Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Managing is a pain pt 1: Face time

It takes up a lot of time and feels really unproductive. I suppose if you are one of those so-called "people" people it probably feels like a great use of an morning to listen to some member of your staff lament how some other person on some other staff failed to listen to them or failed to invite them to a meeting or just plain sucked, but if you like to actually get things done, well, you can end up feeling pretty tawdry and unrealized and used by the of the day.

Management guru's will tell me that the morning I spent just listening and guiding my charges was in fact highly productive and can be tied to any number of productivity oriented metrics that expensive consultants will be happy to manage for me. And I'm sure they are right. (Though I've also found--and this is a snotty tangent--that the people who think they are good managers and listeners mainly like to hold court and give advice) But there is really only one rule to being a good manager so far as I can tell, though I'm probably the wrong person to take advice on the subject. You have to fucking pay attention. Even when it's a drag, frankly and you have hard time pulling your eyes away from your friends IM or Facebook update. You have to look people in the eye and listen to them. There's some old fashioned magic in it. People like to be paid attention to. And it's worth it finally, because you make money when your people do good work for you.

But becuase it takes a lot of time and feels really unproductive to just sit and listen to someone, people are are always trying to come up with new ways to short-circuit the process. Outsource it, or substitute some form of technology. Digital social media tools seemed help of a certain sort. Surely, all that online commingling will keep people from needing to actually talk to me so much. Well, kind of.

At least if you believe one of Breakthrough Ideas of 2009 in the HBR February issue (yeah, it's been under a pile of Legos). It's this one. How Social Networks Network Best. Lots of interesting bits but here's the part that's related to the above screed:

Delving deeper into the communication networks of several organizations illuminated the links between productivity and information fl ow even more. A recent MIT study found that in one organization the employees with the most extensive personal digital networks were 7% more productive than their colleagues – so Wikis and Web 2.0 tools may indeed improve productivity. In the same organization, however, the employees with the most cohesive face-to-face networks were 30% more productive. Electronic tools may well be suited to information discovery, but face-to-face communication, an oft-neglected part of the management process, best supports information integration...

Social media is great for discovering things, but if you want get your people to do your bidding, or even just do theirs, you probably have to tell them to their face.


Beecham said...

I'm not really sure what the conclusions are meant to be, since I haven't read the HBR article, but are they claiming a causal or just associative relationship between the networks and the productivity? are they saying something about digital versus face-to-face, and just assuming that networking is related to the productivity?

Couldn't people who network, especially people who network face-to-face, be types of people who are more productive, quite apart from their networking? Essentially, I'm asking whether someone's network reveals something about them, rather than having any impact on them and their work. People who do face-to-face networking may be better managers; but is the article claiming that face-to-face networking is actually important?

sk said...

Causal relationship? That sounds like a lot of work. Seriously, the very brief article actually makes a distinction between two kinds of networking that are serve different ends: discovery or integration. No value-judgment that i could see. Actually, there's a lot a talk about bees and their superpowerers but I'm so intimidated by all this praise of bees and ants these days that I'm shying away from adding to the superorganism frenzy.