Yesterday I read the book on management, One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson. The book is really brief, and gives you an overview of the managerial technique that consists of three concepts, one-minute goals, one-minute appraisal and one-minute reprimand.
I have recently been promoted to manage a small team of authors. My scope of responsibilities encompasses delivering quality documentation and train the team to become fully fledged technical authors. The idea is that each of them one day will be able to work autonomously on separate projects with me as a general supervisor.
This is why, I was snooping around for some literature about how to manage a team efficiently, and this is how I came across “The One Minute Manager”.
I am still dubious about the whole concept, I think I need some time to process the idea. The idea itself seems simple, but maybe too simple for what I need? Basically, a good manager doesn’t interfere much, which is something that I have been trying to practice, and teach the team to be autonomous, and to manage their time on their own. All will be fine if it wasn’t for the fact that my team consists of very young people, and most often they don’t know what types of questions to ask or how to manage their own time. This is their first big job, and I can’t expect them to have the know-how of a versed office worker.
Instead of throwing them in at the the deep end, I have decided to learn a bit about them by asking each of them the following questions:
1) When is your brain most active, are you an early bird or a night owl?
2) How do you start your work day? Do you make to-do lists, or just pick up items as they fall on your lap?
3) Do you prioritise your work according to circumstances?
4) How do you tackle a problem? Do you prefer somebody to show you or figure out on your own?
At first, I thought it was a ground-breaking approach. I believed that if I hack into their way of thinking, I would know “what makes them tick”, and all my problems will be solved.
Instead, I think I scared them a bit. The answers they gave me were a bit vague and defensive. Only after they got to know me better, they were able to answer these questions more honestly, knowing that it was not a vicious test, but a genuine interest. I have showed them how I think, showed them my strengths and my weaknesses, at which point, they’ve learned I am also a human being, and although I do have more experience and field knowledge, I also have to learn and constantly improve my skill set.
The manager in the book seems a bit know-it-all. And I think this is where reality and theory don’t go hand-in-hand. I would like to have a manager that is almost at the God-like position, revered by his employees, because they are simply afraid of his wrath.
However, the book helped me realise that I spent too much time with them as a group. We had team exercises, team practice, we even wrote content as a team, so we can learn form one another. What I should have done is to first spend time with each of them separately to show them how to write content, to let them practice on their own, and only then let them showcase what they’ve learned at the team level.
Instead, we met as a team and we would do everything as a team. The most obvious reason for that approach was that at the end of the day I was still expected to meet deadlines and write quality content, and this classroom-like environment saved time and gave them equal opportunity to learn.
Opportunity? Yes. Equal? None at all. The biggest problem of education is that it can never meet the happy medium. The curriculum can only focus either on the brightest students, leaving less gifted far behind, or focus on the slow learners, ousting and demoting the ones that acquire knowledge quicker to the level of slacking off.
This was exactly what happened to me. The brightest ones asked their questions, learned and wanted to move on. At the same time, the slowest ones, not knowing how to ask questions, felt abandoned and lost their learning drive. They started slacking off to the point that I caught them browsing through a social media site on their phone at the team meeting. Meanwhile the rest of the team also felt a bit uneasy; they were the ones who paid most for that arrangement, as I focused all my free time on trying to lift the others to their level, shadowing them and showing them how to perform a task.
At the end of the day, because of my unified focus, the ones that struggled to learn stopped listening to me, as they probably felt it unfair I am focused mainly on them, because at that point it became obvious why. The rest reached the desired level of skills, and I was able to appoint them with any task, and they would perform it autonomously.
What I should have done is to first teach the team how to be more proactive and responsible for their own work. How to approach a task. How to write, and how to edit. It is not enough to tell the team to write something. Because they write it, no problem, but the problem will be that at this point they still treat content as student assignments, and they submit it to me for my corrections knowing I’ll make it better, so they don’t have to worry too much about it.
So going back to the book. One Minute Manager is supposed to let his workers come up with a one minute goals, no more than 250 words each, so you’ll able to read it in one minute. Also, each goal should be written on a separate piece of paper and there can only be a limited number of goals, otherwise a person would feel overwhelmed. Now, this is not such a bed idea on its own, but the authors never defined what a goal is. It can be something very whimsical and hard to measure, and this is usual what people do when thinking of goals. I want to write better content. Boom.
But how do you measure greatness of the content? Now, if you were to say you wanted to decrease your readability level to let’s say Grade 6, than it would be something you can aspire to. So there you go, defining a goal is a really tricky thing. Also, can a goal be a part of your to-do list? In the book, each worker after defining goals, knows exactly how to approach a task. Do a one minute manager differentiate between a goal and its supporting tasks? Is this why a goal should be so limited with words on paper?
My plan is to let the team work out their own style of writing with time. Let them have their trial and error time. I will also stop correcting their work, and rather give them constructive feedback and suggestions on how to make the piece better. This will give them the opportunity to learn how to edit their own work, and how to review each other’s content. So I did “write” a goal for them, but it is my goal rather than theirs. I own it, and I take full responsibility for the roll-out and for the outcome. Maybe with time, I can work with the individuals on defining their own goals, but I believe it is too early for that.
So I’ve covered the goals. I think I have defined pretty good goals for myself for the next months to come. Now, there are two concepts that are quite interesting, also hard to practice.
There is a concept of a One Minute Appraisal. A manager’s role is to catch their employees doing something right. As soon as it happens, they should praise the employee, congratulate them, and most importantly shake their hands, or touch them to show support and respect on a personal level. I have been praising the team and thanking them for their hard work, but I was doing it on a general team level. A mistake on my part. For some time now, I’ve been practising with appraisals on a personal level. It doesn’t have to be a secret appraisal, like suggested in a book. I’ve been doing it through our team communication channel, but what I did differently was to call that person by their name and thank them for the specific task they’ve done. Sometimes, I also write to them or praise them separately, but I make sure I do it through the team channel as well to introduce a sort of healthy competition on how to become a better technical author.
This leads me to the last part of the book, the One Minute Reprimand. The manager should immediately give a negative feedback to their employees, show dissatisfaction or even anger about the mistake the employee has done, and let it sink so the worker feels the awkward silent which makes them even more vulnerable. This part of the book is hard for me. I think this approach is too harsh. However, maybe if I were strict but fair I would make a better job? The second part of the reprimand is a manager saying to the worker that despite what they did, they are still valued members of the team. Personally, what I would remove from that process is a manager telling the worker how they feel, it is not really relevant from the company stand point how the manager feels. Additionally, it would immediately place me in a mother-like position in the group, I wouldn’t like this kind of approach. Throughout the entire book, the One Minute Manager seemed a bit short-tempered all the time, and a wee bit God-Almighty-like, ready to praise and smite at the same time.
To alter this radical approach, because at the end of the day, I do think it is a good idea, I sometimes criticise their work in the presence of the others. You don’t want to end up having your employees too content with their own work, this would leave no room for improvements. They would think, and justly so, as they weren’t told otherwise, that why improve they writing if their own manager thinks it’s glorious. It is really hard for me to do, but I think it’s working. They do tend to watch out for the issues I brought up publicly, and try to avoid them in the future.
Both appraisal and a reprimand should happen immediately and the employees should be aware of the fact that they are going to be appraised or reprimanded before it happen. I could agree with that statement, I am trying to promote openness within the team, which is hard because they still treat their work as school assignment and blush or stammer when I ask them about estimates and how far they’re progressed so I can adjust my planner. I think I should show them my plan, show them what work is being planned and for when, and include me as a resource in the plan, so they don’t feel threatened. The goal here is to feel as a part of a larger machine that depends on each mechanical parts, me – the manager, being a mechanical part as well.
In the end, I really think that the book is worth reading and familiarising oneself with, as it raises good questions, outlines great concepts even if it doesn’t explore them in great details.