Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Gradient Management

Imagine you're the leader of a team of 100 people. 100 people are a lot of people. Let's pretend they are all productive sorts, and they do complete interesting thing every day. Some might write an advertisement for some new blue cheese. Another might broker a deal with the prosciutto company down the street. Someone else might re-design the packaging of cheese food slices to be more eco-friendly. Each accomplishes something, however small, every single day.

Which of these items are you aware of?  If you read an email with a single sentence every day on each task, that would be like reading 100 tweets. I can tell you - I can't find time to read 100 tweets a day - and I'd wager I'm in fewer meetings than the average manager of 100 people. And, I take 5 hours of meetings a day, easily.

Which of these would you remember? My guess is, precious few. There may be some scintillating ones among them - like the new "Blue Cheese - Not just for sad people" campaign, but I bet you don't recall that the UPC code team is now saving money on ink. Or that someone negotiated a contract for cheaper active cultures.

Now, let's pretend these 100 people aren't always independent. Sometimes they need help. So, let's say 10% have a problem once a day that needs resolution. A problem, in the best case, takes a full email to explain - and then another 15 minutes of work to resolve (that's an easy problem). That would eat up 2.5 hours of your day. I bet you don't have 2.5 hours to spare - which is why you create tiers of management.

In a typical 100 person marketing organization, I bet there are 3 tiers of management.  Tier1 manager has 4 people - so there are 20 teams of those. Tier 2 managers have 4 people, so there are 5 teams of those, and m100 (the manager of 100 people) has 5 direct reports. Great. Now m100 can read 5 tweets instead of 100 to get a status update, and he might have 1 30 minute issue to resolve every day from his team. (assuming the same ratios)

This means that m5 distills 5 bits of information and 1 issue into a single tweet. m20 distills 20 bits of information and 5 issues into a single tweet. and m100 barely has any information.

Now, it's easy to argue that m100 doesn't need to know that the UPC code people reduced the ink consumption yesterday. He just needs to know that the budget for ink next quarter will drop. But it also means he likely doesn't know about the Blue-Cheese ad campaign. Maybe he does, because he likes ads. He's never taken the online "If you're happy and you know it!" blue cheese flash adventure game. He hasn't read the new in-store recipe card, combining blue cheese with the new prosciutto alliance to produce an alarming pizza. He may know "Blue cheese is big this year. We are doing a lot around blue cheese."

And that's it.  It's not bad - if you trust your people, you shouldn't have to line edit recipe cards.

But here's the flip side. m100 gets in a room with his peers. His northeast region sales manager, who loves the new campaign. His southwest region sales manager, who complains that no one knows what blue cheese is in the southwest, and maybe we promote Monterrey jack instead? His head of R&D who tells him, from what he knows, the new pink "blue cheese" wont be out for another 6 months. And they get to thinking.

We should have more explanatory materials, telling customers how to use blue cheese!  Yes! And we should make it all fun and viral. Why don't we ever do viral things? Gosh, and don't we have partners that can help push this stuff? Why aren't we pushing blue cheese with our partners? I had dinner with the king of Paul's Prosciutto the other day, and he seemed SO on board!

Now, if you read 100 tweets from 100 people, you'd know that progress was made with Paul's company this very day. And that there's a fun new interactive online blue cheese experience which was designed to go viral. And that was just today. Tomorrow, someone's working on getting blue cheese into a fancy box of Kraft Mac-n-Cheese ("mom, this blue box is for you!") But, unless these things made it into the top-5 tweets that day, m100 and his peers wont ever know.

This exaggerates it a bit. But not a lot. Things are better if you're in the current shiniest part of the business (meanwhile, no one even knows what the pepper jack team is doing - or cares).

The lesson to be learned is:  If m100 doesn't know what you're doing, don't take it too hard.  And, if you happen to be an m100, give your teams the benefit of the doubt before firing off requests. You might be smart enough to have achieved this position - but it doesn't make you omniscient.

1 comment:

Boaz said...

If the problem is big enough, then m100 might have an XO who goes through all those status reports and has the missing pieces of information on call. Sure, it's a full-time position, and probably a boring one.

Question: would it make sense to spend that kind of money on that sort of position?