If any of you have listened to National Public Radio lately, you know that they are airing a series called "This I Believe," in which people speak about what they strongly believe in (one of their own undeniable truths)—in essay form.
Today I’m putting a slight twist on this, and I'm going to state one of my undeniable management practices—a practice that I will engage in every time I have the opportunity to supervise a person or a unit. I call it my Push-Me-Pull-You pledge.
Here is how it goes:
I pledge that to the extent of my resources and abilities, I will do all that is in my power as a manager to help you grow as an employee—challenging you to become better at what you do, or if you have mastered your skills, challenging you to add new skills to your repertoire. In essence I am going to "pull you."
I am going to pull you because my goal is to create a work environment that is never stagnant. To borrow a phrase, I want to have my people "master the mundane,” so that there is both time and energy left to do new and challenging things.
As manager, I am going to set a direction for us to go in, give you (to the best of my abilities): the time and resources you need to be successful; a plan to get to where we need to be; and my expectations of what you should achieve. I will pull you—kicking and screaming if I have to—where we as a unit need to be and where you need to be skill-wise in order for us to excel. You have a choice in this, though; you can choose to achieve or we can part company. There is, after all, a measure of personal accountability and desire that come into this.
I will also strive to create an environment that you will want to come to every day, in spite of the fact that I am going to pull you to a point where you could make more money elsewhere. In short, I am committed to making work an enjoyable place and make the decision to leave a heart-wrenching one for you. If you do go, I will support you wholeheartedly and know that I helped you to be successful wherever you go.
Conversely, I challenge you to push me. I want you to show me new technologies that I have not found time to investigate and make a strong business case as to why we need them. I want you to ask me for training, to come up with unique and successful ways to stretch our training dollars, to ask me to buy you new tools, and to tell me what you did yesterday that you think was cool.
I want you to ask me why we do things the way we do them and offer suggestions on how we could do them better or give me a good reason for not doing them. I want you to push me to get more money for our team, to be shrewd in my budgeting, to be visionary in my planning, and never to let me forget that I am surrounded by energetic, sharp, hard-working, creative people.
That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. The reasons for this are obvious: A successful manager surrounds himself with good people. Perhaps, because I have been in public service the majority of my career, I have never had the luxury of being able to hire the top dogs; my budgets never accommodated that. I have always had to grow my own superstars. And to be honest with you, I like it that way. It gives me a great sense of satisfaction to build a team that I have invested in, and my experience has shown me that those that I have invested in appreciate it and reciprocate with productivity, excellence, and longevity in their positions.
Another reason for my "pledge” is a desire to create an environment that I want to come to every day. That is the purpose behind the “push me” portion of the pledge. No matter what else is happening in the organization, I feed off the energy of my people and their successes. This is not unlike sports coaches who do the same with their players.
Bill Parcells, the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, frequently mentions that he is driven by the energy and enthusiasm of his players. He says, “It keeps me young”. Of course, he is surrounded by people decades younger than himself, but in the workplace—youth is not a requirement. In fact, I find it advantageous to have a blend of younger workers and mature workers who still are challenged by their jobs and, in turn, are challenging me. I get the bonus of having wisdom and experience, combined with the “energy” we often attribute to youth.
The fact of the matter is that many times, we make the mistake of thinking an older worker has "lost his edge" when, actually, he's just bored to tears in his current position and is no longer being challenged. Think about that the next time you are assessing your employees.
Lastly, the underlying philosophy behind all of this is lifelong learning. Lifelong learning is an attitude—that you should always be open to new ideas, decisions, skills, or behaviors. Lifelong learning throws the axiom, "You can't teach old dog new tricks," out the door.”
I’m a big believer in lifelong learning and, obviously, it shows in my pledge. I don’t know if this will work for you as an IT manager, but it is the way I work and has proven to be a sound management philosophy for me. One note of caution though; I take this very seriously. Half-hearted attempts and lip service will not work, and your commitment is even more important than your employees'. If you aren’t committed to it, your employees will sense it, and you won't be successful. So with those words of caution, I extend to you my pledge: try it on, see if you can commit to it, and then give it a try. It just may become one of the most successful things you do in your management career.