or guide all the contributors’ efforts toward various goals. And what do managers see? All those smiling faces providing assurance that for the next 40 plus work hours until the next “all-hands” or “departmental” or “stand-up” meeting….all is good…all will be good….and have no worries…it’s all good.
And you know what? That’s not true. Their best tool is and has always been to manage by wandering around. Reach out and call their people. Go meet them for coffee (mask and gloves included). Stop by their house and see how their doing. Managing isn’t a passive activity. It isn’t done by manipulating pivot tables. It’s the extra effort that makes the difference. I know workers who since their company was founded, NEVER ever got a “how’s it going call” from their boss. Startup founders are notorious for being so (self) obsessed that they’ve never called a teammate for no reason other than to wish them a Happy Father’s Day or “how’s it going” without having a milestone or report agenda.
When Ford lost their first effort at Le Mans, Henry Ford II told Carrol Shelby “go to war”. “Report directly to me”. No more layer upon layer of management. No Al Davis monologue or “Just win baby” phrase. He just unleashed a talented manager and a talented team to do what it was born to do.
The best managers identify and NURTURE talent that is passionate about creating greatness. They put in untold unknown hours making the dream of greatness a reality. And when greatness is achieved, great managers know how to reward it and mentor its continued high level.
In the age of Covid-19 and civil disturbances causing unease and insecurity, Managing by Walking Around and by showing employees that you care, will increase an employee’s security and determination to achieve the highest levels of performance that they are capable of….sitting in front of their computer at home…or at the café…or on the beach. The best managers will get off their behind and see and feel and know that their team shares their vision and is making every effort to achieve and win.