My degrees are in computer science, so when I had to start wearing a tie - purely metaphorically speaking - I knew I needed some formal training. But some of the best stuff I learned about management, and about being a manager, I didn't learn in any class or seminar. Some of it I learned on the job. Some of it from a good mentor or two. Some by observation. And much of it in the school of hard knocks. I also read a hell of a lot.
Here are a few of the things I have learned.
It takes you at least as long to get out of trouble as it took you to get into it.
Say you have a corporate culture that sucks. How long will it take to turn it around? Jack Welch might be right that people's outward behavior can be changed quickly. But just because they are smiling and nodding doesn't mean they trust you as far as they can throw you. Or aren't thinking "up yours" to every point you try to make. If you had poor personnel policies for a couple of years, expect to take at least couple more years before you have eradicated all of their negative effects.
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
I once heard a department head complain about a lack of employee loyalty after the company we both worked for had spent the last several years laying off half of its employees. What did she expect? If you treat people with mistrust, expect to not be trusted. If you show disrespect, don't be surprised when you get no respect. If you treat people like idiots, don't expect to be winning any MacArthur grants.
You are not saving money if you have merely moved costs from where they can be measured to where they can't.
The classic case of this is eliminating desktop and laptop computer support to save those precious IT dollars that, let's face it, are just overhead. Like a lot of overhead, it enables your highly paid technical staff to do their jobs. By shifting the simpler support functions to your engineers, you now have a bunch of extremely expensive albeit disgruntled technicians. I've also seen engineers earning six figures doing the kind of clerical work I used to have my administrative assistant do (and who was really good at it) at a fraction of the cost. Keep saving money like this and eventually you'll go bankrupt.
People pretty much act the way they are incented to act.
If your people exhibit some behaviors that are, let's say, contra-indicated, your first step should be to look at your system of incentives. I've written about and given talks on Robert Austin's book Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations (Dorset House, 1996) in which he writes about how incentive programs drive dysfunction into organizations. Nelson Repenning of MIT has written on fire-fighting in organizations, how rewarding fire-fighting leads to more fires to fight, and if unchecked, leads to a death spiral. Managers try to motivate employees with all sorts of stuff that only can be classified as motherhood and apple pie. Some of it they might even believe themselves. But people have so much on their plates, they can't meet impossible deadlines, come in on tiny budgets, and produce high quality work. It's just impossible. The only way people know what the company really values is by carefully watching who is rewarded for doing what.
If you waste people's time, you are sending them a message that it is okay to be wasteful.
I once worked for a company that estimated the cost of big meetings by multiplying the number of participants by their average fully loaded cost. The division director would actually say "If we gather everyone in the auditorium, that's a $4000 meeting. Is it that important?" Everyone understood that time was money. And because it was wrong to waste time, it was also wrong to waste anything else.
On their deathbed, no one ever said "I wish I'd spent more time at work."
But you might say "I wish I'd done more writing." Or "spent more time with my kids." Or even "spent more time with smart engineers." When I'm racing out the door on my way to work, I always stop and pet the cats. Whatever it is for you, take the time to do it. Keep your priorities straight.
What rules of thumb do you use?
People are more important than things.
I'm embarrassed to admit that it took losing some friends my age and my mom in 2006 to drive this home. But given the choice between, say, going out to dinner with colleagues at a conference, and going back to your hotel room to read LOLCats captions, choose the former. Sure, reading LOLCats is good short term entertainment, but connecting with friends and colleagues is the better long term investment of your time.