The Craft of Management

This is an influencer post by Tomasz Tunguz, VC at Redpoint

A senior executive described her management philosophy as heavily influenced by Daniel Pink’s book Drive. In his 20 minute TED talk, Pink argues traditional incentive structures like bonuses and raises don’t work for knowledge workers. Instead, autonomy, mastery and purpose motivate them best.

Autonomy grants employees the flexibility to achieve their goals as they see fit. Purpose means serving a goal larger than the self. Mastery provides employees the opportunities to continuously improve their skills. Sometimes, these three principles are called APM.

ManagementPink lauds Google and Atlassian as examples of companies who provide their employees with these three motivators. In particular, both companies have at some point offered their teams 20% time to pursue projects of their choosing.

I was really curious about these ideas, because I hadn’t heard of them before this meeting. I learned critics of Pink’s theory characterize it as simplistic. After all, Google is quite well known as a generous employer, rewarding employees handsomely for performance. So motivation isn’t the entire story.

In addition, APM assumes employees’ needs are satisfied. But that may not be the case. Psychologist Frederick Herzberg developed Two Factor theory in the 1950s. Two Factor theory posits that the factors that cause employee satisfaction and the factors of the cause employee dissatisfaction differ.

Employee dissatisfaction could be caused by a lack of the right tools, an unpleasant working environment, or below-market pay. He called these hygiene factors. Correcting all of those requirements wouldn’t necessarily engender exceptional employee satisfaction. Rather, high employee satisfaction results from high motivation. That’s where APM comes in, maximizing motivation. We need both sets of needs to be satisfied.

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But things are even more nuanced yet. Google teaches its managers Situational Management which advocates different styles of management depending on the employee’s state, plotted on a 2×2 matrix of high/low motivation and high/low skill. A new employee, for example, shouldn’t necessarily be afforded total autonomy to maximize their career success.

In the end, I don’t think there is a single unifying framework to maximize management effectiveness. Great managers listen, empathize, motivate, and do many other things. it’s craft, mastered over decades and tens if not hundreds of relationships. Boiling it down to a simple framework might distill pearls of wisdom, but can never confer the benefit of experience.

The most important thing I learned from this conversation is to seek out managers who constantly reflect, learn, research and critique the best ways to cultivate their people and teams – the people who love mastering the craft.

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