Management and Supervision

A word on both

gray IP camera on black wall

I was recently asked about my management style and personal perspective on supervision and delegation.  As an engineer it seems as though the industry attitude is “leave me alone” and “we complete performance assessments in April.”  Of course this is part stereotype – though the basis of stereotypes has some truth – and partly a function of demographics and organizational structure.

So as I thought about the question of management style, I reflected back on my preparation for the PMP exam and heard a new tern that seemed to apply to my personal style.  Management By Walking Around, complete with an acronym, was a real thing.  I had developed that approach without the science or theory behind the concept.  From the beginning of my career I can recall being the one in the group described as being social and congenial.  In comparison to some I have worked with in the past, I’m not sure that was a compliment.  However, I did develop a style that allowed me to manage my work, project or program without being behind my desk.  I always found that the least effective place for me was in my office or cubicle staring at a computer screen.  The screen does not interact, there is no tone or inflection and no body language.  I found that by having a conversation, more often than not in an employee’s comfort zone, I could learn so much more.  The frequent outreach and “touch” with staff gave me a well-rounded perspective on how we were doing.  Not to discount data – I also believe in making data driven decisions – but data only tells part of the story.  So for me, MBWO was a natural fit for my personality and the personalities of those I worked with.  Is it for everyone, probably not, but next time you sit down at your computer and get ready to fire off an email to get a project update, consider pushing yourself away from the desk, grabbing a cup of coffee, and heading down the hall for a conversation.  You may find that you actually enjoy it.

It seems we have all worked for companies where the only supervision feedback comes once a year during the dreaded performance review with a manager.  I have been fortunate to have had supervisors who took a different approach and, as a result, I have also taken a different attitude toward feedback.  In fact, I had a supervisor who would often forget to have the annual review because our ongoing conversations during the year did the trick.  Not until his boss reminded him did he call me in, slide the assessment across the desk and ask for my signature.  No surprises, no anxiety.  I have tried to emulate that concept with my own employees and it follows a generally accepted business principal.  In the budgeting and operations world we understand that if you mess up in Q1 then you will spend Q2, Q3 and Q4 playing catch up and frequently not being able to make it all the way back.  Performance and supervision works the same way.  If a small change is addressed early on then the effort required to make the change is proportionate but left to fester it will only grow bigger and more challenging to correct.  In my experience, many engineers are hard-wired into a testing and results mentality.  If you view the feedback within that framework, your staff may be able to more easily understand why they are being engaged in the regular conversations.  For your more data-driven employees, you may want to have these conversations in a more quantitative manner.

Management styles and supervision approaches are highly personal based on your own interests and comfort zone, as well as those you are managing.  Whatever you decide is your personal approach, be consistent and set clear expectations.  Your staff will appreciate it and you will have a much easier time managing the “people” leg of the people, process and technology triangle.