Friday, September 28, 2012

Richard Branson’s going to Mars. Can you manage when he’s gone?

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Branson’s at it again. Now he wants to colonize Mars. Not content with his spaceport or his fleet of space shuttles, Sir Richard is eyeing the red planet with the intention of creating a Noah’s Ark of earthlings, ready and willing to create a new population.

I don’t concern myself with the eccentricities of Mr. Branson’s twilight years in business. I care nothing for the fact that his life resembles the plot of Moonraker a little more every day. Richard Branson can colonize Mars to his heart’s content as far as I’m concerned. If he raises three generations of clone-a-like men and women with his outlook on life, then Mars will be a very successful colony indeed.

When it comes to this guy, I only want to talk about one thing – management. Not ‘leadership’, that wonderful concept that’s allowed two-a-penny executives like me to stay out of the annoying details of actual work and just tour the world patting people on the back and quoting Sun Tzu; not ‘entrepreneurialism’ which translates to convincing people to take sizable risks and then enjoying the benefits that your luck and their money deliver. No. The key for the success of the 99%, or the 47% or whatever % figure you want to use for ‘normal’ is management. Branson’s always been a great manager; that’s why the Virgin brand is such a powerhouse and it’s why he gets his own planet to play with.

Bad management is everywhere, even where you have great leaders at the top. It’s their job to make sure you all do the right things, not that you do things right.

High level strategic decisions can be blamed for the death of a lot of previously successful businesses. Borders decided to limit choice and reduce investment in local loyalty initiatives.  Blockbuster inexplicably failed to perceive the threat that the digitization of their core market was going to hold. 

Some business suicides are committed in the board room. But most are not; most failing and struggling businesses are doing the right things, they’re just not doing them right.

It was bad management that led to the 2008 financial crisis, as employees in financial institutions made decisions and took risks that should have been seen, understood and stopped by the people responsible for connecting individual behavior to the big picture.

Bad management can be blamed for everything from congested airports to long lines at the coffee shop to celebrity cash crises – because MC Hammer and Mike Tyson never had CEOs or boardrooms. But they both had managers.

From bad communication to lack of trust, disengagement, indecision, laziness and pride to poor delegation, unclear targets, weak organization and low accountability – you are never more than two rooms from a bad manager. It’s time to stop talking about leadership and strategy when it’s not appropriate. It’s time to talk about getting things done, helping other people get things done and keeping things organized, well-planned and clearly reported. It’s time to dismiss the inflated job titles and flat organizational structures that have left us all feeling buddy-buddy with the chairman and looking upward at our next shiny business card. It’s time to stop going to round tables and having lunch with consultants. It’s time to get everything out on the table, understand it and make it work better. I will no longer be ashamed to be, above anything else, a manager. A manager of people and of projects. I will manage my budget, manage my staff and manage our workload.

My name is Richard Spragg and I am a manager.

Over the next two weeks, we’re going to talk about what good management is, and between us, we’re going to make me and some of my readers better at it. 

For a fun starting point, I offer these management advice quotes from top names in business and beyond, including Sir Richard. We have a lot to learn from these people, before they all saunter off into outer space.

Post your thoughts, or your favorite pearl of management wisdom in the comments box and share it with the world.

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