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Rudra Pandey


Smart Engineers and Dumb Managers

“Why the hell do I need a manager? I can do my job. I do not need to be managed. Let me know what the heck I need to do, and I can get it done. I am tired of taking bullshit from a manager who has no idea how I get things done. And why do I need to hear from a person who failed to innovate as an engineer and jumped to a business school to get an MBA?” I hear this all the time. This is a real and strong sentiment from many of the people I work with. I am amazed by the number of people who share their frustration with me. I do listen to them with an immense interest and I am humbled that people working for me consider me as one of them. We are all frustrated with dumb managers and our job becomes monotonous when we are over-managed, mismanaged or micro-managed. We appreciate minimal management, but, we are ready to accept counseling from a manager when it comes with a flavor of respect and kindness. In other words, we all look up to direction if it comes as a suggestion rather than as an order. By human nature, people hate to be told what to do. This kind of commanding makes us feel an inferiority complex. People love to feel like they work not because they are required to, rather because they want to do so. Lately, this issue of smart engineers versus dumb managers has intrigued me further. I am wondering whether an organization can be created where everyone is self-directed, self-motivated and self-managed. Can we have an organization where we have a very thin layer of management which does nothing but solve our problems and help us get the work done? I mean, a management system we work with, rather than one we work for.

I do not have a cookie-cutter answer to this query. However, I have come across an approach established in the great organization called Google. Google has created such an organization and is still doing so! (http://dondodge.typepad.com/the_next_big_thing/2010/01/how-google-sets-goals-and-measures-success.html.) I am impressed by Google’s innovativeness despite the fact that it employs thousands. They have not only fast paced R&D, but they amaze all of us with their ingenious approach to marketing and product pricing. Google does it by challenging every employee with impossible goals and rewarding those who meet or even beat those impossible milestones. Other organizations can learn from Google’s method. I think Google-style goal setting approach will help other organizations keep the entrepreneurial spirit and generate excitement among employees by giving them the opportunity to win. With the promise of reward and recognition at the end of the tunnel, employees will work tirelessly towards a set goal. Many organizations do not have the discipline to work with goals. Managers are too lazy to oversee the setting and monitoring of goals. They distance themselves from their employees, and sit back, singing the old song of “team play and team winning.” I like the approach of team winning, but organizations have started to overplay the team game because it is an obvious approach. We are not obliged to reward specific hard-working people when we say “team win” and do not recognize any one employee. Within a team, not everyone has a .350 batting average; there are those with a .150 batting average as well. Warren Buffett, the American Investment Guru, always takes pride in rewarding .350 batting average persons with much a richer compensation package than those with a .150 batting average. He does not reward employees based on team’s average. What we must understand is: Individual performances count significantly in team play! Why is Kobe Bryant getting paid 10 to 20 times more than his average team member? Kobe is not a manager. You should not have to be a manager to get paid high. You can be a member of a team and still can get paid five times higher than your next team member and sometime higher than the manager. With proper goal setting, clear measurement criteria and reward protocol, we can make an organization very exciting and make it work on auto-pilot mode. The management formula many traditional organizations follow these days have failed miserably because they have failed to motivate employees. So, these organizations will not move forward because such unmotivated employees will not yield newfangled products and services. When was the last time AT&T or IBM came up with a path breaking idea? Or even Microsoft? These companies have lost the war with their own employees. Many other organizations have been following the likes of IBM and Microsoft. People have a saying: “You do not get fired buying IBM.” But, they do not know what goes on inside IBM.
In a goal oriented organization, a manager’s work is just to create goals and work with the team(s) to help them achieve. The goal pushes employees, giving them a hunger to reach and keeping them awake into the night. In makes them work weekends and evenings. However, easy goals do not keep us challenged and motivated. For example, for trekkers, a daily goal of doing the Kathmandu- Nagarkot hike may not excite them as much as a weekly goal of trekking to Mount Everest Base Camp. The best organizations have smart managers who set near impossible destinations for their smart engineers. In such a management system, an employee will work away, not complaining about the antics of their dumb manager.
That’s why I say “set the goal and kick the ball.”