What is my management philosophy?
June 18, 2010 5:05 AM   Subscribe

Employability Filter: Management Philosophy? Huh? I have an interview next week for a job I would really like to be offered...and they've told me they're going to ask me to articulate my management philosophy. I have never been in an official "management" position before and as such I've never had to articulate a philosophy about it. I have sort of a set of rules that I go by in the manage-y stuff that I do every day (keep people informed, set reasonable and clear goals, make people understand that there are consequences to actions, etc.), but I'm not entirely sure what the accepted way is of articulating these as a philosophy. Can someone who knows more about this sort of thing help a gal out?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Unfortunately, I don't think there's any universally "accepted way" for articulating one's management philosophy beyond explaining both how you ensure that things get done and what type of climate you want to provide in your department.

If you really want to ace this part of the interview, I would suggest you do two things. First, do a lot of research about the company so you have a pretty good idea of what management style or philosophy they try to create throughout the company. A good place to start is the corporate values statement embedded in their website. If you know people who work for the company, or there's a company blog, these would also be good resources. You'll want to be sure that the management philosophy you articulate during the interview doesn't stray very far from this.

Second, do some thinking about what your management philosophy is/would be. (You'll need to do it anyway if you get the job, so if it helps you get the job it's hardly wasted effort.) You've got a pretty clear idea about how you make sure that things get done, but the piece that's missing is the climate you're trying to create. A good way to identify this is to think about managers you've had (or observed) in the past and try to distinguish the differences between those that inspired you and those that really turned you off.

I think you'll have an easier time with this entire exercise if you acknowledge that you have a management philosophy -- as does everyone who has ever managed or been managed -- and that the emphasis here is on "articulate" rather than "management philosophy". What they're looking for in the interview is how integrated and carefully thought out that philosophy is and, also, how well it aligns with what the company expects and wants of its managers.
posted by DrGail at 5:31 AM on June 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

Well, how would you describe the way your favorite boss worked? How did he or she go above and beyond the normal job description and become a really GOOD boss?

Personally, the best bosses I've worked for have done three things:
-- Been honest and straightforward with me when I've screwed up or offered constructive criticism when I need it, but also offered positive feedback (and a "thank you") when I've done well or worked particularly hard
-- Recognized when I can do more, and accordingly offered me additional responsibilities to prove myself
-- Shielded me from the bullshit that goes on at management levels above them so I can just do my work

I now do a good deal of project management, and I try to incorporate each of these into my "management philosophy." This is in addition to the "set clear goals" and "keep people informed" type stuff that, well, frankly, managers should be doing anyway -- IMO, that sort of stuff is not so much a philosophy as it is part of the job description. It's not enough to "set goals." *How* do you set the goals? How do you know they're reasonable and clear? Are you consulting with other managers? Are you asking your team for input and feedback on the goals you set? If your team considers your schedule or milestones unreasonable, how do you deal with that - are you always right? Are they always right? How do you find the middle ground? Answer "how", not "what," and I think your philosophy will come out of that.
posted by olinerd at 5:38 AM on June 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

In short: grab a management textbook, hold your nose, and prepare to wade ass deep into some of the most obnoxious bullshit ever contrived by the human species. Any employer that's asking about your "management philosophy" has obviously drunk far too deeply of the MBA kool-aid.

What these people are looking for is not likely to constitute "philosophy" in any sense of the word. Actual philosophical inquiry into the business of managing others is going to be way too abstract for them. I mean, if you throw in references to Plato and Aristotle, hell, even Taylor, all of whom actually have really important things to say on the subject, you're going to get blank stares and questions about how this is going to maximize employee morale and company profitability.

Simply articulating your thoughts on what it means to be a manager isn't going to cut it. I'm thinking there's a good chance that what they want from you is the earnest form of this stuff. The task is taking something which is obviously vacuous and make it sound substantive, hell, even be substantive, if you can pull it off. The catch is doing it with a straight face in MBA-speak.

You think I'm kidding, but I'm not. An example. I work in a corporate legal department. Our compliance officer has noticed that there's a legal problem with one of our processes, one which has already cost the company at least $100k and could easily cost us hundreds of thousands more if we aren't lucky. He's identified a way of fixing it, but it's a sizable project. I was tasked to do some research for a proposal to get this project approved by the company planning committee. The proposal consists of two forms to be filled out: Concept (The 3Ms) and Proposal (The 3Rs). So I've got to come up with copy for: Mission (Being Passionate), Market (the economic/resource engine), Match (Best in world), Realized Value, Residual Value, and Resources.

I work for a bloody insurance company, one of the most regulated industries in the entire economy aside from nuclear power generation and nursing homes, and I'm proposing a legal compliance project so we don't get fined or sued. And management wants to know this fits with the company's mission statement.

Dilbert has never hit so close to home.

The sort people who care about your "management philosophy" are the sort of people who come up with asinine procedures like the one I had to deal with here. You have been warned.

I'm not bitter. No, I'm not.
posted by valkyryn at 6:35 AM on June 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Learn buzzwords.
"Maximize synergies across diverse systemwide competencies"...that kind of stuff.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:47 AM on June 18, 2010

Agreeing with the idea that they want you to articulate what you think is important about management. The short version of how I answer that question:

"I believe in collaboration with employees, and I believe that putting my employees first maximizes the organization's success. Collaboration is important for keeping employees engaged, and helping them navigate change. And I've found that if I manage them in a way that shows them that they are a priority, they are happier and more productive".

There's a lot more to say about both, and I can provide clear, specific examples for the ideas that I discuss, but that's how I start. I'd encourage you to think about what's important to you, and then practice explaining it in an organized way to others.
posted by Gorgik at 6:49 AM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have hired several managers, and I usually ask them to make a presentation on their "management philosophy" to the interview team. I have just finished a round of interviews and the instructions I gave the candidates were "Please give a 15-20 minute presentation on how your experiences have shaped your management philosophy." I'm trying to get a sense of how the person approaches the management position.

From sitting through several of these presentations, I have the following advice:
- If you are making a presentation and are given a time limit, stick to it! Do not go faster if you get behind, cut out less important material. You are trying to communicate with the group -- not shove information at them.
- Regardless of whether or not it is a presentation, think of examples of your philosophy in action. It's one thing to say "I work to match the person to the job" -- it makes much more of an impact if you give examples of specific instances where the person was in the wrong job, you helped them move to a better job, and it worked out well for all concerned.
- I do not recommend buzzwords, MBA-speak, etc... unless this is really how you want to operate.

For anyone interviewing, answer the questions you are asked and be concise. If the interviewer wants more detail, they will ask for it. I'm not suggesting you give one word answers, but that you don't go off into 5-10 minute rambles about something only tangentially related to the question.

Good luck with your interview!
posted by elmay at 7:05 AM on June 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'd be careful with the actions and consequences bit. Sounds like you're talking about parenting little kids. Employees don't go into time-out. Also--that wording would be likely to turn people off.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:49 AM on June 18, 2010

Tell them you're an adherent of Mushroom Management and use advanced PHB management technologies.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 6:21 PM on June 18, 2010

"I have sort of a set of rules that I go by in the manage-y stuff that I do every day (keep people informed, set reasonable and clear goals, make people understand that there are consequences to actions, etc.), but I'm not entirely sure what the accepted way is of articulating these as a philosophy." Nice set of rules. However, this is not a philosophy. Can you tell me why you have decided these are good rules? Let's start with something like this: I believe that employees do their best work when they are well informed and understand what is expected of them. To implement this philosophy I strive to keep people informed, set reasonable and clear goals, make people understand that there are consequences to actions. I also believe....

Here's what I feel you should do. Sit down at your kitchen table and try to answer this question in writing. Don't put it into purple prose. Just write down what you believe. Next ask your boyfriend, husband, SO, all (each?) of the above to ask you about your management philosophy. Answer by telling what you have written down. Note that I did not say "read from what you have written." Just tell your mock-interviewer what you think is important and then compare what you have said to what you have written. Soon what is really important to you will come to the fore.
posted by Old Geezer at 8:37 PM on June 18, 2010

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