In a diverse workplace with varying levels of experience and drive, managers come in all types. But knowing how to use them, challenge them and maximize their potential is tricky. In this Tough Things First podcast, Ray Zinn demystifies the art of managing managers.
Rob Artigo: I’m Rob Artigo, your guest host for this edition of the Tough Things First podcast. Hi Ray, it’s good to be back with you.
Ray Zinn: Rob, it’s always good to share these podcasts with you. You always have great ideas and thoughts.
Rob Artigo: This one’s really interesting to me. I don’t know anyone who has as much experience at levels of business, managing managers. You have, you’ve managed presidents, VPs, EVPs, unit managers, production managers. The list is pretty much endless.
So let’s say I’ve launched my business, and we’re 50 or a 100 employees strong. I’ve got some good managers, and I’ve got some production managers, and other managers. So when I’m looking at this business I’ve got, this business model, and I’m looking at the different maybe many divisions that I have, and I’ve got creative conflicts, maybe even near physical confrontations in some cases, with internal conflicts. What’s my first step in figuring out what’s happening here among my managers? If it’s something new to me?
Ray Zinn: Well, it’s a characteristics of all people to form silos. We do that as a family, or husband and wife, we form a silo, meaning that it’s us against the world. And unfortunately we take that to work. And in our groups we tend to want to build the silo, meaning that this is our territory, our turf. And if you start butting in, if you start moving over on our turf, we’re going to defend it. And so that’s the big problem, because that’s a built in conflict.
And so, and that brings us to the point about delineating responsibility. In any organization, the responsibilities tend to be a little bit gray on the edges. And that’s when you end up with these conflicts, because people start assuming that’s their territory. Maybe it’s where they worked before, this is the way they did it. Or maybe this is their view of how this particular department should be run, and that they need this kind of flexibility, and that flexibility. And so they tend to get into these little arguments, or conflicts as you talked about. So that’s something that we have to be aware of, because it’s going to happen. And I don’t know of a single company that doesn’t have these little gray areas where these little boundaries tend to float back and forth.
Rob Artigo: So those gray areas, those edges that you’re talking about here, can you help us understand a little bit how to mitigate that a bit, to make a more well defined line so it’s not so gray? Maybe it’s more charcoal.
Ray Zinn: Unfortunately you can’t stop the gray areas, because you can’t delineate or define a responsibility so tightly that you lose flexibility and creativity. Because then what happens, people say, “Well that’s not my responsibility. Or that’s not what I am taking charge of.” That’s what happens when you define them too tightly.
And so the way you deal with the gray areas, or you call them charcoal, is by having the teams work together. Even though they’re on separate sides, as, as they say, you can still be good sportsmen. You can work together. You don’t want to get so rigid and so inflexible that these gray areas become actual borders, as you would. And that’s where the conflicts arise. There’s a saying that goes, blessed are the flexible, for they shall not get bent out of shape. So what you want to do is keep people from getting bent out of shape.
Rob Artigo: With ZinnStarter, you work with college students, many of them have their own businesses already, or fostering some idea that they plan to launch. You’re seeing people at the very infancy of the business, but you’ve also had people come in and ask you questions about venture cap with their small but still growing Silicon Valley tech firm, whatever it happens to be. But you’re meeting with people who I imagine are oftentimes a little group of friends that started out. So you’ve got the CEO, whose buddy is the other guy who’s the CFO, and you have this core, ends up being a group of friends, oftentimes from college, and they’re moving forward together. So sometimes that package of friends can bring with it baggage, for lack of a better term, that could cause ripples down the road. Right?
Ray Zinn: Yeah, well, creativity stops when people tend not to look at each other critically. And so if you’re buddy buddies with a person, you tend not to be as critical. You tend to be more, “Well, okay, they’ll work it out,” or you give them excuses. So you do want some criticality, in the way that the teams are formed, in a way that they work with each other. You don’t want them so rigid that they don’t work together, by the same token, you don’t want them so loose that they tend to overlook each other’s faults that need to be corrected.
Rob Artigo: When I have my manager, so let’s say I’ve picked out those managers that are, they’re troubling my system. I see a problem with the manager. And do I automatically decide, all right, this is a bad manager? And should I just kick that manager to the curb, or should I give them time for redemption, and maybe kick the idea into overdrive that I have to do some more mentoring here?
Ray Zinn: It depends upon how you view people in general. All people are good, or basically good. And so if you use that, if you look for the good and not for the bad, you’re more likely to see the good point you can build on, and then tend to whitewash the bad ones. So yeah, you should take time to try to work with people that are difficult, but to the point where they’re not destructive. Once they become destructive, you have to kick them to the curb.
Rob Artigo: You have had so much experience in this area. Is there the one piece of advice you might say about when you’re dealing with conflict resolution among the managers? What’s that one piece of information that I should always keep in mind about finding that happy space between people who are, obviously you want them to be passionate about what they’re doing, but that passion can turn into conflicts, just because people are vying for, they’re moving into their own silos, a personal silo, so to speak.
Ray Zinn: Obviously, if you’re a fair person, if you’re a fair manager, then you’re going to look at both sides. You’re going to weigh them equally, and you’re going to be, as I say, seek for mercy before justice. So you’re going to be merciful in the way that you deal with your people. You’re going to recognize that there are issues, either at home or otherwise, that are maybe disturbing that person. And so you want to be kind, understanding, but fair. And if your people know you’re fair, then they will know that you’re not going to take sides, that you’re going to be equal sided, as they say. So there’s no heads or tails, it’s you’re equal sided
Rob Artigo: Great advice. You can reach out to Ray Zinn by the way with your questions at ToughThingsFirst.com. You’ll find the podcast there, blogs and links to information about the book tough Things First. Also check out Ray’s new book The Zen of Zinn. Please go to your favorite podcast source. This is really important, because we really want to continue to spread the word about the Tough Things First podcast. The podcast source you’re listening to right now is probably the one you’re regularly using. Make sure you maybe comment, or login and rate the podcast. Let us know what you think. I look forward to the next time Ray.
Ray Zinn: Thank you, Rob. Yeah, feel free to ask questions. Get online, ask us something that’s bothering you, something that you need help on, and we’ll jump in and help you.