Professor and management guru Robert Sutton’s famous piece “12 Things Good Bosses Believe” has impacted how I work as a team architect. This is part two in a blog series exploring how each one connects to your team and your workplace. Today’s post: The best bosses believe “My success — and that of my people — depends largely on being the master of obvious and mundane things, not on magical, obscure, or breakthrough ideas or methods.”
About 10 or 15 years ago, my love-hate relationship with leadership began. Hate? You read it right. Sure, I’m a team architect. Sure, I’ll break out cupcakes and maybe even throw a parade for a strong leader.
But today I’m out to defend management.
As the mentality shifted, we’ve come to believe that leaders are the only ones who matter. We’ve come to believe that managers are controlling and micro-managing. But truth be told, the manager, not the leader, is the most important person in your organization.
Yes, the manager is the master of what’s obvious and mundane — and that’s exactly what makes managers the real stars. The leader casts the vision, and then the manager figures out a plan to get there. Sometimes, you just need to get stuff done. And that’s where the managers really shine.
I lived this lesson when I was in retail management. Conversion rates showed that people who tried on clothing were more likely to make a purchase, so our corporate offices placed big emphasis on success here. But my team dreaded it, because if it wasn’t a busy time, the fitting room was boring. So how did we, as managers, become masters of the mundane and masters of the obvious?
• Step one: Explain why. A full-time team member and I explained why this mundane task mattered. We explained conversion rates, discussed how to make it productive, addressed expectations for fitting room shifts and created ways to make it fun. So whether it’s data entry, phone calls, or something else, articulate to your team why this matters and the role it plays in the bigger picture of success.
• Step two: Hold your team accountable. Check in if your team is still struggling. Painful discussions, sure. But when you stop problems before they start, then you’re applying a band-aid, not visiting the ER. Our store statistics went from the worst fitting room in the district to not just top of the district, but top of the region.
So what about those “magical, obscure or breakthrough ideas or methods? We turn to these innovative and creative ideas because we think it’s what the market calls for. But only when your systems and processes are in place and your execution is flawless, can innovative ideas come through.
Make sure your team has mastered the original project, purpose and goal. Once that’s perfected, move forward with the creativity. I heard a powerful quote when I started my business: “The best businesses don’t have new ideas; they have better execution.” And that’s the defense of management we all need to hear.