Executive skills: How to manage managers?
May 14, 2006 3:12 PM   Subscribe

I've recently been promoted to VP, and I've realized that my skill set needs an upgrade. I need a methodology for setting goals for my reports. I need a system in which I can feel confident with their progress (and coach where needed) without micromanaging. Any suggestions or books I can read?

I've been looking for references, but most executive books center on setting strategy or inspiring people. I'm looking for guidance on how to direct competent people with reports of their own. Everyone can do their daily jobs quite well, but there are a number of projects that can push us forward that I would like to institute. The problem is that I find myself falling into the old routine of setting the project plan and micromanaging the results. Instead I need a system for having my team set those, and then my following up with them to guage their progress and offer feedback. My memory is pretty poor, and I need a way to keep track of these intiatives without burdening people with numerous oversight meetings. Any reading material or thoughts would be highly appreciated.
posted by Kenshiro70 to Work & Money (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Read the book " your in charge, now what" I forget the author but easily found by title.
This book is a godsend for helping you build an 8 point plan over the first 90 days at your new job or title.
From there you will have a clear plan to imrpove any shortcomings you have for this new VP title.
posted by sandrapbrady at 3:34 PM on May 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Manager Tools, a weekly podcast on improving your management skills, offers a simple, coherent set of methods and behaviors which you might find worth considering.

I've found their suggestions to be deeply insightful and what I've put into practice has been very effective.

The website also has an active discussion forum where you can get specific advice from the hosts and the community.
posted by sudama at 4:36 PM on May 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

This is a tough one, having been there myself, I found a lot of the situational leadership ideas useful, though I'm a bit put off by the fact that they seem more interested in selling their stuff than promoting the ideas.

You might want to see if you have access to any of these kinds of resources, or those from similar programs. Or ask your employer if they'll sponsor you attending that kind of training.
posted by anildash at 12:20 AM on May 15, 2006

First of all, I think you've got to evaluate and understand the existing business operations structure, and formal reporting systems now in place. In my experience, many people promoted to a senior position neglect to do this, and it takes them months to get a clear picture of all the reporting tools their people rely upon, and even longer to spot tools and reporting processes that may once have had a purpose, but are no longer worth the effort it takes to produce them. Get a sample of every report your people use in an accounting or planning period, and be sure you understand it, and where the data it reports is sourced. Ask your direct reports about any ongoing problems they have with reporting, and make a note of it, but don't commit to changes until you have a solid overall view, from the bottom up, of all your existing business reporting.

If your company is a project culture, then the project management structure is your necessary methodology. As a senior manager, your job is to pick your Project Managers carefully, make sure they are empowered to act as the Project Managers, have appropriate resources, specific goals, and credible schedules, and then drop back to being the supportive, effective management champion that every Project Manager desperately dreams of having.

If on the other hand, your company is an operations culture, like a manufacturing or distribution business, then your direct reports and their reports presumably have ongoing operations functions which are supported by some kind of formal transaction and reporting structure. You should definitely see what financial performance information is percolating through the organization, and be "leader familiar" with the reporting system, and how budget-to-actual performance is calculated and reported through the organization. In my experience, it's also especially important to benchmark the standard reporting systems for this kind of business to similar businesses. Too often, I've seen companies with reporting systems that were essentially developed in house, or badly adapted from generic report templates delivered with business software, that did a poor job of tracking business performance. In some cases, I've seen bad reporting become institutionalized into poor goal setting, since the reporting was the only tool available for measuring performance against goals that were no longer key business success measures.

It's also quite possible that you've got a culture which is some hybrid of project and operations based organizational structure, and always will be. The trick there is to somehow form and operate those functional project teams in the face of operational demands. In my experience, the key to doing that successfully is to keep the project reporting structure as flat and simple as possible, and make it collaboratively intranet or Web based. It is also vital to see that Project Manager assignments are rotated as much as possible to middle management staff, and that managers have some formal PM training as needed to take on the role successfully, while handling their operational roles, as necessary. If you do that, and your Project Managers do a decent overall Project Plan, and set it up in a recognized collaborative tool like MS Project, then, generally, the resources can handle progress reporting, and higher level schedule and cost reporting can fall out "automagically."

But, you've also got to consider and work with the "communications culture" that is gluing your company together. Some companies are meeting farms, others are email and written report based, and yet others operate on some kind of higher telephonic plane. I've been in companies where it was normal for senior people to get 100 phone calls a day, take 3 meetings, and exchange 5 emails, while in others, it was more like 5 phone calls and 100 emails a day, with a couple of weekly meetings, if that. Whatever the communications culture of your company, you have to recognize that it's carrying the goal and performance reporting methodology, too, and you have to recognize that the communications culture you have has been a selective pressure for the kinds of people that your organization has now. In my experience, you won't get great written reporting suddenly from a group of managers who are used to doing their reporting verbally in phone culture, or in daily staff meetings. So, be sure you've considered these factors in introducing any kind of new goal setting and reporting system.
posted by paulsc at 1:33 AM on May 15, 2006 [2 favorites]

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