Friday, May 21, 2010

Another Book Review

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU BECOME THE BOSS: HOW NEW MANAGERS BECOME SUCCESSFUL MANAGERS

Bob Selden

Macmillan 2008

A BOOK REVIEW BY DHRUVA TRIVEDY*

It would not be a sin if someone rechristens the book as, ‘A Handbook for Managers’ and when the word Managers is being used here, no exceptions are made. Bob Selden has simplified jargonistic messages that have been attempted to be communicated to Managers over the last so many years ever since ‘change’, ‘competition’ and ‘leadership’ have been the keywords in subjects of discussions in all forums and platforms. It would be worth an apology to state, “No! This book is NOT meant for ‘new’ Managers but for ‘all’ Managers!” Every message in the book has been appended with an introspective checklist or an exercise, so that the message is not only understood but also entrenched into the mindset of every practising Manager, who reads the book.

While distinguishing between who is a leader and who is a manager, Bob has not followed ‘the run of the mill’ understanding that the two roles were distinct, but has endeavoured to portray that both roles were complementary. Bob has covered most of the HR processes that any Manager is needed to perform, keeping in mind the philosophy that HR was primarily the responsibility of Line Managers, indoctrinated way back in the 90’s by Ulrich and his contemporaries. The bandwidth ranges right from selection of new recruits to formidable appraisals. At the end of each process described, the author finds his rich consultancy experience, an enabler, to provide case-studies and questionnaires to ‘soul-search’ the learning the reader has had. The book also entails all the essential formulae for bettering one’s attitude or skills to become an excellent boss/manager in each of the processes.

In addition, the tools that every Manager should be using, such as the elementary forms of managing on the one hand viz., decision-making, delegating etc., and coaching, conducting meetings, mentoring, self management – emphasising the need for controlled emotions, proper time management and developing self and team-mates [while considering the contemporary professional-cum-academic notes and models (for instance the ‘grow model’) that have become popular] on the other, are nothing new in the management world, but how many Managers have been tempted to read about them? Bob has said it all with no purported special appeal, yet the tabulated questions/problems with their corresponding answers/solutions have a lot, not only to display, but espouse anyone to attempt finding semblance to one’s own work situation and to find the gaps in one’s own answers. In today’s environment when every action or behaviour is addressed through metrics, it becomes imperative and tempting for most Managers to ‘give them a try’.

The book stands out as an extraordinary documentation of contemporary intellectual potions, theories and models that have been converted to usable instruments for the practising Manager, while making no exception. In today’s environment of information flow gushing in from all ends, the practising Manager finds oneself at a loss to focus on what needs to be sieved in and what needs to be discarded. The sources are many, the print media, the television-radio combine, the journals and newsletters published by different professional bodies and of course the volley that comes through the internet. The Manager is at crossroads and takes a beating in comprehending what directions to choose from, so many being available. ‘All in one’ is perhaps what Bob has tried to offer in the platter.

There are some critical observations too. Some of the tabulated checklists are oversimplified, while practically one has to examine much more, for a correct analysis. For example the ‘Team leader’s health check-up’ tool is good enough to give directions and clues, but certainly not a very comprehensive instrument for a leader-to-be. Again when Bob prescribes a checklist for ‘managing yourself’, it’s more of tips than finding something such as a measuring tool. The other aspect is that although these are wonderful rules of the game that have been codified, the author has nowhere suggested a rigorous practice of these rules as a follow up. It perhaps would have added immense value to Bob’s writings, if he had also put in a word at the end of the book in the form of a separate chapter, as to how his recommendations would become deeds that were put into action as a practice successfully; and here an international scenario should have been chosen. By and large the book has its settings in the U.S. and in an era of globalisation, where emerging economies such as China and India are making it big, the book turns a blind eye. Let’s not forget that human issues are culturally variant.

** Dhruva Trivedy is an alumni of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai and is a management consultant and a certified trainer based at New Delhi, working on ‘morphing’ of organisations for the last 21 years now and for almost 16 years had worked his way up the corporate ladder before he took to consulting. To know more about him visit: www.percontsi.com

Additional reading suggested:

1. “From job-based to competency based organizations” by Edward E. Lawler III, Centre for Effective Organisations, University of California

2. “Coaching For Performance: Growing People, Performance and Purpose” by Sir John Whitmore