I got my first job in 1985, a good few months after graduating from university. I was one of the lucky ones who was able to attend his or her convocation, bearing in mind I was a sponsored student from a foreign land.
Although mine was one of the many held by the university but nevertheless, it was still steep in the traditions of the university and a day that I would forever treasure and look back in fondness.
The feelings I experienced on that special day of mine can be described as mixed : the pride that I felt when my name was announced and as I stepped onstage in my robe and mortar to be admitted to the Guild of Graduates laced with a tinge of sadness and regrets that my parents were not able to join me in celebration of my big day.
A few weeks later, I was on the flight back to Malaysia, only to land in Kuala Lumpur and discover that the country was experiencing a severe downturn in the economy. Some even called it ‘a financial crisis’. Public spending issues they say.
As for us returning graduates, as we were government scholars, we fully expected to return and report for duty in the civil service, as per our contractual obligations.
But alas, we were told that the government could not fulfil that part of the bargain and therefore, were advised to find our own way in the working world.
It is now been almost thirty-five years since the day I first reported for duty. Ever since then, it has been one long continuous learning process, as I make my way up from the lower ranks of management to the senior ranks.
The following would be seven of the many lessons, in no particular order, that I have learnt along the way :-
(1) Do new brooms need to sweep clean?
Ever heard of the saying ‘New broom sweeps clean’? In my personal experience, its often used to describe the incoming of a new boss, and is most often than not, laced with a tinge of sarcasm.
It is often expected that the incoming of a new boss will be followed by a period where changes will be introduced with the aim of bringing about improved productivity or efficiency.
Although it is understandable that as a new boss, one would want to leave a mark in the organization, I would, for one, could never fully agree with that saying.
From my experience, in ‘sweeping clean’, most often than not, all the efforts that previous boss had put in place counted for nought and would be labelled as ‘ineffective’.
If that be the case, would it not be a travesty if these ‘ineffective’ efforts that had been made by the previous management, may have actually improved the working environment and bring about the desired results better than the one the new boss wants to put in place?
So, should the new broom sweep clean? Even if it can?
(2) Implementing Change – Is Change Required?
In any organization, the word ‘CHANGE’ is a word that evokes reaction, and in some cases, strong reactions.
I once posed a question to members of my management team ; the question being ‘what is the most difficult thing to do in management?’.
True per course, many of the answers were standard answers to such a question. But in giving these standard answers, what I concluded was that not much thought had gone into such issues or that they all read from the same management book.
Personally, in my humble view, amongst the biggest challenges faced by any management is to decide whether change is required, bearing in mind the same question had been posed to your predecessors.
If ‘change’ is required, the question will be to decide the degree of that ‘change’ : what to ‘change’ (may involve reorganizing and a change in the SOP), the nature of that ‘change’ and when and how to implement the ‘change’, are the questions that need to be addressed. In other words, the all-important 5W1H poser.
But the crux of the matter remains the same – is change required?
There are times when ‘mistakes’ are made by our charges. Some are accidental, some are habitual and some, through no fault of their own. But whatever the reason may, ‘mistakes’ will be made and will continue to be made, regardless. That’s human nature.
Trouble is, when ‘mistakes’ are made, how do we ‘rectify’ these ‘mistakes’? By ‘highlighting’ the ‘mistake’ for the whole office to know? By giving them the ‘wisdom’ of your thoughts so vocally and forcefully that the whole office will talk about it for weeks and even months to come?
We have to bear in mind that the people whom we work with and who report to us are adults and are professionals in their own right. Outside of the office, they are also husbands (or wives), fathers (or mothers) and sons (or daughters), who, on their shoulders, lie varying degrees of responsibility.
Is it not best, in addressing these ‘mistakes’, a one-on-one session is held, behind closed doors? And in so doing, keeping the dignity of the persons intact.
A responsible person is a dignified person and a dignified person is a responsible person.
We can never state the importance of humility in management highly enough. For those of us who have shouldered the burden of responsibility of organizational management, it’s a fallacy for us (and others) to assume that we know everything and what we do or propose to do is for the definite betterment for all.
For managers who take the time to stop and smell the roses, it is understood that there will be lessons to be learnt with most of them being from the unlikeliest of sources. But it takes a lot of humility to accept the lesson being taught in a class of one, instructed by no one in particular.
It is the same when we asked for information from those who are at the bottom of the organizational pyramid. They may not be managers or directors, but they do know the ins-and-outs of their respective jobs.
Do we as managers and members of senior management know all the ins-and-outs of our jobs and responsibilities?
(5) Selective empathy
I have always believed that in any organization, empathy is an important element to have. Why, you may ask?
First and foremost, organizations are people-centric, with each individual in the organization having a role to play in the success of the organization. Just being single-minded in achieving targets set or fulfilling KPIs may help you achieve your targets but it won’t help in getting an organization to move forward together as one, nor will it help in developing a solid and competent succession team.
Which any good manager will tell you, is of no less importance to an organization. The succession team that is.
It is my belief that being single-minded in the pursuit of ticking off those KPIs, needs to be tempered with actual demonstrations of empathy for our charges, for it communicates to the workforce that yes, we have to achieve the KPIs or targets but we, the Company, also cares about you and your well-being.
A point to consider : folklores through the centuries have one thing in common and that is good deeds are not only rewarded in kind but in many folds.
Have you heard of any other?
(6) Professional & Personal Integrity
Integrity is a word that most would mouth but would they actually practice it?
Personal integrity and professional integrity, in my personal view, are interlinked, for ultimately it is the man (or woman) who makes the professional. It takes one to have personal integrity to be a professional of integrity.
In many cases, it takes tons of courage for an employee to say NO to the boss, especially if what is asked by the boss requires the employee to not only breach professional codes of conduct and ethics but also that of the law.
The ‘I was just following orders’ excuse is no more acceptable now as it was acceptable once upon a time. Furthermore, for a boss to ask his employee to do something he (or she) himself (or herself) would not do is not only not right but also unfair to the employee and the people who depend on him (or her).
(7) Professional Pride
One of the many words of wisdom that my late father shared with me is to know how to do a task well, before asking an underling to perform the same task. It’s not only a question of one’s own professional competence but it’s also a question of one’s own professional pride.
There have been instances when your knowledge or your competency are challenged by either your own charges or by someone who strongly feels it should have been them sitting in our proverbial seat instead.
Hence, the ability and the capability to explain what the task is all about, the whys and the whats etc, would stand you in good stead, never you mind about putting one over.
Hence, know the ins-and-outs of a task well, before asking someone else to undertake the same task.
It is often touted that management solutions provided in text books authored by so-and-so is the way to go. After all, a lot of thinking and a lot of research had gone into formulating those solutions.
But different people, different cultures, different experiences, and different lessons all add up to a something not from any text book. It is not a ‘one solution fits all’ kind of situation.
But in so saying, does it not struck you the way we should approach management is similar to the way we should approach life? This despite knowing that what may work in the East may be seen as signs of managerial weaknesses in the West and vice versa.
Be that as it may, in getting the best out of ourselves and our charges, there are many more important lessons to be drawn but only if one is inclined to. And only if one stops and smell the roses.