Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Theory of Bright Lines


Over the last decade or so I have formulated a pragmatic approach to management that I call the theory of bright lines. I have come to believe that the best managers draw "bright lines" from their employees. By a bright line I mean they clearly define what tasks need to be done, the process for doing those tasks, and the reasons why those tasks need to be done. The vast majority of employees want to do well - I would even go so far as to say that the vast majority of people in the working world need to do well - need at a very deep psychological level that has do with the need to have the tribe acclaim the value of the individual.


Where employees fail they fail in one of two simple areas. 


First, there is innocent failure - this occurs when the individual crosses one of the lines (they either do something they should not or fail to do something they should) because the line is vague and not well defined.  When this type of failure happens it reflects poorly on both the leadership and the individual.  When this type of failure occurs for the most part both the leader and the individual can be corrected with training and instruction (with the further definition of the bright lines). 


The second type of failure is a willful failure - where the individual deliberately crosses one of the lines.  There are, of course, many motivations for this particular action or series of actions - but ultimately it comes down to a deliberate act of will on the part of the employee.  When this happens there is only one circumstance where this behavior is acceptable and that is the circumstance where the employee sincerely believes that the line is bright line is drawn incorrectly and is attempting to demonstrate the correct placement of the line.  Under those circumstances crossing that bright line is an act of innovation and courage - and if right - should be rewarded not punishment. In all other circumstances the sanction should be swift and fair, up to and including termination.


Over the years I have also come to believe in the value of "hire quick, fire quick".  I think that when you are hiring people you really can't tell with any certainty how a person is going to work out in a position, so what you do is assemble your list of qualified candidates and from that list, simply pick the one who appears to be best qualified and move them into position - and then, either they work out (in which case you saved money by shortening the hire cycle) or they don't, in which case you let them go - and you let them go as soon as you believe they won't work out.  I have come to this conclusion after years of watching other managers skirt around sub-par employees who do nothing but drag a department down - productivity wise and morale wise.

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