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The World's Shortest Management Course (abridged)

By Marty Nemko

Want to be a manager? Or are you already a manager but feel like you're managing by the seat of your pants? Don't have time for a university course in management?

You've come to the right place. I have read many of the best management books and interviewed top management experts. I distill it all for you in this article.

Hiring Smart (Part I)

According to a Gallup Organization study of 60,000 top-rated managers, the most important thing a good manager does is hire smart. It's tough to turn a lazy employee into a fireball, an unintelligent one into a quick thinker. So, if you want good supervisees, you better know how to select them well. Why? If you guess wrong, not only will you have a hard time trying to improve them, you'll have an even harder time trying to fire them-employees have ever-increasing rights in case of termination. And the costs of firing, rehiring, and training, not to mention stress are great.

The standard methods of screening job applicants work poorly. People can b.s. on resumes. Even bad employees can get good recommendations-some employers agree to provide a good recommendation to a bad employee so he'll leave quietly.

Here's a model for hiring that builds on the model presented in Pierre Mornell's landmark book, Hiring Smart.

First, tell everyone in your workplace that you're looking to hire someone. Your employees will likely recommend good people because they don't want to suffer the reprisals of sending you a loser. Troll online discussion group, LinkedIn, and Facebook in your target employment area (for example, health care accountants) to find impressive candidates. Also advertise your job publicly, for example, in trade publications. especially so you have a large pool of applicants to choose from.

Unless it's a very technical job, it's usually wise to hire someone intelligent and with fire in the belly, even if they don't have directly relevant experience. A lazy, unintelligent person with lots of experience is likely to be a worse employee than a bright, motivated but inexperienced one.

Don't care too much about degrees. If someone lacks a degree but is smart and has the drive, they're actually preferable because they're less likely to job hop or to demand a high salary. Similarly, give a mild preference to applicants who are unattractive, older, or physically handicapped. Why? Because none of those characteristics affect ability to do the job, yet they make the candidate less marketable and therefore more likely to stay with you.

It may feel scary to hire someone smarter than you, but in the end, you'll look better, feel better about your workgroup, and of course, your workgroup will perform better.

Hiring Smart (Part 2)

Now to how to screen job applicants. The magic word in hiring smart is simulation. You can't count on typical interview questions such as, "What is your greatest weakness" " or "Tell me about yourself" to help differentiate between a great candidate and a lousy one who has read an article on how to ace a job interview. You want to know how candidates will handle situations that they'll actually face on the job. So, phone all the applicants who look okay on paper and ask them just one or two "What would you do in this situation?" questions. Beyond the content of their answer, listen for how clear a thinker and how enthusiastic they are. The most time-consuming part of that phone screening is getting the candidates on the phone, so if you have an assistant, let him phone the candidates. You get on the phone only when an applicant is on the line.

In-person interview the few candidates who did best in the phone screening. That interview usually should consist primarily of additional simulations. For example, you might try to teach the candidate a bit of something he'll have to learn on the job. Does he have a knack for learning it? People can exaggerate about their past experience, but the truth comes out in a simulation. As important, simulations allow you to see how they perform on tasks like those they'll have to do, rather than your having to infer that ability from their past work history. The more simulation-based your selection process, the more likely you will be to be happy with your choice. Also, because simulations are clearly job-related, you'll have reduced the likelihood of being sued for discrimination.

To avoid invalid references, ask your top-choice candidate for ten references. Call all ten after hours, leaving this message on voicemail: "I'm consider hiring (insert candidate's name) for a very important position as (insert job title or brief description.) If you think s/he'd be excellent, call back. If not, don't." Unless you get at least seven call backs, you probably have the wrong candidate.

You've selected your #1 candidate. Now you have to convince her to agree to work for you. Consider saying something like, "We put you through a pretty rigorous selection process. We're pleased to offer you the job. Congratulations. We think you'll do a fine job and will be happy here, and we'll do our best to make sure that's true. Our compensation is fair-not the best, not the worst. You're going to get that plus, I'm here for you-- my main job is to do what I can to help you be more successful." That kind of statement is inspirational to most potential employees.

Managing Smart (Part 1)

Now, let's talk about the people working for you.

It is a mistake to micromanage. Your supervisees will resent it, it probably won't change much anyway, and it will use up too much of your time. You especially are making a mistake if you spend a lot of time working with your weakest employee(s). I can understand why you'd be tempted to do that but it will likely yield far less benefit than helping to ensure that your strong supervisees have what they need to do their jobs well.

To that end, ask your average and especially your strong supervisees, "How can I help you do your job better?" If they want to be left alone without a lot of supervision and rules, try to leave them alone. If they say, "If only you could give me $1,000 to do X," if that makes sense to you, your job is to see if you can find the money. Or if they say, "I'd be so much more productive if I didn't have to document how I spend my time", if at all possible, waive the rule. Your job is to free-up your good employees to do their job the way they want. Your role is primarily not to control them-it is to be a resource to them.

If, to produce even minimal quality work, an employee needs close supervision, try to get one of their peers to do it or start the remediation/termination procedure. (See below).

With any employee, when you have to criticize, do it in private, keep the criticism as gentle as possible, and, where possible, end with a plan for improvement, ideally one proposed by your supervisee.

Beware of creating incentives with few winners. For example, if you have a sales contest in which your top salesperson gets a trip to Hawaii, you end up with one happy employee and lots of unhappy ones. The result is usually a net decrease in your supervisees' motivation. If you're going to give tangible rewards, generally they should go to the top 30-60% of employees.

Earned praise is easy to give and often much appreciated. Beverly Kaye in Love 'Em or Lose Em, says that so many employees leave not because of money or odious work tasks but because they don't feel appreciated. So, keep on the lookout for good things your supervisees do. You might even walk around periodically and invite your supervisees to show you work they're proud of. When you see something legitimately praiseworthy, give an attaboy or girl, or even write a thank you note. These take little time but reap big rewards, both in retention and esprit de corps. It feels great to command a ship on which the crew thinks you're a great captain.

Managing Smart (Part 2)

Beyond supervision, managers have other responsibilities-and they can be fun:

Vision: You want your employees to feel that they're working on something important. Your statements can build that feeling. For example, you might say, "I know how frightened our customers are when they call us here in tech support. We can really make a difference for them-and my job is to make it as easy as possible for you to do that. So when you feel that there's some way I can be of help to you, I hope you'll ask me. I want you to get up every morning-well, most mornings-saying, ' I'm glad I work here.'"

Ambiance: In addition to frequently dispensing praise and thank-you notes, there are other ways to create a pleasant work environment. For example, my wife, The Napa County Superintendent of Schools, has put up a bulletin board with a picture of each employee. Next to each picture, each employee writes something unusual about themselves. Some of her employees participate in "Secret Pals"-they anonymously give their secret pal a little present at holidays or just because. For Halloween, the employees compete for the best costume, and they decorate their hallways. Decoration doesn't have to be just for holidays. One manager told his employees, "Here's $200. Use it to decorate our workspace any way you want: paint, wallpaper, posters, whatever.

Standards. Employees--except for any deadbeats you should terminate--feel good about a workplace that has high but reasonable standards. Try developing those standards collaboratively. For example, you might say, "Senior management says that our group needs to resolve 200 calls per day. Would it help if you had software that kept track of average call time or would that feel oppressive? Do you have any better suggestions for how to make it easier for us to meet our quota?"

Training. Some of the best and most applicable training comes from within your own staff. Outsiders often don't have a sense of what would actually work in your workplace. Having insiders conduct the training also builds a sense of pride and cohesiveness in the workgroup. One structure for training is a weekly or monthly lunchtime training. Each time, a different employee volunteers to train the others on the thing she does best. Consider bringing in a catered lunch. Food is a great motivator and team-builder, well worth the money.

When you hire an outside trainer, avoid canned presentations. Best is when the trainer, in advance, talks with key employees to find out their needs and crafts a training to fit. Rule of thumb: better to hire trainers who have done the work your supervisees do than to hire consultants or professors who haven't worked in a workplace like yours in years, if ever.

Advocacy. A manager must play middleman between her workgroup and upper management. When your group deserves additional resources, you must make a strong case for it to higher-ups. When upper management demands something you feel is excessive, you must make a strong case against it. Once you have your supervisees working at reasonable efficiency, you have ammunition to give your boss: "See all we're doing. Your asking us to do this in addition will hurt morale and may even make people quit." Or "We will take this on to meet the emergency, but after this week, if there's still more need, I need to be able to promise my workers that you'll hire additional help."

Modeling. Of course, you want your employees to be hard-working, honest, and open to feedback. But you can only expect that if you behave that way. For example, listen carefully, not only for the words but the feelings behind the words. Encourage tactfully-made suggestions, even if they're risky. And when you screw up, make a brief apology and promise to do better.

Managers are also responsible for evaluating employees. Evaluating wisely is the topic of a later section.

Better Meetings (Part 1)

Time management expert Donald Wetmore estimates that 17 million meetings are conducted in the U.S. every day, and he believes they're "probably one of the top institutional time wasters." Unless your goals are purely social, try to get out of attending as many meetings as possible. Perhaps one of your supervisees would be honored to attend the meeting in your stead.

If you're in charge of deciding if and how to run meetings, here's what you need to know.

Is a meeting really necessary?

Remember that a meeting is usually a far more costly way to gather and disseminate information than sending a memo. With a meeting, everyone has to stop what they're doing to sit in a room with only one or two people actively participating at a time. The others are spending much of their time spacing out. Studies find that people remain focused on the discussion only about half the time.

Let's look at reasonscommonly usedto justify a meeting:

· To disseminate information. That's better done via e-mail. People remember more of what they see than of what they hear. And they get the information when they have time and inclination to process it, rather than, at some time beyond their control, when they must stop what they're doing and go to the meeting.

· To discuss a complicated issue. In meetings, people must respond instantly, so they're usually shooting from the hip. Therefore, their input is usually less thoughtful than when responding to a written document. As important, complicated problems can take hours to discuss-people don't stay focused that long.

When trying to get input on a complicated issue, it's usually best to gather most of that input before the meeting. For example, let's say a workgroup needs a new procedure for responding to disaster situations. Instead of calling a meeting right away, the manager might:

1. Request e-mailed input from key individuals and from print sources.

2. Draft a plan and e-mail it to all the would-be-meeting attendees for input.

3. Revise the plan based on the input and send it back to them to review prior to a meeting.

4. In the meeting, the now thoughtfully developed document can quickly be tweaked and group buy-in obtained.

The result will be a better product obtained in less time and without the frustration of a long, disjointed meeting.

· Standing weekly meetings. These are particularly likely to be wasteful. Even when items appropriate for a meeting are lacking, agendas somehow always seem to get filled. Monthly meetings probably can be justified on team-building grounds alone, but carefully scrutinize the need for more frequent standing meetings.

Meetings: (Part 2)

In the following situations, it often makes sense to call a meeting:.

· When it's important that the team members see that they're all buying into an idea. For example, after you've crafted a complicated plan for dealing with disasters, it's not effective to e-mail everyone back saying, "Thanks for your input. Here's the plan." Better to make it a meeting agenda item. At the meeting, say something like "I've incorporated your input but want to give you a chance to make any other suggestions." When those suggestions have been incorporated, you can say, "Great! So it sounds like we've done it. Thank you." If no one objects, then everyone feels that their input and assent was truly obtained.

· You need immediate discussion among multiple parties. For example, a client announces that in three hours, he's coming in expecting a new proposal for his ad campaign. A meeting makes everyone drop what they're doing so they can get the needed information and quickly brainstorm.

· When the group faces an emotional issue, such as when there's a layoff or downsizing. For example, "Our budget has just been cut 20%. Rather than unilaterally deciding how to deal with this, I thought we should make these decisions as a team. Let's get together." Before moving to solutions, allow time to vent. You might also bring in food-breaking bread together builds good feelings.

So You've Decided to Have a Meeting

Most people can't pay attention for long, so try to schedule meetings for an hour or shorter. Best time for meetings: right before lunch or just before quitting time. It's amazing how people seem able to resolve issues when they know they get to have lunch or go home afterwards.

If possible, two days before the meeting, send a draft agenda to the participants for input. Lay out the timeline, for example, 11-11:15 Topic A, 11:15-11:20. Topic B. etc. "Of course, sometimes your estimated time allotments are wrong, but it's better to have something to work from.

When you have an idea that you plan to bring up in a meeting, in advance, ask yourself, "What are the potential objections? How could I address those? If you're worried about a particular person objecting in the meeting, meet with her in advance to see if you can avoid getting criticized in public.

Meetings (Part 3)

Start your meeting with a statement like, "Thanks for your input on the draft agenda I sent you. Here's the revised version." Giving attendees that time-delimited agenda, helps them to self-censor: "My comment isn't that important. We have only a few minutes on that topic, so I won't bother saying it."

At the meeting, the wise convenor spends much of his mental energy listening: Is this discussion on track and on time? What's the feeling message in what she's saying? Is this person talking too long? If so, interrupt and say something like, "I appreciate your point. So you're saying (paraphrase his point.)" That way, you've shut him up, yet he still feels heard. Next, you might say something like, "Mary, you're looking thoughtful (a tactful way of saying ,"You've been quiet). Is there anything you'd like to add?"

Carefully decide whether and how to react to an idea with which you disagree. Sometimes, a person's statement might be wrong but it isn't worth alienating her or sidetracking the discussion. Let it alone. But if you think you're disagreeing for an important reason--not to show off or put him down--be sure to express your disagreement in a face-saving way, for example, "That's interesting. I can understand why you might think that way. Building on what you're saying, I wonder if it might make sense to do X." That allows the person to save face. Face-saving is key to avoiding a disgruntled worker.

Keep your antennae out for people who disagree, not on the merits, but because they want to diminish someone else or elevate themselves or a colleague.

When just a few minutes remain in the allotted time for an agenda item and you sense that additional discussion is unlikely to be fruitful, say something like, "We have about three minutes left to discuss this issue. Any new important points that anyone wants to make?" That tends to force the best ideas out and the weaker ones to remain undiscussed.

Finally, say something like, "Let me see if I can summarize. It seems that we agree that X, Y, and Z should be incorporated into the plan. Is that right? Establish eye contact with everyone-that helps build buy-in.

In a Nutshell

To sum up, you preempt long, complicated discussions in meetings by taking care of as much as possible by yourself, and by using e-mails and one-on-one discussions. When a meeting is truly necessary, in advance, you send attendees a draft agenda. At your meetings, you tactfully quiet the excessive talkers and encourage capable but quiet attendees. You listen carefully both to the content and feeling of what's said. You disagree only when really necessary, do so tactfully, or let others do the criticizing. You keep meeting attendees with hidden agendas from squelching others' good ideas. You keep the meeting on track, and having listened well, are able to summarize at the end of each agenda item. Doing all that is very difficult, of course, especially since so much must be done on-the-fly, but if you can pull it off, it's a highly visible way for you to show that you're a real winner.

Evaluating Smart

The most effective evaluation often occurs between formal evaluation reviews, when you evaluate by walking around. When visiting supervisees at their work stations, you see them in action, and so are in a better position to make valid suggestions. And because your suggestions are made outside of the threatening formal evaluation situation, the supervisee is more likely to be open about asking for help. Of course, if you need to offer a significant criticism, that should be done in private.

There's no need to storm around like the stereotypical boss with a clipboard and a scowl on your face. Try to look for things to compliment. Better to be saying things like, "Hi, that looks great. Anything I can do to make your life easier?" Make that your predominant mode and your supervisees won't be threatened and close up like turtles, hiding anything that might not look perfect. That approach will help you learn more about what's really going on, and because of your positive demeanor, your employees will like you-most workers prefer managers who are positive and out among them rather than cloistered away in their office.

Making Formal Evaluations Easier

Formal evaluations are mainly important with your weak employees. Formal evaluations allow you to have the more extended conversations necessary to develop an improvement plan. And if you decide to terminate the employee, having conducted formal evaluations reduces the chances that the employee will sue for wrongful termination.

As much as possible, get your supervisees to come up with their own evaluation criteria. Unless there's a mandated procedure, start by sending them a copy of any company or workgroup goals, their previous evaluation(s), and having them, in advance, write a brief self-evaluation:

  • Here are the things I'm pleased with since my last evaluation.
  • Here are the things I see as areas for growth.
  • Here are my objectives for the next review period.

Often, employees know what they're doing best and worst, and are tougher on themselves than you would be. In the evaluation meeting, you can always add items, but the more you can get the areas for growth to come from them, the more likely they are to work on them. Self-generated objectives: that's a core management principle, in and outside the formal evaluation process.

If a supervisee refuses to acknowledge a significant problem, say, for example, "I'm a little concerned about the length of your lunch hours. Is there anything I need to understand about that?" Maybe the supervisee does have a good reason for taking the long lunches-for example, maybe he works extra at night.. As a last resort, if the employee refuses to acknowledge the problem, you can still be gentle: "I am concerned about your long lunch hours. We need to create an objective in that area. Do you want to suggest wording or do you want me to?" Give someone two choices, both of which are acceptable to you. They'll usually pick one.

Firing Smart

The Gallup Organization's study of 60,000 top managers found that when good managers make a hiring mistake, they cut their losses and terminate the employee as quickly as possible. But how do you terminate someone with minimal bad feelings and minimum chances of being sued for wrongful termination?

Be particularly careful if the person is in a protected class: minority, woman, handicapped, person over 40, or homosexual. That person will likely have additional clout if s/he tries to sue you, but the rules for firing smart apply to all employees.

It's wise to start by giving an employee clear, written feedback that there's a problem, including specific steps they can take to improve to a satisfactory level. In providing that feedback, try hard to not be hostile, and don't make criticisms too broad. Be specific: For example, "Here are the things that need to be done that currently aren't being done with the speed or quality that's necessary: A, B, and C. " It's probably sufficient to provide the employee with two or three such reviews, perhaps 30 days apart. Try to get the employee to sign off on each review. If he disagrees with part of the review, he may add a dissent.

If, before starting that process, you feel that the employee is hopeless, you may avoid the difficult termination procedure by trying to counsel the employee into voluntarily leaving, for example, "I am willing to develop an improvement plan for you to see if we can make this work, but my gut says that this job isn't the right fit for you. Would you prefer to have me develop an improvement plan or would you rather that I try to help you find a better-suited position outside the company?" Always couch your statements as being in both the employer's and the employee's best interests, for example, "You have skills X, Y, and Z, but aren't as strong on P, Q, and R, which are crucial in this job. Would you like me to help you find a better-suited position?"

When it's time to fire an employee, issue the termination gently but firmly, making it clear that the decision is final "As I said, 60 days ago, these were the improvements needed. Things aren't sufficiently better, so we need to part ways. Would you rather resign or have us issue the termination notice, which could make you eligible for unemployment insurance?" Of course, for humane and pragmatic reasons, do it as kindly as possible. You might remind the employee of the good things she's done, the good times, and that you hope and believe she'll be happier in a better-suited position.

Consider offering severance pay in exchange for a waiver of right to sue for wrongful termination-it can smooth over bad feelings and decrease (but not eliminate) the chances of a lawsuit. Be careful about offering to write a letter of reference. Too weak a letter and the employee could sue you for defamation. Too strong a letter and a subsequent employer could sue you for providing misleading information. The issue of employer liability for letters of reference is being debated in the courts, but for now, it's probably safest to have a company policy that letters of reference only list the dates of employment and whether the employee left voluntarily. You can decide to break the rule for a clearly excellent employee who is leaving is search of a more appropriate position.

After the termination meeting, usually the employee should leave the facility immediately-it both reduces awkwardness and the chances of the employee doing something retaliatory that he'll regret later. However, unless you have reason to believe that the employee will commit some sort of sabotage, there's no need to have a security guard escort the employee out-doing that could even result in a defamation lawsuit against you.

Time Management

Time management isn't as mystical as it may seem. You can often improve dramatically just by completing this TimeSaver chart.

Step 1. Enter all the activities that take up a lot of your time at work, and if you wish, outside of work. If you're not sure you're including all your time-consuming tasks, for the next day or two, keep a log of how you spend your time--every time you change tasks, write it down.

Time consuming activities How to reduce the time: Not do it? Do it less? Delegate it? Do it more efficiently? Do it to a lower standard?







Don't forget about the little time wasters that add up, for example, people dropping in on you with a "quick question," or to tell you about their daughter's Confirmation. By the way, a simple fix for unwanted drop-ins: a do-not-disturb sign. That can work even if you're in an open cubicle.

Step 2. Look at your list. Cross out any tasks that, in truth, don't need to be done.

Step 3. Mark each remaining task as high, medium or low priority.

Step 4: Mark each task as needing to be done perfectly or just adequately.

Step 5: Assign each task to yourself, to a person in your organization, or to someone outside your organization. Consider, for example, that weak employee you spend a lot of time supervising. Are you likely to get him to improve enough to justify the time and stress? Should you spend less time on that person? Should you delegate some of the supervision to someone else?

Many people resist delegation because they believe-probably rightly-that if you want to do it right, do it yourself. That's true--If you weren't above average, you probably wouldn't have made it to manager. But you can't do everything, so you must accept that at times, you'll need to delegate tasks, knowing that those tasks won't be done as well as if you did it. Your guiding principle must not be "Will this task be best done by me? It must be, "Is it wiser to delegate this, even if it won't be done quite as well?" If you do everything yourself, you'll likely be working too-long hours.

Step 6. Mark any tasks that you sense you aren't doing as efficiently as you might. If you don't know how to do them more efficiently, ask someone who might have a suggestion.

Do Steps 1-6 and you'll almost assuredly do more and better work, in less time.

I tend to get a lot done in a little time. People ask me how I do it. Here's my best explanation. I'm constantly asking myself, "Is this the most time-efficient way to do this?" That little voice in my head keeps me focused on the most direct route to getting tasks done. Except of course, when I feel like taking an indirect route!

Course Summary

Put extra effort into hiring smart, creating a pleasant atmosphere, doing what you need to do to free up your good employees to do their job, and efficiently counseling out or terminating weak employees. Don't micromanage. Save time by completing the TimeSaver sheet, by spending little time on formal evaluations or in trying to improve weak employees. Have few meetings and time-delimit those you do have. Always work hard to listen both to the content and feeling of what is said. Do just those things, and chances are you're going to be a great manager.

Congratulations on completing the World's Shortest Management "Course." Final assignment: Write one thing you want to do differently as a result of taking this class.

Okay, class dismissed!

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