Leadership 2 – Establishing Your Own Management Style

I worked for many years in various areas of the design business – from advertising to branding, from corporate events to slide production. The styles of management that worked best seemed to respect the culture, their workforce and the environment. Those that did not, went out of business.

Case in point: one of the first jobs I had in New York City was at a slide production house. The new owner, Mr. G (not his real name), came in and bought the business lock stock and barrel. As a former executive with Otis Elevator, he felt it was high time some corporate structure was brought to the design field. Somehow he assumed that production artists and designers were not as structured as the corporate world he came from. (Perhaps the Mr. Potato Head on the 20″ monitor may have been what did it.)

Mr. Ron G would walk around the office twice a day like the commander of a ship wearing his Otis Elevator tie clip to remind us all where he came from and how powerful he used to be. Nevertheless, his twice-daily jaunts were always at the slowest times of production but at the peak time for sales calls. Work would slow down as his Australian accent pierced the office and he forced everyone to listen to his tales from the “real” corporate world. His opinion was forged by what he saw from us when on these walks. To him, we weren’t working very hard. And we weren’t…we were talking to him!

Since he never integrated himself into the company culture, he never found out that every 8:00 AM shift change was filled with mounds of paper work, double tracking, and a check list that only the CIA could have invented, all for the sole purpose of keeping track of billings. Between 8:00 AM and 9:00 AM chaos reigned as messengers arrived to whisk the slides to their destinations. This was long before Power Point and Macintosh. Slides were produced on a Genigraphics machine, and the night shifts’ hard work was rushed to most clients’ desks by 9:30 AM.

Where was Mr. G during all this chaos? In his office with the door closed only 50 feet away from the production station. I guess he was strategizing his big walk.

The second time everything heated up was at around 4:00 PM when production prepared to pass the day shift production over to the night shift personnel. Paperwork was meticulously checked and discussed with each designer. Nothing could be left to chance. Each color had a number, each typeface, and, of course, a set of full color comps. Designed, programmed, photographed and processed for the following day.

As the year went on, Mr. G added a memo policy. With 10 day-shift employees it was really not necessary to pass a memo to the person sitting next to you. But that’s what he wanted. He never understood that the business of slide production was a multi-billion-dollar industry because he had never seen a full-scale meeting, with staging and lighting and giant sets. Slides were a tiny component of that industry and he slowly began to wonder why his company was not profitable. Because he did not respect his staff, no one helped him make the leap from production to full-scale meetings. Why bother with someone when you know they don’t appreciate the work you do? People began to show signs of insubordination out of frustration.

Mr. G began to micro-manage his company into the ground and, in a last-ditch effort to shake things up, he fired his top sales people. The company went under less than a year after I left. People were happy about it. If only he had asked his staff what was going on, they could have shown him another side of the industry. The more profitable side.

What did I learn? Here is the top three:

1) Integrate your management style with the culture you are working with. In the printing industry, yelling on the main floor is considered the norm, whereas yelling in an accounting firm would get you fired. Integration will command respect and allow you to institute changes that seem organic.

2) Never assume your staff doesn’t get it. They see more than you, because they are on the front lines everyday. Trust me, they know why there is a problem in shipping. Ask their opinion and respect it. You may see the bigger picture, but they are the ones getting their hands dirty.

3) Loosen up. We have entered a new era in business. People like to collaborate with each other both at home and at work. The norm used to be that employees tolerated each other during lame team building exercises just to make management happy. Bonding took place only at work when necessary…usually at the company Holiday Party.

Not anymore. Fortune magazine Feb. 4 2008 did a cover article on The 100 Best Companies To Work For. Today, many a workforce hangs out together, join hockey teams, go on vacations and even form rock bands. The corporation is now becoming a socially acceptable peer network were each shares in their work, hobbies and just plain fun. So lighten up…it’s the new trend. And it doesn’t hurt production, it enhances it. Imagine people getting jazzed about coming to work. Try stopping that group from being more productive.