So, you’ve just been appointed manager of a high-performing tech team. Congratulations! You are on the fast track to career success.
One of the most important skills you’ll learn as a manager is what to do when your team discovers a major issue that threatens to miss deadlines, lose customers, or Leave Money on the Table. You may be tempted into thinking, “wow, we are in a real pickle now, but I don’t understand the system or have any special skills, so I’d better hope my team can come up with a solution!” Of course, you and I both know better than that. It is completely WRONG for reasons that probably exist!
Fortunately, this is actually a very easy situation to deal with, using a scientifically proven 5-step process that is 100% guaranteed. It is actually an iterative process based loosely on the “OODA loop” popular in military strategy, which stands for: Obscure, Oversimplify, Distract, Aggravate. Here is the patented process adapted for business managers.
Step 1: Ignore the Problem
Let’s be honest, you spend 7.2 hours a day in meetings, and must use those precious breaks in between meetings to refill your coffee mug and not listen to Status Updates that you request. You don’t have time to actually read your email. All but the most incompetent managers can perform this step naturally and without effort.
But wait. You aren’t just any manager. You are a high-powered, high-efficiency, Hands-On Manager. You want to Demonstrate Value. It is not enough to simply passively ignore your email. You might see a stray subject line and become curious enough to click on it. So it is very important that you actively, militantly ignore any and all emails relating to the problem, to avoid accidentally becoming informed of any of the technical details.
While you are doing this, your team has likely already found the root cause, identified possible solutions, and estimated how long they will take to implement. Do not allow this to divert you from your primary goal of remaining completely and totally oblivious to the problem.
Step 2: Wait for an External Complaint
Sometimes you will be lucky enough to have a real, actual Customer Complaint from a real customer who, despite your crack Customer Care team’s best efforts, somehow navigated successfully through the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Voice Navigation telephone game and was able to speak to your one on-duty Human Representative. But this is not very likely. A much more reliable source of complaints is Higher-Ups, such as your Boss and your Boss’s Boss and so on, all the way up to the CEO.
If all of these people hate your product, which is often the case, you can entice them into trying it out again with the prospect of an Exciting New Feature. Yes, you’ll say, I know you hated it before, but we added a new feature! You must try it! Keep at it and eventually they will complain to you about the broken thing that your team has now been working on for 7 weeks.
Now you are in a New Situation. The problem is the same, the solutions are the same, the estimates are the same, but now you have the special sauce called Visibility, which you can transmute into Urgency using the power of Concern. As in: “I am Concerned that the CEO has started to notice that you are being productive without me, and therefore it is Urgent that I provide evidence of me doing Actual Work.”
Step 3: Call a Meeting
Both your Higher-Ups and your Minions understand intuitively that Meetings Solve Every Problem. Need to track progress? Have a Status Meeting. Need to communicate with the person who sits 2 feet away? Hold a Sync Meeting. Need to remind everyone that you are an Effective Can-Do Manager? Have a Review Meeting. Meetings are the ketchup of office work. There is nothing that they don’t make better, not even double chocolate donuts.
After several weeks of working on this exact problem, some of your subordinates may have gotten the crazy idea into their heads that they might be able to solve the problem on their own. Ha HA! Those jokers. What you need is a Discussion, so send out that invitation. For optimal results, send it out on the same day as the meeting itself, preferably no more than 2 hours in advance, and mark it as “important”.
DO NOT, under any circumstances, include an agenda or any summary of what you plan to discuss! This might allow some participants to prepare in advance, which might result in the mythical “Short Meeting” or “Early Ending”, which would leave you confused and unable to function between the end of the Discussion Meeting and your next meeting. Keep the subject line short and simple: “Discuss <PROBLEM>”
Step 4: Demand Easy Answers
Start the meeting by reviewing the short and incomprehensible report provided by the Customer, Higher-Ups, or other External Complaint. Ask your most senior members for an Explanation of the issue. At this point, some managers like to reject the Explanation and provide their own Alternate Explanation based on Clogged Pipes, Cosmic Rays, or Demonic Possession. You can adjust this to your preferences. Your version will be proven wrong, but the objective here is not to demonstrate knowledge, only to extend the duration of the meeting.
Once your team reaffirms the root cause and explains the solutions they are looking into, begin to make subtle suggestions that their solutions are ineffective, too complicated, or too time-consuming. For example: “I am worried that by the time this solution is implemented, everyone will have forgotten my contribution in the form of Taking Sixty Minutes out of your Day by having this meeting.”
Be creative with your criticism. Make sure to say prioritize and urgency a lot. Also try using synonyms like Triage and Stack Rank. If the meeting is progressing too quickly, ask the team to “deprioritize” some tasks that all of the other tasks obviously depend on, then watch as hilarity ensues. But most importantly, you’ll want to express deep concern that the solution could Take Too Long. Continue hammering the point, until the meeting is over, that there must surely be a Faster Way or an Easier Way and that if only Someone Other Than You could be a little more creative or clever, it could be done in 1/10th of the estimated time.
Step 5: Hover Over Team Members
You may have time to do this in-between meetings. However, in this one and only instance, you may have to cancel an existing meeting in order to perform this task.
Your mission is to Help the various people on your team until they give you a clear sign that they Understand and Appreciate Your Help, such as by saying “thank you” or killing themselves by jumping out a window or, for first-floor offices, drowning themselves in a restroom stall.
There are many techniques for doing this and it all comes down to your personal style. However, my personal favorite is the Helicopter Technique, wherein you pop up out of nowhere, run around from person to person looking very Concerned and Sympathetic, and eventually decide to sit next to the one who appears to be concentrating the hardest. I like to follow the Helicopter Technique with the Furious Tapping Technique, wherein I move the mouse and click things at an estimated rate of 28 times for second, periodically remarking on things I see on the screen, such as: “Hmm, is that thing over there supposed to do that?” or: “Does it bother you that I was picking my nose before I took hold of your pointing device?”
Eventually, after a few days of hovering, your team will start to become unproductive and stressed. Your work is now done, and you can resume your normal regimen of meetings or better yet, take a vacation.
You have successfully Demonstrated Value in a time of Crisis while under Extreme Pressure. Top executives will have noted your Proactive Approach and Leading By Example. Keep it up, and you might soon be Director or even Vice President!
I hope this guide helps jumpstart your career in management. Good luck, and remember: Your team needs you!