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The four "ins" of management - avoid them!

In any organization with more than a few managers, typically one or more managers can be found suffering from the four "Ins" of management. The number of "Ins" practiced may vary, as well as the individual intensity, but you can expect to find managers that demonstrate:

* Incompetence,

* Insincerity,

* Insensitivity, or

* Inconsistency.

Of the four, incompetence is probably the most frequent "In" found among managers. Perhaps the reason can be found in the Peter Principle -- "An individual will continue to advance until they reach their level of incompetence." The Peter Principle applies to all professionals, clerks and others, but in this article we are discussing managers.

Incompetence can take many forms depending on the situation. The manager may lack the requisite knowledge to deal with a particular problem, whether that problem deals with personnel or technical matters. In most cases, given sufficient time, management training can assist in alleviating this shortcoming. Sometimes, however, the incompetence is inherent in the manager or due to a well-anchored attitude, and no amount of training is going to improve the situation.

Many people move into the management ranks based upon their demonstrated prowess as a nonmanager, perhaps by demonstrating good technical ability, solving problem after problem. As the individual's reputation grows, opportunities present themselves and the technocrat moves into management -- and flounders badly. Why? The problem solver has demonstrated skills in problem determination, analysis and solution implementation, but good technical skills will not assure success as a manager.

Successful managers demonstrate more than just technical ability. The keys to success are their knowledge of their people (abilities and limitations), their customer (needs and expectations), their product (capabilities and limitations), and their ability to nurture their people and earn respect. Note, while technical knowledge is not sufficient for success, lack of it can be a definite handicap. The key here is in balance. For an individual who is used to being a "doer", the move to "director" and "nurturer" can be traumatic. It is difficult to step back and let others become the new "doers", but it must happen if the new manager is to be successful.

Another problem facing the manager who has moved from the previous technical role into management is technical obsolescence. It is a relatively short period of time before the manager begins to "lose" those technical skills that allowed advancement in the first place. As a result, incompetence is not a sudden thing, but can be the gradual erosion of technical skills. Such erosion is more critical to first and, to some degree, second line managers. Once a manager moves into middle or upper management, there is less demand for in-depth technical skills. At the higher levels, business understanding and a broad technical knowledge are more appropriate. Managers should be aware of this, and either return to technical activity periodically, or, at a minimum, continue to update technical knowledge through refresher courses, classes and so forth. The ability of a manager to move between management and technical positions depends directly on the company and their view of such movement. In too many cases, the only recourse left the manager is to use refresher courses.

The next "In," Insincerity, is a difficult one to describe, but is reflected, perhaps, in the written description one frequently finds of villains; "He smiled, but the smile never reached his eyes." The manager that is insincere generally wears two faces, one face for the customer (or supervisor), the second for subordinates. The second face is frequently revealed after a telephone conversation which goes, "...Thank you very much Mr. Smith, it is a pleasure dealing with you. CLICK. That guy is such a pain...." Such a manager sends conflicting signals to those working for, or with, them. The most frequent reaction is, "Wonder what he is saying about me when I'm not here?" It may be difficult to be sure when the manager is being sincere -- when do they mean what they say? Can they be trusted?

Dealing with an insincere manager can create job pressures and situations that are not necessary. It can become somewhat like dealing with that used car salesman, where you wish to count your fingers after shaking hands! You are never sure of what to believe or not believe -- the level of trust is always suspect. The manager that is insincere may also be referred to as "that politically motivated person - always saying the thing that is being asked for, not necessarily the truth." They are more concerned how they are viewed by their leaders than they are with people, projects or customers. Sincere managers will build their success on the successes of their people. Insincere managers will build their success (until found out) on the bodies of their people, if it is more expedient.

Managers must work hard to develop and maintain trust with those that work for and with them. Trust is a fragile thing. People will change their perspective on trust placed in a manager because of treatment they see given to others, as well as that given them.

Insensitivity is another difficult area to describe. Managers that practice this "In" are usually not aware of it, and frequently demonstrate one or both of the first two "Ins" as well. Insensitivity most often is reflected in the lack of people skills on the part of the manager. Good people skills deal in knowing the people's abilities and limitations. The insensitive manager is not particularly concerned about work load distribution, training, recognition (other than his or hers), or personal situations that may affect job performance. There is a job to be done (the superiors have deemed it so) and it will be done! The manager must maintain a delicate balance, being sensitive to people's needs and the needs of the business. Sway too far to either side and both can suffer.

An interesting phenomena about insensitivity can be found as managers grow and become managers of managers. For some unexplained reason, or "mystique", managers are no longer considered "people". For whatever reason, rules change, expectations grow and demands multiply. First line (people) managers must maintain people and business sensitivity, but other levels of managers (2nd, 3rd, etc.) can concentrate on the business -- they have no "people" working for them, just managers and "staff"! It is fascinating to watch the new manager, while struggling to meet people and business needs, also learn that many of the amenities previously afforded no longer apply. While expectation and demand may move up a notch for managers, that does not relieve their managers from the need for sensitivity (for their "people").

The final "In", Inconsistency, is perhaps the easiest of the four to identify. Views of this can relate to early childhood or school. Think for a moment about the phrases, "You were always Dad's favorite" or "Teacher's pet!" In each case, an individual has been identified as being given a different treatment, usually preferential over the others concerned. This can also hold true in a department or other similar organization. A manager may allow one person to take extended lunch breaks, and, at the same time, lecture others about the need for controlling excessive time off, coffee breaks and so forth. There is a fundamental inconsistency in the way people are being treated. Such inconsistency can destroy trust, foster malcontent, and generally cause the overall work effort to be less effective. While a manager may have an individual that is considered "key", the treatment of all department members must be the same.

Another form of inconsistency that frequents departments is in the evaluation of the work produced by two workers. In one case the manager says, "Great job!" In the second, "It's OK." Given the two people are equivalent in level, experience and so forth, why the difference? Again, the manager is sending conflicting signals. What are the expectations? What are the differences, so the people can recognize the measure and perform accordingly?

Finally, inconsistency shows itself in the day to day comments of "Great job!" followed by the periodic review and an "Acceptable Job" rating given by the manager. Problems, or areas of improvement, that have not been mentioned over the past few months now show up. Why? If they are truly problems, they should come out in the day to day commentary, and be corrected then, not as an afterthought.

Incompetence, Insincerity, Insensitivity and Inconsistency. Four "Ins" that every manager must work hard to avoid. Good managers may slip from time to time, but they will usually catch the slip and take steps to correct their error. Managers are people. There is no magic dust that has been sprinkled on them to make them greater than they were. Only the expectations placed upon them by their managers and their people. If a manager is to be one who is a highly thought of individual, avoidance of the four "Ins" is essential.

Raymond E. Floyd retired from IBM in 1992, and is a co-founder of Innovative Insights, a consulting and systems integration firm specializing in RF/ID products. He currently serves as vice president of the firm. He holds B.S.E.E. and M.S.E.E. degrees from Florida Institute of Technology and Florida Atlantic University, respectively, and is pursuing a Ph.D. in engineering.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Institute of Industrial Engineers, Inc. (IIE)
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Author:Floyd, Raymond E.
Publication:Industrial Management
Date:May 1, 1993
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