Gerry Langeler, the managing director of OVP Venture Partners and a Seattle 2.0 blogger, published a post this morning on the myth of “no-surprises management”. As a management-theory junkie, and as a stubborn Irishman with strong opinions, I feel compelled to respond.
Gerry’s main point is that you can’t avoid surprises – such as a tree limb falling on a power line, or a customer all of a sudden changing their mind on a big order. So by claiming that you practice “no-surprises management”, you’re really not dealing with reality.
This is true. You can’t avoid surprises.
However, what you CAN do as a manager, what you should do as a manager, is avoid SURPRISING (note the verb tense) the people you work with and for. The way I see it, in addition to Gerry’s good advice to be transparent and alert, there are four additional practices that managers should follow.
- Make decisions based on values, THEN principles, THEN circumstances. If you’re making decisions always based on context (and I guess by this I mean expedience, or short-term-gain thinking), then your team is going to get confused, because they can never infer how your next decision is going to be made.
- Don’t cause whiplash. A slightly imperfect decision, clearly stated, which gives your team the room to take the initiative and responsibility for implementation and follow-through is WAY better – like, light-years better – than a situation where you constantly change your mind and send your team scurrying first right, then left, then back, then forward. Remember that you don’t know everything and that people are smart and can make things work.
- Over-communicate. The strong, silent type has no place in management. Your job is to lay out context, provide information, SOLICIT information, and get everyone on the same page. Managers who see information as power, and hoard it for their own silo-building purposes, should all be rolled up into a blanket and dropped off the deck of the Queen Anne’s Revenge. (OK, that’s hyperbole).
- Don’t make secret deals. This one is a real bugaboo for me. A secret deal is a situation where I place an expectation on you, but do not inform you about the expectation. Then, when you (naturally) don’t do it, I get pissed off and/or hurt or embarrassed. Don’t surprise your employees with secret deals. Make all expectations explicit. (Note that secret deals are not limited to the business world; ever been in love with someone who didn’t know you were in love with them? I’ll bet you had a few secret deals in place )
The underlying theme to this post is about making your employees feel secure and comfortable, because it’s from that place that people are best able to be effective. If they walk around on eggshells, worrying about your surprising behavior or decisions, it’s just a bad deal all the way around.
Don’t be a surpriser. Adapt to the unexpected, but don’t add to the burden.