Saturday, October 20, 2007

Moving to management

Anyone in business at any level has seen bosses at all levels who don’t understand the work place relationship between management and workers. Remember in this context everyone is considered a worker to the next higher level in the organization.

If I work alone and have to make a product that takes one hour, I can make 8 units in a working day. If I manage 20 workers, the team can make 160 in the same 8 hours. Who is more important, me as the boss or the 20 workers? For each worker I loose, I loose 8 units of production. The more often I loose a worker, the lower my production overall.

This concept is called “force multiplication” and takes my original idea and multiplies it by the number of workers following the plan. The workers need the bosses direction, but without the workers the boss alone can’t make the same volume of product. Since both parts are necessary, how do we decide who’s more valuable?

Scarcity of skill is the most common method. That is, many people can be taught to put part A in slot B, but how many can design the product or how to assemble it? Since fewer people can create a new idea, those few people get a bigger share of the results than the easer to replace assemblers. The same is true for managers. Think about it, how many of your coworkers do you think could create a plan for the work, balance the personalities of your department, and ensure that the “production” levels are met?

We accept that the knowledge necessary to create a jet engine are very different from knowledge needed to create a laundry soap and that each take years to learn. Managing people is just as difficult a skill as designing the product but is just a different set of skills.

Peter Drucker created the “Peter Principle” which stated that "In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence." The main idea is that people get promoted until they land in a job that is beyond their ability. This concept seems to fit the facts, but we inherently fear it because of what it says about each of is. That at some point we will “hit the wall” of our own limitations.

Why do we find it so surprising that not everyone promoted to management has the skills to manage, and in some cases the capacity to learn those skills?

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