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MANAGING FROM THE BOTTOM-UP

Posted by Tim Bryce on July 16, 2012

- When micromanagement finally fails you.

(Click for AUDIO VERSION)
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

“If we lived in a perfect world, there would not be a need for managers.”- Bryce’s Law

When the American colonies were forming a government in the 18th century, there was a fleeting notion that George Washington should become King with absolute power. Instead, our founding fathers opted for a democratic society where officials were elected by the people. The intent was to give the individual citizen a means to participate in the running of the government. This was a wise decision and has served America well for over 225 years. By being included in the process, people align their loyalties to the government and country, and are quick to come to its defense in times of national emergency. Involving the individual is a simple gesture that has had long range positive effects on our country.

It is an interesting dichotomy that whereas our country involves the individual, most of our other institutions do not. I have been fortunate to have traveled the world and have seen many different types of companies, from large to small, and in just about every field of endeavor imaginable. Most are run top-down with a benevolent (or maybe not so benevolent) dictator at the helm. Assignments, estimates and schedules are pushed down the corporate chain with little regard for the individual employee.

Over the years there has been a lot of discussion about Theories X, Y, and Z in management; whereas “X” is autocratic, “Y” is more of a “carrot and stick” mentality and “Z” promotes individual participation. Remarkably, despite the many years of promoting the rights of the worker, today we primarily live in a Theory X world. Employees are told what to do and when to do it, without any interest in their input. Today, this is commonly referred to as “micromanagement.” Under this approach, although the work will eventually get done, there is no loyalty to the company by the employee, mistakes are made and quality suffers, and productivity declines since there is no personal sense of urgency by the employee. In other words, the company works, but not like a well-oiled machine.

More recently, I have noticed this same phenomenon occurring in nonprofit volunteer organizations, such as homeowner associations, clubs, school organizations, sports associations, even church groups. The people that run these groups may have the best intentions, but rarely do they know how to actually manage. Sadly, some people get involved with such organizations to satisfy a petty power trip they are on. Consequently, they have little regard for organization and adherence to policies and rules. Instead, they try to micromanage everything. People, particularly volunteers, have a natural aversion to micromanagement and quickly lose interest in their work.

Let us always remember that the word “management” begins with “man” for a purpose: it refers to how we interact with people and, as such, it is not a clerical or administrative function, but, rather, a people function; how to work with the human being, a very challenging task considering you are dealing with human beings who can be emotional, irrational, and just plain “thick.” There is a countless number of books on the subject of “management” alone. But for our purposes, perhaps the best way to think of “management” is simply “getting people to do what you want, when you want it, and how you want it.” If we lived in a perfect world, there would not be a need for managers; people would know what to do, and projects would be executed on time and within cost. However, as we all know, we live in an imperfect world. People do make mistakes and problems arise, hence, the need for “managers”, people charged with assigning and directing the work of others. Managers are in the business of solving problems; people problems!

Some of the most productive organizations are those where management succeeded in getting the individual workers involved with the running of the company. Sure, management is still in control, but they have stimulated employee interests by encouraging their participation and feedback. Management still has some top-down responsibilities, including:

1. Delegate – prioritize and assign tasks to qualified employees.

2. Control work environment – minimize staff interferences and provide a suitable workplace to operate with the proper tools to perform the work.

3. Review progress – study employee reports and take corrective action where necessary.

Individual employees have bottom-up responsibilities to management:

1. Participate in the planning process – review work specifications and give feedback; estimate amount of time to perform an assignment, assist in the calculation of work schedules with management.

2. Perform work within time and costs constraints.

3. Report activities to management – including the use of time, interferences, and possible delays.

In this bottom-up approach, employees are treated as professionals and are expected to act as such in return. This results in far less supervision as found in micromanagement. Employees are delegated responsibility, supervise their own activities, and report to management on progress. This approach will work in any business, be it a corporation or non-profit volunteer organization. There is only one catch to this approach: some people resist assuming responsibility for their actions and prefer to have someone else tell them what to do; thereby when something goes awry, they can blame the other person for the snafu. This type of person is more suited for a dictator type of organization where they can continue to grouse about management, yet do nothing to help correct the problem. Aside from this, the benefits of the bottom-up approach far outweigh the negatives. It is simple and it works.

“Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere.” – Ronald Reagan (1986)

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2012 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.


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JOURNALISTIC MAFIA – Who is really pulling the strings?

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6 Responses to “MANAGING FROM THE BOTTOM-UP”

  1. Tim Bryce said

    An M.C. of Worthington, Ohio wrote…

    “Enjoyed the article. I think you would enjoy watching this. It’s about how autonomy, mastery and purpose are driving forces for an individual to contribute in a meaningful way to an organization.”

    Like

  2. Tim Bryce said

    A J.S. of Tampa, Florida wrote…

    “Much enjoyed your piece. I am currently beginning my second and last year of a Masters program at USF: Master of Arts Degree w/ a focus on Human Resource Management and Development. Just finished a course last semester called Program Management. You could easily teach that course! Thanks for your “experienced insights.”

    Like

  3. Tim Bryce said

    An O.B. of Macon, Georgia wrote…

    “If I were to draw a cartoon depicting management, it would be something like a mushroom cloud, with the manager on the very bottom. In truth, he should not be the dictator for the employees but the support for them. All the things you mentioned as duties of the manager come under the heading of support. If that is given in proper quantities, the team will function properly and without hassle.

    I know we live in a time when personal feeling seem to have no place in management, but to me the first requirement of a manager is to really care about his people. Like any really good teacher, the goal is to make the student better qualified than the teacher.

    A manager should be so aware of the his team that he understand not only the jobs they do but their needs and motivations. Needs are easy to find while motivations are not. The work atmosphere should be enjoyable among the team. Jobs can be hard and backbreaking but it is the attitude that carries the morale of the team. Even the worst jobs can be enjoyable if the right attitude is maintained.

    Caring and knowing the people will push this concept a long way. I was once told that a manager did not need to know how to do the job, he only had to know how to manage people, I followed this logic for a while and finally threw it out. It finally dawned on me that if I could not physically and mentally understand the job an employee was doing, I could not manage him properly.

    Sure I made lots of mistakes with empowering ( a new word for me in managment) the employees to do certain things, but I also learned from the experience, Over the year I put together many teams, most were truly successful. Some did fail and I realized that the failure was my fault. I truly did not understand the situation because I was managing from the top down in most cases.

    Ole Blake is like “Banacek”, I love it when a plan come together. Seeing a team function properly is like being able to eat the icing on cake. Not only is it a pleasure to watch, but knowing that you had something to do with it is priceless.”

    Like

  4. Tim Bryce said

    A J.P. of Toronto, Ontario wrote…

    “One of the more interesting exercises recently completed by one of my daughters was to do a survey of senior management people at or just below CEO level in large, national companies. It was based on a face-to-face private iterview, which she was so fortunate to obtain sufficiently numberously to matter. Among many fascinating patterns and answers one very interesting and reasonably clear pattern emerged based on sex. When asked, ” What was the greatest problem you had or difficulty you had to overcome in order to reach senior rank or postion or authority?” the females almost always (one or two exceptions) responded with an answer rooted in personality, such as: ” I had real trouble delegating! It was so hard to trust somebody else to do it and get it right when by career was on the line.” Or, to take another example, ” I was hyper-sensitive to being put down or used in some way because I was a woman. I saw slights that were not there, and condescension that was actually honest congratulations.” Another example, ” At first it was hard for me to give directions or evaluate men and women who were older than I was, sometime by almost fifteen years, often ten years. I was not raised that way, and it took me a long time to deal with it emotionally.”

    On the other hand, males gave different sorts of answers to the same question. Generally, again some exceptions, their answers tended to be rooted in “stuff I had to learn,” or in “getting work priorities right.” For example, one senior male VP said, ” I had so much work to do in so many different directions I struggled to find a way to be more efficient and still get home before seven at night!” Another executive recalled, ” Competition for promotion was brutal! You not only had to produce you had to play politics with both hands to make sure credit for your work went to you – stuff like that.” One of the more interesting answers involved, from a male perspective, the intricate relationships between senior level work and office relationships, not always sexual either. This often took place in a business were a founding family was still involved – such as ” It was hard to be seen to earn my promotions when my aunt Beatrice was the largest single minority shareholder in the company. It was always, “auntie’s boy wins again.” I hated that – I still do.””

    Like

  5. Tim Bryce said

    A J.S. of Skidway Lake, Michigan wrote…

    “This is true wisdom:”Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere.” Managers who delegate, then try to meddle and tweak insult their employees. It does far more harm than good.

    In volunteer organizations, I’ve noticed a trend among volunteers to set limits on availability to help. This may be why membership in service clubs is declining. The commitment just isn’t there.

    When a club president was desperately trying to staff a fundraiser, she was told by one member “I can give you one hour on that day.” President replied “Then you had better spend that hour praying that we find enough live bodies to show up and work.”

    Like

  6. [...] Managing from the Bottom-Up – This is based on the belief that workers must live a meaningful and productive life which is derived from the principles of Theory Y. Unlike Theory X “micromanagement” where the worker is assumed to be lazy, “Managing from the Bottom-Up” assumes the worker is intelligent and should be empowered to make more decisions about their assignments. Management still provides direction in terms of assignments and objectives, but the individual worker assumes responsibility for planning, estimating and scheduling the work effort, and seeing it through to successful completion. Managers are not abdicating control, quite the contrary. Instead, the worker assumes responsibility for supervising themselves and reports to management on progress. This means the manager spends less time supervising, and more time managing. The only hindrance here is that some workers shutter at being held accountable for their actions and prefer others telling them what to do, thereby enabling an excuse when something goes awry. However, we have found true “professional” workers prefer the “Managing from the Bottom-Up” approach as opposed to “micromanagement.” [...]

    Like

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