The manager’s job hasn’t changed.

One of my [awesome, brilliant] coworkers shared this article with our team:

The article reflects on the pop-neuropsych trend in management literature (How We Decide; Predictably Irrational) and its unsettling effect on a 7 Habits/Who Moved My Cheese world. This bit stood out for me:

[…] Instead of a management philosophy centered around the manager as the play-caller, assigning tasks and motivating people to carry them out, we are told by the neuroscientists that the new management job is one of facilitating more of a customized, do-it-yourself process centered around each newly-energized employee, one centered on questions (often leading) rather than direction.

Most business literature focuses on methods that managers can use to solve their problems, and it’s tempting to believe that the manager’s job is to become as skilled as possible in using the best of those methods to get people to do their jobs. But the methods aren’t the place to begin; the first challenge for a manager is to define the right problems. High-quality problems usually follow a simple pattern, like:

What must we do to fulfill our purpose?
What can we use to do it?
What are the circumstances under which we’re working?
Who are ‘we’, anyway?

Once the problem is defined, then it makes sense—and is much easier—to structure and implement the team’s jobs in a way that results in a solution. There are lots of ways to structure different jobs to get the same work done:

  • it might be delegated into a senior staff member’s responsibilities
  • a mid-level team member might do it under the manager’s supervision
  • a senior staffer might be responsible for coaching junior employees through it
  • or the manager might do that work herself

Calling the plays, assigning tasks, motivating, facilitating, customizing, coaching, subtly manipulating, setting direction… these aren’t the management job. The management job is still the same as it ever was:

managers design jobs, starting with their own.


P.S. See also:

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