Monday, January 23, 2006

Management for My Amusement

I thought about writing a book, "Management for my Amusement: The Cat and Mouse System of Supervision". Catchy title, huh? Some people take supervision far too seriously. No one wakes up in the morning and thinks, "You know, I'm going to do a real shitty job today. I'm going to make sure that my workplace is less safe and all my co-workers hate me." Okay, there are a few who do, but they're rare.

If you are a supervisor, you have employees who are people. Since they are people who have to be there and do that for so many hours, there are a few universal things. They'd rather be proud of their performance than ashamed; they'd rather be interested than bored; they'd rather spend eight hours with friends than with enemies... they want to do a good job and they want to have fun doing it.

I work in a jail. Most of my deputies spend an eight hour shift locked alone in a dormitory with up to 75 criminals. Most of them enjoy it. The ones that hate it also hated working at a mill or teaching or being a dog catcher. The ones that hate it, that turn every day into a battle haven't figured out that for the most part, the criminals are people too- who would rather be interested than bored; safe than in danger....

Two people can be in the exact same event and one will be bothered for years with the tragedy or just the smell and the other will have just another great story. Who do you think lives longer? Who has the better career?

Given that, and given that since I really care about my people one of the most powerful effects I can have as a sergeant is to get them to the end of a long, healthy career, it makes sense that I get them to see the absurdity and when they are making the decision whether to laugh or to cry to let them see some one laughing. It also means that they have to see me have fun.

Cat and Mouse- two of my deputies can't stand each other. Each believes that he is a good officer and the other is a "lop". They both made the same mistake at about the same time and are the only two people on the shift to make that mistake... so I pretend to have trouble telling them apart. They know it's a joke and they're laughing, but each is working harder than ever before to prove to me that they aren't the same, that they are superior officers.

Years ago, there was a deputy who was extraordinarily bad, a martinet of the worst order. We have a running joke that in this job, at least the worst people will eventually get hurt and then they'll learn. He didn't. I'd tried counseling and coaching and setting very clear boundaries and expectations as did every other sergeant... the most we got was a grudging agreement not to do specific things when we were watching. I finally said, "I'm recommending you get some remedial training. Not that you will get anything out of it, you already think you know everything. This is to cover my ass. You are a disaster waiting to happen and it's only a matter of time before you get yourself or someone else seriously hurt. Basically, I'm writing you off as a lost cause and just trying to minimize my personal liability."

Being "written off" was the first thing that ever reached him. For awhile, he actually did good work.

Supervisor means the same thing as overseer, if you break it down. A supervisor looks at the big picture and tries to make it better. The best supervisors do it by helping things change for the better, identifying needs and filling them. The worst do it by looking for mistakes and attempting to stop anything that might go wrong.

Managers manage- they manipulate paper, numbers, resources and people to either get something done or perpetuate a bureaucracy. The best look at what the people need to do the job and make that happen. The worst look at the numbers and try to add and subtract people and behaviors to reach a bottom line.

Leaders get things done. The best live an example that makes people want to live up to that standard. They remember that the job always centers around two things: the troops and the mission. The worst center everything around themselves and the mission.

I'll never write the damn book. I care about my people too much to be that flippant on paper. But if you have power over someone else's life, use that power to help them have fun.

Use your power for good.

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