On Management

Posted by kdow on Mar 27, 2017 2:46:44 AM

About 10 years ago I was promoted to “assistant manager” in a part-time retail circumstance. This role was not something I chased after by any means. But it was something I took as a challenge to progress my skills (or lack thereof) at the time.

The store was a retail outlet that sold computer hardware & software. It was an a-typical warehouse fitted wall-to-wall with bargains on printers, bundled anti-virus software and, for some reason, televisions. Right in the centre was a glowing Apple logo in one of Apple’s first Irish shop-in-shop experiences, manned by full time Apple employees.

Aside from the bargain-bin aesthetic of the store, though, it was exemplified by the most indignant, unapologetically unhelpful & apathetic staff. Almost everyone was a part-time college student, like myself. So this was just an easy and semi-interesting way to earn a few quid at some evenings & weekends to get beer money. There was no focus on the customer, no focus on the product and certainly the business had no interest in developing or — god forbid — empowering the employees.

As a manager my role consisted primarily of doing time sheets, counting till money and making sure the ship was pointed in the right direction. Which really meant that the attach rates of anti-virus or “add-on” equipment matched the store target (if I recall correctly, it was 7%). I was bored out of my mind as much as anyone else, and so at some point I picked up my things and moved to another company.

At this other company, which had a big retail component, I took on a leadership role in the technical department. This was an Apple-only outlet & my task was to start fresh with a new building, new team (mostly yet-to-be-hired) and new methodology for operations in a Genius Bar style environment. I relished the opportunity. On day 1 I went to the UK to get some certifications. On day 14 I started drilling holes in walls to put shelves into our new office, which I chose to be far away from the bustle of any other part of the business to isolate our team & build a culture.

I feverishly read books like ‘Delivering Happiness’ to get a sense of how to inject a customer-centric ethos into the team, and created protocols for operating at a high capacity with a small, agile team. I injected lots of ‘culture’ into the team by doing things like sending everyone home early when we completed all our work. That sounds silly, but in retail that kind of stuff is a god-send & highly unusual. I never had the power to pay people more, but I negotiated heavily to make sure my team was compensated higher than anyone else. I made sure our little team was a band of brothers & sisters and that it was the place that everyone in the company would want to work.

Largely, we succeeded. Resource constrained, we strived. We took on the world and won, in our minds. Nothing could stop us.

And then I left.

I left that team to go be a developer in the same company, and not too long after that I left the company & ended up working where I still reside today. I chose to manage people in my company because this time I could do the exact same thing I did in that small, resource constrained environment but with budget, good salary and career prospects for employees. I could push myself to lead talented people to (ideally) reach their full potential.

Now I have the opportunity to do that across lots of worldwide offices, which present new and often bizarre challenges (like South East Asian people’s allergy to speaking up or Japanese people’s penchant for a drink after work… every day!).

The point of this post is not to list a litany of successful management things I had done. I failed in many, many ways. I’m reminded of that often when I have a drink with my ex-colleagues (now just called mates)! The point of this is that I chose to manage people because there’s something innate within the way I work that wants me to help others succeed & grow.

The latent point of this post is that this is a set of circumstances that I continuously try to solve for & concern myself with. Lots of folks around me, both in & out of the company I’m employed by, are veering towards manager roles because the “manager” monicker is something they want to get to by age n. It’s not because they have an innate desire to work with people. Management should never be telling people what to do. It should be helping people expose the gaps they have and help them grow their skills &, by proxy, their careers.

People confuse what management actually is. They see it as a good title to have on LinkedIn and not a career in-and-of itself. In 10 years time, when you look back at your career, do you want to reminisce about the time that you became a manager? Or do you want to be an individual contributor helping build something, sell something, market something, etc.?

Don’t get confused. Choose the right path for you. Don’t confuse management with the next step solely based on the title. Honestly, it’s not for everyone. And the worst career in the world is to be a bad people manager.