Monday, December 7, 2009

Management 101

William Hammer, who is a good friend of mine as well as the founder of Vanderbilt Securities, once told me (paraphrased): "it's a Management 101 concept to stipulate a 'due date' whenever you need something to be done. Otherwise, there will be a lot of hemming and hawing, and you'll never get the information you need."

I couldn't agree with him more, but since he said this to me about 10 years ago I'll take it a step further: with the sheer number of hawkers vying for one's attention it's tough to stay focused. In fact, it's so tough that you cannot rely on someone to remember something they promised much less deliver it when you need it.

When I was a senior at Clemson University, I had already spent two, seven-month periods working as an intern at IBM's Application Systems Design Lab in Cary, NC. But I had set my sights on their T. J. Watson Research Center for my last seven-month stint before my graduation. My soon-to-be manager, Jerry Cuomo, wanted to fly me up for an interview but was unable to justify to his boss why they should do so since I was "just an intern."

In the end, he hired me for that internship. When asked for clarification, he said that it seemed that I would be a contributor and, more importantly, he liked my determination. (For the record, what he really was saying was that I was a pain in his ass during the decision process. But I digress...)

Determination can be annoying to others, but only when they don't properly appreciate the gravity of the situation. This was alluded to back in my first blog entry, Everyone is in Sales!, where I stated that the onus is on you to convince others of your cause. Beyond this, there is also the question of "what's in it for me?" or, put another way, "why should I help you?"

The point that I'm trying to make here is that your goals will rarely be unilaterally executed, i.e. you'll always need help from others. Those goals may be short term, tactical ones like liaising with another division in your company so that you can answer a customer's question; or they may be strategic ones like finding a new job that moves you along the career path that you've envisioned for yourself. To make these goals reality, then, it is important to remember the following things (summarized from above):

Sell your need. Properly convince others of the importance by ensuring they realize the benefits they'll receive from their efforts. It may be altruistic, i.e. "the company benefits" (vs. them benefiting personally), but that's okay too.

Set deadlines. Part of the "sales" aspect is explaining the due date for the action (unless the importance of the item in question is extremely low) and why that due date needs to be adhered to. This avoids the instance where someone will abdicate themselves from the responsibility of doing their part because "you didn't tell me you needed it yesterday!"

Be determined. I'm not condoning riding someone like a horse until they finish their part in the task, but you should definitely take an active interest in their progress. Be compassionate, though - they have other things that are demanding their attention.

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