Following is an account of various experiences of management I have had over the years. It is the first in a series of many essays and texts I will write over the course of my OU MBA, which I will be publishing on my blog at the same time.
Being managed in a work-based situation
For about 6 years, I worked as an IT-Consultant for a big firm. Initially, I started-out as employee, but then spun-off to do more interesting things (which, at the time, was the only way of doing so for me). I worked in a small team of 8 people in a pretty independent way for a long time, developing an IT system for various departments of the business. It took off slowly but surely and it was the first major project I was given part-ownership off (alongside a domain-expert helping me guide the application). As soon as the project became successful, however, people (my managers at the time) suddenly started to want to manage it more directly. Instead of letting me do my job I was suddenly getting stuck in politics, management and rules of all I could or could not do. This went on for about 3 years, with the project slowly losing momentum and appeal to most of the business. In the end, half of it was cut because another system came along that did the same thing, but better (3 years passed without a significant update on the application, so it became out-dated). I would not blame the people involved in my direct management, as I understand the need of oversight in as big an organization as the one I was working in (especially as I was 20 years old and new to this size of project at the start), but I do hold an important lesson from it for my own style of management: I firmly believe that sometimes you just have to let people do what they do best, especially if they are not yet constrained by the rules and status quo of the business, even though it can be a bit scary not knowing exactly what happens in the back and how it will all turn out.
Managing in a work-based situation
When I was 18 years-old I founded a software consultancy. It was a completely bootstrapped business mostly composed of a network of students that were working from home for a various number of hours each week. It grew to be pretty successful, with a significant turnover and projects worth over £50k (which was huge for me at the time). In the business I employed better and worse employees and as is the case in IT, the best developers will completely outshine the medium ones (both in talking-time and in profitability). I made the mistake of not having solid back-up plans for what could happen if my star developers would leave and it hit me hard. In an effort to keep these people happy, they were given more freedom to do as they like than others. The problem was that that meant nothing was standardized and in the middle of one of my biggest projects, the star developer decided to leave the business, without any notice and / or handover. Having spent most of what the client had paid us already, I was in big trouble having to finish the application myself. This is where I learned 2 important lessons: 1) Always have a solid back-up plan, 2) When you are managing the project (especially if you sold it to a client), the buck stops with you…
Being managed in a non-work situation
The best, although probably pretty weird to most, situation I can think of in my life is my period as an officer in an online game. Officers were to my guild as managers are to a business: organizing people and getting tasks done but still responding to the guild leader, who gives general directives and makes the bigger decisions when they need to be made.
I played with the same group (around 80) of people for about 3 years, multiple hours each day (and thus, it became a very big part of my life). The role in this guild gave me my first experience of being managed outside a “kid” context (as in, your parents tell you what to do J) whilst being present in a game (which makes it all more interesting, as a game traditionally lets you escape these contexts!).
As a player, I was one of the younger officers in the guild, but that didn’t seem to matter a lot. As I played a lot and knew what I was doing, I was considered as much part of the managing team as anyone else (even more to those that simply didn’t know my age). I did however, run in to some situations where people felt it necessary to remind me of my “duties” and responsibilities as a leader in the guild. What I learned most from this situation was to be bold and not be held back by the status quo of how things are supposed to be, especially when hierarchal decision making is concerned.
Managing in a non-work situation
A little over a year ago I got married and we decided to have the wedding in Scotland (far away from any of our friends and / or relatives). We invited about 80 people from across Europe (and one from the US!) and organized a 3-day getaway for everyone, fully hosted and organized (with the wedding at the second day).
My biggest surprise was the day everyone arrived, as we (me and my wife) suddenly realised we were the only ones who knew exactly who was supposed to be housed where (some people stayed in the castle, others in accommodation 5 minutes walking, etc.). We should probably have sent this information around before-hand but didn’t, which meant we were running around trying to find the rooms for each person as they came in.
The next day went nicely, up until the point where we got a noise complaint before 9PM in the evening… I thought I’d have a chat with the person responsible for the complaint, but the moment he opened the door he seemed extremely aggressive (and I didn’t want any trouble on my wedding day J), so I walked away completely failing the goal of what I came there to do (talk to the guy). We then turned-up the volume a bit and simply hoped for the best (which ended up being all good ). My big takeaway from this situation: not all situations are to be managed!