All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day
From the working class employee’s perspective, "upper management" is the portion of the company that has no purpose. The higher-ups attend every party-time trade show, personal improvement seminar, and marginally work-qualified travel junket the company can afford. They often attend events the company can’t afford. In many organizations, a "need/not needed" formula can be applied to the company’s positions: “the people who are required to do work are necessary, the people who are are not are expendable.” Using this formula, you may find that most of your company’s executive branch is expendable.
For example, assembly personnel are logically required to be at their work stations on time, every day, for the whole day. They have to be in place because they are part of a process that allows for no surplus staffing. Many executive positions are allowed total freedom of arrival and departure. They don’t have to be in place because the company will function just as well without them. Their absence is often an improvement in the workplace. Using my formula, these executives are expendable and the assembly personnel are not.
I’m not interested in why business works this way, it just does and every company generates its own reasons for executive existence. “They were there first,” is as good an explanation as you are likely to get. What I am interested in is the few managers who actually want to make a contribution and don’t know what that contribution should be. So, if you believe you “deserve” your big office, your tiny work load, and your out-of-proportion salary, find something else to read. The rest of this article is going to continue to insult you and question your value to your company, the economy, and world ecology. If you want to make an important contribution to your company and employees as a member of what Peter Drucker calls “the management class,” please read on and I hope to repay your effort. You are a rare bird who needs help to avoid extinction.
A simple perspective every manager should take is, “What services do I manager provide to the people who work for me? Do those services justify my existence to them and to my own managers or customers? How do I add value to those services so I can continue to justify my existence and increase my value in the future?” The answers to those questions will return an answer to the next question, “What am I worth to my customers?” You can replace “customers,” with employees, supervisors, other departments, and the end users of your product or service. In most companies, the customer is the enemy; no matter where he comes from. In a well run company, customers come from every direction.
In the usual organization, the only real customer inside of the organization is the CEO, owner, or Big Cheese. If Cheese has lost that critical bit of perspective, the company will exist soley to provide for his gratification and only the foolish dedication of a middle manager or two will drag out the company's painful death. If Cheese has at least some grasp on reality, he or she will give some direction to the people who do the work and that will contribute enough to the company direction to prevent bankruptcy. If your name is Cheese and your style falls in these two categories, either you go away or your company will; it’s only a matter of time. If Cheese is one of those rare birds who recognizes and promotes the company’s real customers, the problem becomes a matter of pursuing excellence with some real hope of achieving it.
How do you know if your company is mismanaged? If you are the mismanager, you probably don't have any way to know, because your employees won't be honest with you and you aren't likely to be honest with yourself. But positive answers to the following questions are a good sign that your company is troubled:
Is there more than one corporate vice-president? (If the country only needs one, and no one knows what he does, why do companies need more?)
Are the executives more inclined to play golf/tennis/etc. than to do work?
Does the company tend to have "jeans days" when the execs are on business trips?
Do people act cautious when you're around?
Get resources, protect from other managers and customers, play politics?
Do unsigned memos about “dysfunctional companies” appear on your desk?
The most important thing to remember about managing is "power corrupts." If you know that your position is corrupting you and you attempt to limit that effect, you have a shot at doing something positive in your position. If you pretend that it can't happen to you and ignore your power abuses, you will drift into uselessness; eventually becoming a person the company can do without.