“Somehow, I Manage”

Photo of Steve Carell as Michael Scott in "The Office."

Management guru Michael Gary Scott

If I really thought about it, I’d probably be frightened at how often I’ve wished I worked for Michael Scott. (Yeah, I know he’s fictional, but a girl can dream.) The character was supposed to be inept; an amalgam of (probably real) bad managers, meant to be hyperbole. But as The Office gained momentum, Michael Scott became more sympathetic.

In the end, he was a real person with insecurities who cared about the people he managed. To Michael, they were family.

At various points in my career, I’d have gladly suffered with a Michael Scott as a manager. The good would have far outweighed the bad.

Right now, I’m lucky. I have the pleasure of working for someone I’ve worked with before, whose talents I admire and respect, with an approach to work that mirrors my own (and — bonus — she’s a bona fide member of Mensa International). I’ve worked for other good managers, and what they all have in common is intelligence, the capacity to reason, and an understanding that the people working for them are people. They are rational and empathetic human beings.

The bad managers have defied logic. They all possessed a Michael Scott ineptitude, but without any of the charm or sensitivity.

One in particular had a very unique idea about the importance of motivation. He was a highly educated person — we’re talking upper echelon in terms of schooling — who made it clear that his employees’ strengths and skills were of no interest to him. He wanted his department arranged a certain way, and if that meant taking all of the pegs out of their snug holes and driving them into misshapen slots using a sledgehammer, by God, that’s what was going to happen.

I watched this delicate genius turn a genuinely engaged, enthusiastic employee who was brimming with company pride (an employee he inherited in a company reorganization)  into an unhappy, unmotivated person who spent a third of his time on the clock searching for another job. (He eventually found one and left.)

I believe a manager is supposed to put employees in positions that make use of their strengths. I don’t know what they’re teaching at Harvard Business School, but I wouldn’t hire someone with expertise in, say, UX design, and then reassign them to PR. Call me crazy.

That’s only one example, from one position, with one company.

In the summer of 2013*, Gallup released a report on employee engagement with findings that should make everyone with a financial stake in a U.S. company fear for their future. Only 30% of U.S. employees are truly engaged. The rest are classified as either not engaged, or actively disengaged.

That means 70% of us fall on a spectrum of being not as productive as we could be on one end, and seriously harming our companies or brands on the other.

Cool. It’s no wonder America is an economic force to be reckoned with.

The appropriate response of every employer should be obvious:

  • Hire managers who are interested in being managers, and know how to manage.
  • Don’t promote people into management positions for any reason other than that they are the best fit for the role.
  • Don’t hire a-holes.
  • If you mistakenly hire an a-hole or promote a bad manager, correct the error the instant you realize it was made.
  • Learn what your employees do for you, and what they’re capable of doing for you. That’s the only way to know if your managers are doing what they’re supposed to. It’s also the only way you’ll know when valuable employees leave.
  • If you find out a valuable employee has left, find out why. Then do something with the information.

And, as Michael Scott once advised a young Dwight Schrute, “Don’t be an idiot.”

But there I go again, using that damned logic. Someday maybe I’ll learn to quit doing that and assimilate.

*The 2015 update from Gallup shows little improvement: We’re now at 32% engagement.

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