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« Beer and Beer Wholesaling | Main | Shared Services - Is this for you? »

How to Build Better Managers

Want a Lasting Competitive Advantage? 

What is the greatest organizational weakness that confronts the beer and beverage wholesaling industry?  Management.  Don’t get too defensive, the same can be said about every industry across the globe.  Management guru Peter Drucker described part of the problem when he noted, “so much of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to work.”

Building good managers is a tremendous challenge that confronts every business—no matter the size. Becoming a manager is a profound personal transformation.  It is a change many fail to make. It is not limited to acquiring competencies and building relationships but rather constitutes a profound transformation, as individuals learn to think, feel, and value as managers. It is a redefinition of self.

The challenge is even greater for relatively small, privately-held businesses like beer distributors.  Unlike large companies, there aren’t hundreds of managers one can observe and copy. In smaller companies, mentors are often hard to come by and formal training programs aren’t as common. In addition, beer wholesaling is a basic, nuts-and-bolts type industry. Your challenge is to take people who are great drivers, sales reps, or warehouse workers and turn them into great managers.  Without great managers, no organization can truly excel--it is impossible.

So how do you take your present and future managers or supervisors and help them become world-class managers?

First, a word of warning--all small to medium-sized closely held businesses have a similar problem--paths for employee growth and promotion. There just aren’t that many – although with the emergence of mega-distributors, they can offer many more paths for advancement - something they should use to their advantage. 

Great employees will need to grow and progress. This means that in most of these smaller businesses, ownership will have to accept that many of your managers and star employees will sooner or later leave you to take advantage of growth opportunities elsewhere.  You need to not only accept this but also promote it. It is a very effective means to attract and build the best team of employees possible. 

Getting only a year or two out of a great manager before they move on is well worth it for any organization.  The intangibles gained by the company far exceed any cost of losing this employee.  Fill your company with them--plan for them. This will create competition, but competition is good, and one great manager can grow many more.  This is how one creates a competitive advantage.  Good advice for you and your managers is to always attempt to hire people that are smarter than you.  But you have to accept that many will move on.

There are at least three areas to address when building new managers (in ascending order of importance):

1.                  The personal basics everyone brings to the job can always be improved upon:

a.       Time management – need to consider this from both a personal and corporate viewpoint.  The personal viewpoint is fairly straight-forward.  In effect, an organization is purchasing a certain number of total minutes from your employee pool each and every day.  Those organizations who excel gain the most from these minutes; those that don’t flounder.  Any manager is responsible for some slice of this. Whether it is big or small, if they don’t effectively manage their share, the organization is to some degree inefficient. This ineffectiveness will also negatively affect other areas of the company, resulting in a lose-lose situation.

b.      Organizational skills – these are relatively straight-forward.

c.       Communication skills

                                                               i.      Writing – if you want to become a better writer, read more.

                                                             ii.      Verbal – there’s nothing like practice

                                                            iii.      Drucker liked to state “the most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”  Remember that effective communication is ALWAYS a two-way street. 

d.      Flexibility and the ability to quickly re-prioritize – this is probably more on-the-job-training but it can be enhanced by performing a post-mortem with the manager after decisions are made.  This shouldn’t just be a negative talk when you think the manager has made a poor decision, but should be evenly balanced with those positive decisions. Sometimes it is easier for a person to see what they’re doing right rather than what they are doing wrong.  This allows them to follow that great wisdom--do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

e.       The ability to think is always a plus.  I say this only half tongue-in-cheek.  Help your people become better at thinking things through, looking at alternatives and possible consequences.  Keep them informed of the big picture so that they can ensure their small part of this picture is in alignment.

But these are all skills everyone already has to some degree – improving them is a plus but that alone doesn’t remotely build a great manager.  All employees should work to improve these skills and you need to help them.

2.                  All organizational change is a top-down process; organizations don’t improve from the bottom-up.  For your organization’s managers to improve, you must improve your management skills.  Often the managerial problems an organization faces are the result of poor basic management skills from the top.  A truism for all organizations is if your boss is a poor manager, no matter how hard you try, you will also be a poor manager because no amount of your planning, communicating, and motivating will matter when your boss’s actions (or lack of) destroy yours.

3.                  The personal transformation of becoming a leader.  All great managers are great leaders – it is a requirement of the job.  Why?  Because ultimately a manager has to act through other people, and have them be willing to do what is asked.  This is leadership defined. 

a.       One of the difficult personal changes for a manager to make is to accept the need to become a managerial chameleon.  The only person on the planet you have the power to control is yourself.  You help others change their behavior by modifying your behavior.  Every person is different; if you use the same managerial techniques on all of them it is certain to fail in many, many situations.  Some people respond better to rah-rah type motivation, while others respond to a kick in the pants.  As a manager you must modify your behavior to match that required by the respective employee.  You can’t force them to change; you must change yourself if you want to be an effective leader.  The vast majority of people don’t try this or fail in their attempts.  Too often the manager attempts to demand that his/her employees change to fit the manager’s personality–this is destined to fail.

b.      How will you make anyone do anything?  My very first MBA management class was taught by a practicing psychologist–not a “management” professor (a person who has probably never managed anything other than his/her career path from BA to PhD), not a successful business person, not a sharp dressed management consultant like myself, but a practicing psychologist!  Four minutes into the class most of us were already considering dropping the class.  Fifteen minutes into the class that thought had been completely erased. 

As we started discussions in class, the instructor would ask us about various management scenarios. In our young, MBA flare we would confidently state how we would do this or that as the respective manager.  Whatever action, we would just make our employees do it.  It sounded so simply and easy. He constantly asked us “and how will make them do that?” a simply sounding question, but it has profound implications when truly addressed.  Think about that question. How will you MAKE them do that?

Just how do you make an employee do anything?  Some of you are already thinking the words, “well, I’d just fire them (IJFT) if they didn’t do it.”  One quickly discovers that with this mindset – which is almost universal with the “I’m the boss viewpoint,”--almost always immediately lead to the IJFT.  Sadly, most new and many seasoned managers start with this mindset and retain it throughout their careers. 

Most new mangers have a misperception of what it means to be a manager. Most focus on management’s rights and privileges--not its duties. But one finds that when your primary management tool is a stick, the results are not what you desire. Remember when your only tool is a hammer; you are likely too see every problem as a nail.  By the very nature of the employment agreement, all employees understand that their boss can fire them–it is a given.  Constantly reminding your employees of this fact does little to motivate them.   In fact in most cases it does just the opposite.  This is not leadership. 

Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, not haranguing them about your organizational power.  Remember that quality, driven-employees can always get another job.  If your management style drives the best away you will have what I call reverse evolution – those who can leave your company will, and those who can’t or aren’t motivated enough to try, remain.  Over time your organization devolves into a weak, uninspired organization.  When significant market challenges arise, you’ll look around and find you have no one to go into battle with. 

An analogy is a mighty oak tree – it might look magnificent but if it is rotted and weakened from the inside, at the first wind it will tumble down.  Poor management is a rot in your organization.  This is a personal issue that every manager must face, I don’t have the magic answer, but your box of managerial tools must hold more than a stick if you want to develop into a great manager and leader.  Don’t get hung up on attempting to be a stereotypical leader; leaders come from all types. 

c.       A manager’s first goal should be to always help your people to succeed, because by definition their success is your success.  This is how great managers multiply their effort through their people.  Training and education, coaching, cheering, motivating, both positive and negative feedback, and terminations when required show your effort. When something doesn’t work – try something else. Take some time to think about these issues and talk to your new managers about them.  Most people simply don’t spend that much time thinking about how to coach or lead, or discipline, or provide feedback, or to find the right balance between delegation and control.  New managers are notoriously inconsistent with feedback; help them with this.  Set aside some time to truly think about management and leadership – this time can have a very high ROI.

Always follow the first rule of management – I call it the Chump School of Management.  First let’s define a chump – he or she is a dupe, a sap, a sucker.  I think most of us can agree it is not a label we desire.  How does this relate to management?  Many new managers and more than a few experienced managers don’t hold all of their employees to the same level of performance. They allow some employees to consistently either bend the rules or under-perform, thereby making those who do perform chumps – a bad course all the way around.   As an example, assume your drivers all make about the same compensation but the delivery manager allows one or two “problem” drivers to only do half their job.  They don’t work as hard, start late, come back early, etc.  If management allows this to occur, those drivers who do perform will begin to see themselves as chumps and ask themselves why should I put in the effort and the hours to make the same money as someone who clearly doesn’t care, when management doesn’t do anything about it?  This pushes your delivery team towards the lowest common performance denominator--choosing not to be a chump--a rational decision. This can have a devastating effect on any department in which it occurs.  In many cases your top performers who don’t want to lower their personal expectations of themselves will leave rather than sinking to the lowest common denominator – a terrible outcome of poor management.  Look at your office, warehouse, delivery, and sales operations – I’d be surprised if some of your managers are not unwittingly following the Chump School of Management.  First rule of management; demand that all employees are held to the same behavior and performance standards as all other similar employees. 

As Drucker says “the best way to predict the future is to create it.”  Take hold of your future today.  Shape it to your liking.  The way to start is by growing superior managers; by actually thinking and planning to do just that.  Great managers grow great employees.   Consciously work to improve your managerial skills.  Help your mangers do the same.  The impact on your organization today and year’s into the future will astound you.

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