Management Matters: Getting the Most Out of Your People

March 1, 2005
Management principles: planning, organizing, controlling and directing.

March 2005

As a manager in aviation maintenance, you probably followed the typical career path of most of your peers. You started out as a technician, progressed into some type of supervisory or group leader role and then ascended to the position of manager or director. Some of you may have been so lucky as to claim the title of vice president. As a person in a management position, I am willing to go out on a limb by saying that you deal more with people now than you did previously. Regardless of how you got there and to be an effective manager for your organization, it is important to recognize that getting the most out of your people may require different approaches on your part.

Management fundamentals

A previous Management Matters stated that the required skills of a manager differ from those of a technician. Technicians need physical and analytical skills to work on an aircraft. Technicians have extensive requirements to work with their hands and the various tools that make their jobs easier to perform. Technicians also use analytical skills to identify problems, determine their cause, and fix them.

Managers, on the other hand, will experience a shifting of required skills. They will perform tasks that require very little of the physical skills but will continue to perform tasks that require analytical skills, albeit a different type. Rather than perform troubleshooting skills, the manager might wrestle with how to accomplish a project given a certain level of resources that involve people and material. Replacing the physical skills, the manager must use more interpersonal skills because dealing with people is inherent to the manager's job.

Remember, the four principles of management are planning, organizing, controlling, and directing. When controlling and directing, the manager is dealing primarily with people. In essence, the manager is accomplishing the organization's objectives by working through the efforts of others. Therefore interpersonal skills are, by default, important to the successful manager.

A couple of other points are important for the manager to recognize. First, your organization has a limited amount of resources that it can use to accomplish its objectives. Cash is an example of an organization's limited resources. Unfortunately, cash, as we all know, does not grow on trees. An organization can only obtain cash from its operations or from third-party lending. As a result, the organization must use its cash prudently.

Another example of an organization's limited resources is its people. As we have mentioned in previous articles, people can be one of the organization's most expensive but valuable resources. The second point that managers should recognize is the organization depends upon its managers to use its people efficiently and effectively to help it reach its goals and objectives.

Unlike working with other limited resources in a maintenance organization such as an aircraft, inventory, tools, ground equipment, hangar, and other similar items, working with people is different. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending upon how one views it, each person is unique. A tool, for example, is designed with a specific task in mind and with few exceptions will perform the task over and over again. It's an inanimate object with a clearly defined purpose. People, on the other hand, have factors that make them unique. Genetics, personal experiences, and education (not necessarily formal) are factors that make each person different. Those factors affect each of us as to how we collect, process, and act upon events in our lives.

A telling experience

If there is any doubt about the uniqueness of each person, let me share an experience that convinced me of the importance of the need to recognize the differences in people and why an effective manager must learn to work with those differences.

A number of years ago, an association held an exercise for its board of directors and its various committee chairmen, which I was one. The association recognized that its directors and committees were an integral piece to the overall success of its goals and objectives. Achieving success meant the directors and chairmen had to work primarily through the talents and skills of others. In the case of the committees, the chairman had to plan, organize, and execute the committee's programs by utilizing the skills of its members. (Sounds eerily similar to the role of the manager, doesn't it?)

The purpose of the exercise was to demonstrate to those participating the importance of working with others. For the committees to reach their respective potential the participants needed to first, understand that differences existed among the committee members and second, learn how to utilize the differences. By doing so, the committee would be more effective and efficient.

Prior to the meeting at the association's facility, an independent company asked each attendee to complete an extensive questionnaire that focused on how an individual processes information. Based upon an analysis of the responses, the independent company categorized each person according to certain characteristics. Heading into the meeting, we did not know the category into which we were placed.

At the meeting an independent facilitator ran us through several scenarios. A scenario normally consisted of a problem for which the group needed to find a solution. The problems were real enough that role-playing was not required. I don't know about you, but for me, forced role-playing often ruins the effectiveness of an exercise.

For each scenario, the facilitator would select from the larger group a few individuals to participate. Unbeknownst to the participants, the facilitator was intentionally selecting individuals who did not have similar results to the questionnaire. In other words, he was replicating what many managers typically face in everyday situations. However, for one scenario, he picked similarly grouped individuals.

I won't bore you with all of the details but I will highlight what this exercise illustrated. This exercise was one of those the-lights-got-turned-on events. I suddenly understood something I'd never realized before. If any of you ever have the opportunity to participate in one of these events, even though you may be skeptical going into it, do it. As a manager, it's a must.

What was observed?

  • People really are different! I know it's obvious. However, it's easy to overlook this point because it is so basic and once you've been through an exercise like this one, it's easy to forget how you viewed things prior to participating in it. Individuals receive, process, and express ideas, information, or solutions in a variety of ways.

    Each group that was selected to address a scenario consisted of about six to eight individuals. However, even within each small group, the differences were quite evident and I could group them into specific types of individuals.

    One type was the hard chargers. They heard the problem that faced them and with little discussion or regard for the others in the group, they were ready to implement a solution, even though ultimately it is not the best one. A second type was more methodical. They would discuss many of the scenario's variables, analyze the effects of their solutions, and then eventually might or might not reach a final solution. The third type, and it was truly amazing, drifted to who knows where. Their discussions moved among various subjects, most not focused on the specific scenario, and the solutions reached, if any or if on the right subject, were rare.

    Keep in mind these dynamics surfaced within a small group and in a relatively short period of time, about 10 to 20 minutes. Also remember that each of these individuals were directors or committee chairmen, a group that I would have expected to be more homogeneous.

    As obvious as it might seem, you must accept the fact that people are different whether in your personal or professional life. It will make many of your frustrations go away plus, you will become more effective when working with others.

  • When placed in a group situation, individuals will interact with each other in different ways. Some become much quieter while others don't know when to be quiet. Extroverted behavior does not necessarily translate into better solutions. Getting introverts to speak up can be a challenge but may be well worth it.

  • Compromise is sometimes the best solution. Because people are different, not everyone will agree on one solution. Just look at how our political system works. As a matter of fact, is there really only one answer? In the majority of situations, probably not. As a manager, it is your responsibility to weigh the feedback that you have received and select the solution that is best for your organization. You are in the position that gives you the best perspective. Variables that may be outside the scope of your employees' points of view may ultimately affect what you reach as a final solution. For example, suggested solutions may require a great deal of cash. You may realize that the company will not support a decision that involves spending, so you either justify the benefits of the solution or find an alternative.

  • Time is a reality that affects solutions. The time that is available to devise or actually implement a solution may prevent the solution from being ideal. Remember the second group from the earlier group dynamic example? They were the more deliberate group that would think through a situation by carefully weighing the alternatives. In an ideal situation, they would probably create the best, most well-thought-out solution. However, reality often prevents this from occurring. In a situation where quick decisions are required, perhaps the hard chargers offer a more timely solution.

  • Communication is critical. When you are working with others, communication is critical. No one can read your mind. Whether the communication is written or spoken, it has to occur. The groups in the scenarios that had primarily introverted personalities had a difficult time functioning. Individually they were coming up with solutions but as a group they were ineffective.

    As a manager, you will not always be required to work with a group but you will be required to communicate with individuals. The scenarios illustrated individuals working as a group. You will probably work more extensively with individuals one on one. Each person will have strengths and weaknesses in different areas. The differences among individuals mean that managers shouldn't communicate with each employee in the same way. One style may work with one employee, while the same method has the opposite effect on another.

  • Too much of one thing is not necessarily good. Although a natural reaction is to place people with similar traits together, to make things go more smoothly or make the headaches go away for you as a manager, this is not necessarily the case. Using an extreme example, can you imagine the solutions the "drifters" would suggest if they all worked together? In sports, some of the best teams have had some of the most contentious relationships. I'm not suggesting that contentious relationships are the answer, but obviously these teams didn't have players with similar personalities. Yet even with their differences they were able to focus on the primary goals and objectives and be successful.

    Behind each of these successful teams was a clever manager. The manager knew how to get the most out of the people that worked for and with him. If interviewed, the manager would probably acknowledge the importance of recognizing the different personalities and skills that each player possessed.

    For some, this skill of recognizing the differences and working through others comes naturally, while for others it comes with a struggle. Recognize where you are on the scale and take the steps that will lead you to becoming a more successful manager. But if you don't do anything else, recognize that people are different. If you will do so, you may be surprised how the rest of the skills come more easily.