(from Keep the Joint Running blog )
Management Speak: Once you've identified the members of your team who are critical to achieving your department's business goals, aim to spend roughly 80 percent of your time with the top 20 percent of your staff.
Translation: Micromanage the best, ignore the rest
-This week's anonymous contributor couldn't ignore this instruction from his company's internal management newsletter
Four words to eliminate from your vocabulary are good, bad, right, and wrong. No, I'm not promoting rampant immorality, abandonment of your ethical code, or abolishment of truth, righteousness, and the American way.
What I want people to do is to avoid using these as categories, into which they file ideas so that later on they know which ones to pay attention to and which to ignore.
Take, for example, last week's column , which suggested non-IT business managers mightÂ benefit from Agile's way of organizing work around generalists, rather than the more usual reliance on coordinating multiple specialists.
Some of my correspondents interpreted the column as saying generalists are good, specialists are bad, or that the right way to organize work is around generalists; the wrong way is around specialists.
When it comes to generalists and specialists, or just about any other decision you might make, the only absolute wrong is making decisions ... about anything, not just work design ... as a matter of reflex, habit, or any other variation of failing to think things through.
Small businesses don't rely on generalists because the owner thought, "Hmmm ... if I rely on generalists we'll be more flexible, and everyone will have more fun, too." They rely on generalists because they can’t afford to hire someone who has the skills to properly perform every piece of work that has to get done.
So when the time comes to update the brochure, the owner looks around and decides, "Gertie at the reception desk knows MS Office pretty well. Based on how she dresses, she has decent taste. She can write in complete sentences. And when the phone isn't ringing she isn’t always working on something else. I'll ask her to squeeze it into her schedule."
The same owner, in a company ten times larger, deciding it's time to take marketing more seriously, hires a full-time marketing professional.
In a company that’s another ten times larger, the full-time marketing professional becomes the Marketing Director, and hires full-time copywriters, graphics professionals, web designers, and so on. Before you know it the level of specialization is such that the PHP specialist and CSS specialist are fighting turf wars.
(Separate subject but it fits here: Turf wars, in case you aren’t aware of this, are of two types. When there's less work than there are people to do it, a turf war means everyone claims the work as their own. When there's more work than there are people to do it, everyone claims approval authority while insisting the work itself is Someone Else's Problem. Thought you’d like to know.)
When you subdivide work among increasingly narrow specialties, you’re organizing the work functionally, accepting the additional management overhead needed to orchestrate it so hand-offs are smooth and the results fit together when everyone is done.
As a general rule, work organized around specialists is optimized for high throughput and low unit costs. It’s capacity and scalability — what factories are for.
That isn't the only reason businesses hire specialists. Another reason: It's a skill the entire company depends on. If you’re a property/casualty insurance company, for example, most of your profitability depends on how well your actuaries model risk, and how accurately your underwriters assign individual applicants to the right risk category.
This use of specialists is quite different from reflexive specialization. It is, in fact, the essence of a practice, where work is usually optimized for excellence (flexibility, customization, innovation, and the presence of high-value features). The specialist is the practitioner, often surrounded by a group of supporting generalists whose jobs are loosely defined as "keeping the specialist busy with high-margin work."
Lawyers are an excellent example, surrounded as they are by administrative assistants, clerks, and paralegals who keep everything organized and take care of the more mechanical aspects of the legal profession.
Which makes a great deal of sense. This sort of specialist is expensive due to the law of supply and demand, which means their idle time costs more than anyone else's idle time.
And as they give your company a competitive advantage, the better yours are compared to your competitors, the more business you win. This means the high-value specialists you want are always in short supply, even if there are plenty looking for work.
It also means you shouldn't entirely eliminate good and bad from your vocabulary after all. Winning business from your competitors is an example of why.
With few exceptions, it's good.