What Does a Manager Do?
Becoming a manager requires a radical shift in thinking. Here's how to succeed at your new role as a manager by knowing what a manager's real job is.
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Managers Translate Goals
Managers form the glue that keep an organization together. When Bernice says “Our vision is to be the safest plant store in the neighborhood!” managers translate that company motto into goals for their department and employees.
Europa, general manager, works with Melvin, who runs the inventory department. Together they ask, “If we’re going to be the safest plant store around, what changes will the Inventory department need to make?” “That’s easy,” says Melvin. “We should repair the unstable step on the loading dock. We should stop giving elementary school kids tours of the Audrey 2 holding pens. And we shouldn’t store barrels of deadly pesticide under the bridge by the local reservoir.”
Melvin just outlined his department’s goals for the year. Europa’s worked with Melvin to translate the company vision into department goals. Now Melvin will translate department goals into goals for his workers. Europa’s son Thomas is working for Melvin as his summer job. Melvin tells Thomas to move the barrels from the reservoir into a properly shielded room in the basement.
Organizations Have Cross-Department Needs
Speaking of shields, managers also shield their departments from the rest of the company. People in one area of a company often have needs that affect another area. If Melvin’s department is to reach their goals, they need to be able to coordinate their work among themselves.
Europa may discover she needs inventory numbers for an analysis she’s doing. She could walk downstairs, find Thomas, and say “I am your mother, She Who Must Be Obeyed. Get me those numbers, now!” Thomas would get her the numbers, but by doing so, he would upset the barrel moving schedule and throw the rest of the department’s plans into chaos.
Managers Shield Their Departments
Melvin’s job as manager of Inventory is to shield the department from Europa. He isn’t doing this out of spite or nastiness; it’s just how workload gets balanced. If Europa needs something in Melvin’s purview, she can ask Melvin, “I need inventory numbers for our strategy analysis.” Melvin then figures out how to get the numbers to Europa with as little disruption as possible to the projects his people are working on. Maybe Europa’s request is more important than any of Inventory’s current projects. In that case she and Melvin discuss that, and together decide when and how to interrupt Thomas.
But even though Europa is his manager, Melvin is always the gatekeeper to his department. He is involved in decisions about the department because Europa doesn’t have detailed-enough knowledge of Inventory’s plans and concerns to know how best to get what she wants. By working together, Europa and Melvin get stuff done that meets the needs of the organization and the needs of their departments.
If you find yourself getting into management, change how you think of your job. Don’t think “My job is to get stuff done.” Think, “My job is to help my people get stuff done.” You do that by translating higher goals into goals for your team. You also serve as a shield between your team and the rest of the organization, so people can put all their efforts into their current projects.
Melvin and Europa talked. Europa realized her order screwed up other orders that were in process. Going forward, she’ll work with Melvin on inventory issues, rather than doing things herself. The story is once again humming smoothly, and the Audrey 2s are happy. And we like it when the Audrey 2s are happy.
Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!