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Management Training

Is the Manager Obsolete? Or When Does Consensus Stop?

May 8, 2007 | By | 6 Comments


by Hugh MacLeodDoes business need managers? Or first-line supervisors?

Or should organizations simply go Greek and give every citizen-employee a voice and a vetoing vote?

The corporation as pure democracy.

This was the theme of a Wall Street Journal article, Managing: Can a Company Be Run as a Democracy? By-line JACLYNE BADAL. She writes of a company, Ternary, and begins:

“Ternary runs itself as a democracy, and every decision must be unanimous. Any of Ternary’s 13 other employees could have challenged [a] decision and force[d] it to be revisited.

Running a company democratically sounds like a recipe for anarchy, and it can prompt bureaucratic whiplash: Ternary, a company with annual revenues of around $2 million, adjusted salaries for employees up and down several times last year.”

Goodness. Alert Reader Pat Patterson questioned the company structure:

I notice that the writer seems to use egalitarian companies and democratically run companies interchangeably. I remember that you have posted on the antithesis of these methods and hoped you might comment…concerning this report.

Plus I was dismayed to see that several of these companies were willing to experiment with democratic decision making with the caveat, “We can try it and see how it works.” Seemingly without any awareness of how much damage that could do to the stockholders.

Patterson seems to have greater insight on human behavior and organizational development than the reporter, the CEO or Traci Fenton:

Advocates say such systems appeal to workers, particularly younger ones, searching for careers with meaning. “Everyone wants to be a somebody,” says Traci Fenton, founder of WorldBlu Inc., a Washington organization that promotes workplace democracy.

And that is the challenge for managers and stockholders. Younger workers today, not really needing money or security, are moving up on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, challenging any corporate hierarchy on their way to becoming self-actualized beings. (Maslow once said that a man could only be self-actualized after living a full life past 50.)

But not these days. Structure is out. Boot-licking is out.

If there were no problems, or no change of any kind, or no exciting opportunities to compete for capital budget allocation, there would be no need for that overhead known as the Manager.

However, democratic-egalitarian management can work in some cases. If . . .

If there is no profit result needed, as in some non-profits (that exist to improve the human condition, as Peter Drucker says).

Or a church governing body where each deacon or ruling elder has a veto — the ruling council understanding that a dissenter’s motives are pure and he is accountable to a higher authority.

Democratic-egalitarian management can work in academia where really smart people debate (but where the politics are the most vicious) and Deans rotate much like a volleyball team. And there are seldom “emergencies” threatening people’s lives or the life of the organization. Except when it doesn’t. Note the lack of a prompt and proper response at Virginia Tech.

It might work in small software companies using a matrix management structure which diffuses lines of authority with multiple points of accountability. It works only because the code-slaves (used to) have stock options which would make them rich in short order. These are smart, well-motivated workers who are the owners of the enterprise. They are the bosses. However:

Harry Katz, dean of Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, doubts a system like Ternary’s could work on a large scale. In bigger companies, “there’s an inevitable conflict of interest between managers and employees,” Mr. Katz says. General Motors Corp.’s Saturn plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., for instance, experimented with giving employees a strong voice in management, but later moved back to a more-traditional structure, he says.

business_is_change.jpg Reporter Badal doesn’t explain why the experiment didn’t work. But we can imagine.

We are all equal in the eyes of the Creator or under the blind eyes of Justice. But we are not equal to each other. Egalitarianism is for commies and the French. Not for profit. Sorry.

Your Business Blogger may not be able to fire an employee for incompetence these days, but I can fire for insubordination. Or I might be tasked with reducing headcount. To improve profits. The manager’s vote counts: yours may not. Sorry.

Democratic-egalitarian management will not work for most organizations because, sooner or later, the building will catch on fire. Emergencies will not permit much discussion, or consensus, or a vote tally. Sometimes there isn’t time.

And someone has to be in charge. The Captain of the ship.

And even if the building is not burning, too much ‘consensus building’ is exhausting for the manager and paralyzing to the organization.

Bill Clinton famously had enormous staff meetings with each participant partici-panting. The meetings ran long. Clinton ran late. Nothing got done.

Oh, well, maybe there is a place for Democratic management…


Thank you (foot)notes:

Are Managers Sociopaths?

How does the Army market and manage today’s youth? What happened to the Army of One?

And what’s up with all the tattoos? And why don’t I see body piercings on the Starbucks employee?

Deon Binneman on Managing Reputation has 10 Tips for better Organizational Communication. And may soon know how to moderate trackbacks.

Tom McMahon has a good example of poor management.

The Wall Street Journal article is available by subscription.

Managing Management Timetm: Tips

March 29, 2007 | By | 4 Comments

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Are You Controlling Events, or

Are Events Controlling You?

This is a brief introduction to the Managing Management Time ™ Leadership Equation,


It has been said that “no manager” is an island.

Where your performance is a combination of the competencies — skills, traits and proficiencies — you bring to the job and the Organizational Molecular Support that is provided by your Boss, Peers and Staff.

In the “real world” — where most of us live most of the time! — the “demand” for this support almost always exceeds the available “supply”.

This means there is and will continue to be competition for those limited resources.


Amateurs believe they have an inherent right to the support they need.

Oncken professionals know that the support must be earned.

While the “luck element” is inescapably a factor in results, it must not be a component of the individual’s performance evaluation.


Oncken’s Third Law summarizes our strategy for dealing with the “luck element” in life, where,

Each individual must so marshal his competencies and molecular resources that he is able to:

Capitalize on good luck when it occurs (as an opportunist),

Reach his objectives as planned when luck is neutral, and

Exercise maximum damage control (as a troubleshooter) when bad luck occurs.


While the “luck element” is inescapably a factor in results, it must not be a component of the individual’s performance evaluation.

Oncken’s Fourth Law warns that:

If you want to build a culture characterized by creativity, effective execution and high morale, your people must only be evaluated (and thus rewarded or reprimanded) for what they can control or influence, and NOT for the ‘luck element’ in their jobs.

This requires that “Criteria” be established against which performance will be evaluated, irrespective of the results achieved. “Criteria”, as used here, are NOT, themselves, shorter term goals and objectives.


If we had to reduce the mission statement or vision statement of any manager or leader to only two words, it would be to:

Control Events.

Simply stated, if we are not controlling events, then they will be controlling us.

To even have a shot at controlling events, it presupposes the ability to simultaneously do three (3!) things:

1) Anticipate critical future events which impact on the organization.

2) Be flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances in the present.

3) Be able to learn from past experiences (both our own and those of others).

Your Business Blogger(r)

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Managing Management Time ™ is the intellectual property of The William Oncken Company and is protected and can be reproduced only with the permission of The William Oncken Company.


Cross Post at Management Training. Please email me for comments or questions.

The Lie: A Guide to Fibbing in the Job Interview

September 16, 2006 | By | One Comment



Sculpture by

Gianlorenzo Bernini

1652 An ancient Jewish Proverb goes He that covers his sins shall not prosper. There seems to be a disturbing trend that hiring managers are facing: job candidates who lie.

Director Mitch, The Window Manager, one of the best business blogs in the business, had a reader in a job interview with a dilemma:

How should a job candidate handle embarrassing, possibly unethical questions from a hiring authority?

He gives three interesting options. “I see the hiring process as a battle with HR and will use any means, fair or unfair, to trip them up,” says Mitch. That’s because he views questions about why any employee who left a previous job as “unethical” to begin with. So Mitch asserts that an unethical question does not deserve an ethical answer.

Your Business Blogger is not so sure.

I once asked my favorite management guru, Bill Oncken, about the challenge of dealing with supervisors who cross ethical lines from right to wrong. His wise advice was to separate, or fire, or not hire, or run away from any hint of a lack of character.

Only deal with people with integrity, says Oncken; who is filthy rich and never married with no hungry kids who need shoes and private schools. (His hobby is skydiving — out of boredom, I believe.)

But as the Window Manager outlines, sometimes you really, really need the job.

We’ve all been there. Sometimes we rationalize that “. . .the HR kumquat is a jerk who didn’t ask a fair question, or a legal question, . . . and no one will ever find out if there’s fudging on the job application. Evil deserves contempt. (Anti) Personnel departments don’t actually add value to a company, anyway.” Or so the thought goes.

When faced with an unethical boss or an unethical hiring manager, Bill Oncken, author of Managing Management Time, suggests leaving immediately. Even when the hit hurts your wallet.

“Sometimes,” Oncken says, “You have to finance your integrity.”

And this requires monetary as well as emotional maturity that not all of us possess.

I would not recommend lying as a response to any question, no matter how awful or illegal the interrogation. But Mitch does suggest humor or a superlative as a possible way out of troubling questions. As in “I took time off to train for my ascent of Everest.” Or something like that.

Humor is a dodge that Your Business Blogger used to use. My heartfelt response to questions about my misspent youth is, I’m not responsible for anything that happened during the Nixon Administration.

If humor or deflection does not work — that last sentence never worked for me — brutal truth might be necessary.

Years ago, I was once fired by a company – twice – in the same month, both times by fax, the insulting medium of the day. I would always reveal this firing whenever asked. I would explain that it was the dangerous downside of working for thinly capitalized companies in trouble. And my explanation had the added benefit of being true.

I would always get the hard stuff out of the way soonest. I would put it all on the table. Just as sales pro’s know: Whoever raises the objection, owns the objection. And get the “no’s” out early.

On my hiring travels as interviewer and –ee, I’ve learned that there are two kinds of problems: big and small.

Many small problems perhaps can be side-stepped – without being untruthful, like my little incident deep in North Carolina. (Hint: Never throw drink bottles from a ’57 Chevy at high speed.)

Early in my career, whenever that “Were you ever arrested?” silly question would come up, I would always write in NA. Drag racing on the interstate highway system was truly “Not Applicable” to the entry level sales job I was hunting. And if any explanation was required, I wanted to do it in person, rather than be eliminated by rote in HR. A face-to-face sales presentation has the highest close rate.

Fortunately, I don’t have big problems, like a felony conviction, but the terminations come close. I have been fired more times than any single reader of this reputable blog. Goodness, I’ll bet I’ve been fired more than ALL you readers combined, including Rush Limbaugh.

But there is hope for big problems on this side of eternity: Find a Friend. Any real position or client these days will be 1) A created position, 2) In high technology and 3) With someone you know.

Clients and projects and employment come these days through a network of friends and contacts. Who love you.

Like I do.

And that’s no lie.

To thine own self be true,

and it must follow,

as the night the day,

thou canst not then be false to any man. Shakespeare.

So. When to lie? Let slip a little fib?


Don’t bear false witness — even about yourself.


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Thank you (foot)notes:

It is not known if Rush Limbaugh actually reads this blog.

The Leadership of Managing Time

October 29, 2005 | By | 4 Comments


Roger NadeauBeethoven once said, “Man has no nobler or more valuable possession than time…” Your Business Blogger was reminded of this yesterday. Major General Roger A. Nadeau gave a briefing on his portfolio to business leaders. I asked him his greatest challenge in running a large organization:

Managing time. The time to put resources to where my people need them — or me…My office is BWI Airport.

Nadeau is the Commanding General, U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command. Nadeau runs, or today, flys to the sound of the guns. General Nadeau was an Armor Officer, before general’s stars removed branch designations.

He manages by ‘walking (or flying) around.’ What was impressive was not his modeling the Army’s new stylish combat fatigues, pictured above. It was his emphasis on generating discretionary management time to visit, to counsel, to lead, face-to-face. He manages to make time to do this. He commands and controls his own time.


Ludwig van Beethoven by

Joseph Karl Stieler (1820)Beethoven’s quote continues, “…never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.” The Army gets it right: Proper management of time can give anyone more of the music of this “valuable possession.”

This is your most valuable asset: discretionary time.

Bookmark this site to learn more on getting these time skills.


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Thank you (foot)notes:

Mudville Gazette has Open Post.

Common Sense Runs Wild has trackbacks.