Tenets of Management Design: Focus on the basics, then move to style points

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In this post, I continue to explore the tenets of the new field I’m pioneering, “Management Design.”  Management Design is a response to the bad existing designs that are currently used in creating managers.  These current designs describe how managers tend to be created by accident, rather than by design, or that efforts to develop quality and effective managers fall short. 

So today’s tenet:  Focus on basic tasks of people and team management, then move to style points

I introduce the concept of style points as a way of prioritizing what goes into creating great managers, and the steps that should be taken to get to the status of “great manager.”  Style points are the flourishes that can be performed if you have successfully completed the fundamentals, the basics, or the preliminary tasks.  Someone who tries to go for style points without having mastered the basics can look pretty foolish.   Unfortunately, this tends to happen a lot with managers, both new and experienced.  If you have ever rolled your eyes in response to a manager’s actions, then it likely he or she was trying get style points prior to having done something more basic. 

Some examples of a manager going for style points include: 

Arranging off-site team building exercises

Performing skits at all-team meetings

Boosting morale with pep talks or inspirational ideals

Memorizing the Meyers-Briggs personality profiles

Birthday Parties

Career planning discussions

Arranging team events (lunches/dinners/movies/parties) not related to work issues

I’m looking forward to hearing from you other examples of “style points” that managers attempt.  Many times these efforts, while well-intended, often ring hollow with members of the team.  When it does, it is because the manager hasn’t successfully accomplished the basics that allow for the style point flourish.  These examples of style points are not necessarily bad things for managers to do, it’s that they are best done once the more fundamental team and people management tasks have been addressed, and style points won’t have the intended effect on the team unless the more fundamental team and people tasks have been completed. 

It’s akin to when a gymnast performing a vault fails to stick the landing, falls to the ground, then jumps back to her feet, stretches her arms into the air, arches her back and smiles big in the direction of the judges.  That stylistic flourish isn’t going to work to persuade the judges. You’ll note that when a gymnast knows that she didn’t complete the vault well, she doesn’t extend her arms as high, she doesn’t arch her back, and doesn’t smile as much.  She knows to go for the flourish only when she believes she has performed the basic elements of the vault admirably.  Many managers, awkwardly, go for the flourish all the time.

Thus I’m proposing that a key tenet of management design be to focus first on creating mangers who perform confidently the functional tasks — or the basics — that are baseline expectations of any people manager.   I want management design to make sure managers can “stick the landing.”  A good management design should assure that a manager is encouraged and assessed in the ability to form a team, run a meeting, list the team metrics and goals, get team tools and processes understood across the team, provide performance expectations (new articles are being prepared on these topics!) and provide performance feedback to the team members, writing performance evaluations that aren’t toxic, and utilizing behavior-based language.  This is not an exhaustive list of “the basics,” and this blog explores and elaborates upon what these basic elements are and can be, and provides tips on how to do these (for twice-weekly tips, subscribe now).  I look forward to input and discussion about what these elements ought to be. 

Thus the tenet of good management design is that it develops managers in the fundamental skills that will set the stage for style points later.  Managers confident in the basics of managing, who can flawlessly execute on the easy moves, and who can expand to the harder moves are the ones who can put the flourish on the end.  Until then, we’re looking for managers who can do a basic cartwheel.

What are some style points you’ve seen managers attempt to perform?  What are the things that weren’t being done while the effort to get style points were being done?

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About Walter Oelwein
Walter Oelwein, CMC, CPT, helps managers become better at managing. To do this, he founded Business Performance Consulting, LLC .


11 Responses to “Tenets of Management Design: Focus on the basics, then move to style points”
  1. Barbara Bailey says:

    Hi Walter,
    What you are proposing seems to me to be a textbook required course for all school administrators to aid in improving the academic and emotional climate in the public schools. Or, starting at the bottom of the chain, training teachers classroom management skills where the kids are taught how to be problem solvers and take responsibility for their behavior. There many folks out there talking the talk, but supervised, intentional skill building to teach relationships is the 4th “r”. Keep up your good work! Barb

  2. Glad you like it, Barbara! Great comment!


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