Respected widely as the guru of his organization’s fiscal policies, he sat in his glass-walled office and hammered the keyboard from morning ‘til night. He supervised 15 financial analysts who toiled in the policy development vineyard. However, these intellectual laborers were showing signs of unrest. Increasingly negative and cynical, the weeds of discontent were strangling the policy garden.
The manager in the glass-walled office was “managing” by e-mail – for everything. Forget face-to-face meetings. Forget the telephone. In fairness, his fingers were fast and accurate. However, tasked staff members lacked opportunity to learn about the context for what they were creating. They lacked opportunity to interact with the manager and peers concerning issues, trends, and leadership preferences that needed to be factored into the deliverable. This unit was quickly becoming a morbid, untouched-by-human-hands culture of alienated staff.
E-mail provides splendid efficiencies, but overreliance can result in a loss of community and atomization that atrophies meaningful information. Because “the work itself” is a key motivator, the workforce will lose motivational wattage over time if alienated from the work. When staff aren’t able to work with management to define a context for an important assignment, the results can be suboptimal. Management is the art of getting work done through other people consistent with how you would do it yourself. If you are not providing rich context and growing your people to understand issues as you understand them, then you are confusing pounding the keyboard with making a real contribution to improving the enterprise. So how much e-mail traffic did you handle today? Please don’t confuse your answer with a sense of true accomplishment.
Get out from behind the computer and wade among the people. In this case, the manager was coached to triple his face time with employees within sixty days. Union grievances were dropped and morale improved significantly along with work product quality, as measured by top leadership’s increased acceptance of deliverables.