The Real Job of a Manager: Part One – Why It’s Easy to be Bad at It

The Real Job of a Manager: Part One - Why It’s Easy to be Bad at It

This is part one of a three part series entitled “The Real Job of a Manager and Why it’s Easy to be Bad at It”. Part 1 focuses on The Fundamentals of Management, part 2 will focus on Managing the Work and part 3 will focus on Managing the People.

I once asked one of our VPs of Engineer what it meant to be a good manager and his response was perfect:

Half of it is managing the work and the other half is managing the people.

It was such a simple statement but something many managers at various levels don’t always understand. Even the ones that do, don’t necessarily get it right (present company included). Let’s be real, it isn’t always easy being a manager. It’s like being on a tightrope, trying to keep everything balanced. The moment you become complacent, is the moment you’re in the most danger.

If you’re a manager already, or aspiring to be one, it’s important to figure out which half of the job comes more naturally to you. If your answer is “both,” then I’d argue you’re not really digging deep enough. You may love to manage your people, but maybe you’re better at being involved with the work and making sure it gets done properly. So the question really isn’t what you like doing more, it’s what you’re better at without trying as hard.

Managing The Work and The People

For a lot of us managers, focusing on the work seems obvious. After all, it’s what our boss ask about most of the time. It used to be that if you were doing well here, you’d be rated highly as a manager. Times are changing though, and to be an effective manager, managing the work well isn’t enough.

Many of the companies we’re working for these days are testing out more casual and flexible environments. The trade-off is that more focus has to be put on managing people. Add to that the growing workforce of millennials (me being one of them), who tend to need higher levels of motivation [1], and you’ll see why people management has gotten renewed attention. I know for me, the big risk is too much focus on keeping my direct reports happy and motivated, potentially at the expense of managing the work.

If you haven’t seen this already, expect more of your evaluations to be on how your employees are feeling and less on the work that’s being done. This is especially so if there aren’t any major problems with the projects you’re managing. There’s a reason behind this too. Employee morale can have a direct impact on productivity [2]. They’ll perform better if you manage them properly [3]. Meaning, the attention you give to managing your people will be made up by not having to spend as much time managing the work.

Why Is It Easy to Get it Wrong?

If you remember back to the Great Recession, a huge shift happened where companies turned their backs on veteran employees. I was living in Michigan at the time, and almost every week I’d hear stories of someone’s father being walked out of the office by security guards because they’d been laid off. These were people with 20 or 30 years of dedication to the companies they worked for. This sent a clear message and shaped in the minds of millennials how they should view their careers.

Today, we see people no longer thinking about working for a single company until they retire. Most millennials will leave a company when they feel they’re no longer learning or growing. This is why management has become even more difficult and why it’s easy for managers to get it wrong. We managers are constantly battling the basics like employee retention and constantly moving project deadlines. It’s a recipe for disaster.

The Elephant in The Room – Getting Results

Denny Strigl, former CEO of Verizon Wireless, has a great quote in his book Managers, Can You Hear Me? where he says:

I suggest if a manager’s objectives don’t relate to the company’s overall, then they are incorrect and, consequently, not worth obtaining.

His entire premise is based around the idea that the end goal of an effective manager is to get results. These results have to be rooted in the goals of the company you work for. He goes further to outline four fundamentals that you should use to evaluate everything you do:

  1. Grow Revenue
  2. Get new customers
  3. Keep the customers you have happy
  4. Eliminate costs

I bring this up because the end goal of helping your employees stay happy or keeping the work organized is to get results for your company. Sometimes as managers we get overwhelmed by the day-to-day, but it’s important to remember what our objective should be. Like Denny alludes to, you’ll fail as a manager if you don’t have a solid grasp of these fundamentals. Sadly, many people don’t and that’s why it’s so easy to be bad at our jobs.

The End Goal – To Better Management

I’ll expand on the four fundamentals in more detail over the course of this series, but for now, think about how you’re currently balancing the two sides of management. Try to figure out which of the two comes more naturally for you and if you’re imbalanced in any way. Next, think about if you’re focused on your real object of getting results. Which results? The ones that align with your company’s current objectives and goals.

The next part of this series will go into detail about how to be effective at managing the work. Afterward, I’ll post the last installment, effectiveness in managing the people under you. My hope is that by the end of this series, you’ll have a better grasp of where you should be putting your focus and why it’s so important.

Working under a bad manager sucks, and being one was probably not what we wanted when we took the job. So, let’s make sure that never happens…


[1] Majority of U.S. Employees Not Engaged Despite Gains in 2014
[2] Engagement Drives Results at New Century
[3] What Determines Productivity?

Credit: Feature image by Freepik

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