Best Business Advice Blog: “Ask a Manager,” by Alison Greene

Alison Green

Writing since 2009, Alison Greene has now become the business world’s foremost advice columnist.  Every week I look forward to receiving her email with all the new questions and updates, with extensive reader discussions.  Her column is my very favorite business website.  Whether you are in business, in education, a parent, or a student or friend to others, you should be reading her entertaining website.

Through reading her column regularly, I realized that most problems in the workplace are actually PEOPLE problems. People at every level are just stumped and shocked at the behavior of other employees, bosses, and subordinates.  It usually seems to be a case of various people pursuing their own secret, private goals at the expense of their co-workers or the company.  Topics and Archives and Questions can be searched in the site menu.

Alison also writes a regular blog, called Ask a Manager, where she writes articles responding to various questions.

Alison started working in non-profits as a way to make a difference, and then started writing, and moving into communications and editing.  Soon, she ended up in a management position and discovered that “it gives you the power to run things the way they should be run.”  In her job as a hiring and staff development manager, she saw others making mistakes in the hiring process every day, as well as many work and career mistakes along the way.

In 2009, Alison decided to start a blog as a way to help those people through sharing her workplace knowledge.  Soon, her blog turned into a question-and-answer format, where she began answering questions for readers on all of those topics.  After a couple of years, she quit her job and went into consulting and blogging full-time.

Alison feels she’s able to use common sense to answer people because she’s an outsider, who is not emotionally involved in the situations.  She says it’s hard when it’s your own situation, or when you are the bystander who is hearing the situation directly from  a friend, relative, or co-worker.

A FEW OF MY FAVORITE SAMPLE QUESTIONS WHICH ALISON ANSWERS:

My co-worker is a terrible driver, and I have to ride with him on work trips!

My child-free co-workers constantly complain about people with children

My co-worker rejects any ideas that aren’t her own, and then suggests them herself

Everyone in my office works when they’re on vacation

My co-worker keeps pushing junk food on me

My co-workers keep trying to find out what my chronic illness is

Someone spends an hour a day putting on makeup in our shared bathroom

Can I ask co-workers to use deodorant?

My boss follows me into the bathroom to talk about work

A FEW SNIPPETS OF ALISON’S GENERAL MANAGEMENT ADVICE:

–Taken from an interview with Alison Greene (2016)

ON MOVING INTO MANAGEMENT:

“Moving into management is a difficult transition for most people.  It requires a different skill set than being good at your previous job (which is most likely why you were promoted).  All good managers are bad in the beginning.  What does it mean to exercise your authority in an appropriate way?  People usually do one of two things in the beginning.  They go WAY too far down the authoritarian path, and become a tyrant or a jerk; or, they are sort of a pushover, where decisions don’t get made, and problems don’t get addressed.  In the first year, people struggle to find the right balance.”

MANAGING AS A WAY OF GETTING THINGS DONE:

When hiring a manager, Alison always asks them in the interview what they think is the fundamental job of a manager.   “While making money for the company and developing your staff to their fullest potential ARE important, the fundamental job of the manager is actually TO GET THINGS DONE, both right now, and over the long term.  A poor manager could do all the work themselves, or work their staff around-the-clock, but this would only produce short-term results; you would not be getting the results in the long-term.  You, and your staff would be burned out; you wouldn’t be able to attract and retain good staff members.  So, good management practices are really about what kinds of results you’re going to get in the long term.  The reason for staff development is to get better results in the long term.”

ALISON’S ADVICE TO THOSE JUST STARTING OUT AS A MANAGER:

“Be really deliberate and think carefully rather than trying ‘to wing it by the seat of your pants.’  It takes focus to sit down and think, ‘What kind of performance do I expect from this person after the first month, the first quarter, the first year?  What kind of training to they need to be able to meet those expectations?  What will the challenges be, and how can we work around that?  What will my role be?  What are the systems we need to have in place to support this?’  There are always higher priorities you need to deal with in day-to-day work. But if you don’t sit down and plan this out, it will hold you back from achieving what you might be able to.”

HOW TO HAVE DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS WITH EMPLOYEES:

“No one wants to have tough conversations!  None of us are good at, or trained in, sitting people down and saying that they’re not measuring up to what we need. It comes down to just being honest, straightforward, and direct with people.  Twenty-five percent of management problems would be solved if managers would just find a way to take the thoughts they have in their head, and get them verbalized.  It’s not just tough feedback, it’s also delegating work.  Many managers delegate work without fully sharing THE VISION THEY HAVE IN THEIR OWN HEAD FOR THAT PROJECT.  The staff member turns the finished work in, and the manager is befuddled, wondering why that work product isn’t anything like what he or she was picturing.  It happens because so many people are so bad at getting those thoughts out of their head, and verbalizing them to the other person.”

Everything Alison writes is highly enjoyable, and if you are not reading her columns, you should be!  No matter what field you are in–business, education, parenting, or even being a student or friend of others, this column has interesting and useful advice for all.

 

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