Blogger’s note: This is the fifth and final installment in a series of posts describing my experiences at the Academy of Management’s (AOM) 2016 Annual meeting in Anaheim, CA (August 5-9). To see the other posts in this series, please click on the respective links – #1: Images of Organization (a short video), #2: FAQs, #3: The disruptor’s dilemma, and #4: Melissa.
Last week I told you about Melissa.
As you may recall, she was one of just two people I talked to/interviewed a few weeks ago at 2016 Academy of Management Annual Meeting in Anaheim who I felt had something interesting to say about the nature of good management, and how to organize and manage a for-profit business.
This week, it’s Joyce’s turn.
Joyce, however, is unlike pretty much everyone else I met at the conference. For starters, she was in no way affiliated with broader academic management community for whom this conference was intended. That is to say, she is not a tenured professor of management, nor a management consultant. She is not even a aspiring a management scholar, nor is she employed by a publisher, university, or research services organization for management professionals. And she’s not a management coach, guru…or even a blogger.
Nevertheless, what she shared with me about managing—or rather mismanagement—was far more insightful than anyone else to whom I spoke. Furthermore, the pearl of wisdom she delivered wasn’t conferred upon me in the course of a lecture, presentation, round-table discussion, nor through a workshop. In fact, it was just an offhand remark—a question, actually—she made to me in casual conversation.
So just who is Joyce, you might ask, and what did she have to say..?
We don’t start serving until 10:15…
I met Joyce on Day 3 of the five day conference, although I’m not entirely sure, to be honest. I do however remember what time it was almost down to the minute.
It was 10:10, give or take a few ticks of the clock.
I know this because each morning, from 10:15 to 10:45 am, refreshments were served to conference-goers in the main Exhibition Hall, which is where my booth was located, and where I spent the bulk of my time while in Anaheim. So everyday, at about 10 o’clock, the convention center’s catering team would roll in their carts filled with beverages and food, and start setting up for it.
My booth (#108), as it turned out, faced one of these coffee, tea, and pastry stations so I had a front-row seat for their preparations. (For a glimpse of the view from this booth, check out my video post from the meeting, Images of Organization.) After the coffee urns, rolls, and other food were set up and ready to go—usually by about 10:10—this same catering team would then spend the next several minutes fending off caffeine-starved/low blood sugar conference attendees until the designated time of 10:15. (Just why this was so important remains unclear to me.)
That’s right – you guessed it.
Joyce was one or the people charged with setting-up and re-stocking the coffee, tea, juices, croissants, bagels, etc. at this particular refreshment station.
I learned her name from the badge she wore. We started chatting, and I soon found out that she’d been employed by the Anaheim Convention Center as part of their catering service for several years. It was a good job, she assured me. The pay was decent (union), and she enjoyed the work. Especially meeting new people.
Joyce also told me a little about her family. She’d had six kids (three by the time she was 18) and all told, they’d given her a total 25 grandkids (only one boy, though). They in turn had blessed her with 13 great-grandchildren…and counting. It was a lot sometimes, she said, but she loved it. One of those great grand-kids, Joyce confided to me, was concerned by the fact that she was still working at her age because of her limp (something I hadn’t noticed).
“But I try to tell her,” Joyce added, “doing this work keeps me active! My leg doesn’t cause me any pain…it just looks like it does sometimes.”
I asked her about her impressions of the conference relative to other events held at the convention center, and she said she didn’t know what to make of it. There sure seemed to be a lot of books, she observed – which prompted her to tell me how much she liked reading. “I’ll pick up and read a book about anything,” she exclaimed. “That’s how much I enjoy it.”
“Really? Read any good books on managing..?” I ventured.
But she’d misunderstood me. “Good books?” she replied. “Oh, I really enjoyed Gone with the Wind. That’s one of my favorites.”
[At this point in our conversation I made a mental note to try to grab a few freebies for her later in the week. On the last day of conferences like these, publishers will often give away their books instead of paying to ship them back. But in the end I didn’t have time and missed my chance. Nor did I see Joyce again anyway, though. Either she wasn’t scheduled through the end of the week, or she’d been assigned somewhere else in the convention center.]
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
As I said, it had to have been almost precisely 10:10 am when Joyce made what was, in my opinion, the most astute observation I’d heard the entire week. I’d just introduced myself, and after exchanging pleasantries (and watching one of her co-workers shoo someone away from the muffins), I asked her what she thought of her own manager, and management in general at the convention center.
She paused. And then, with just the tiniest hint of frustration in her voice—notable because it was the only time during our entire conversation that Joyce seemed anything but outwardly positive, or generally upbeat—she replied. “You know,” she said, “sometimes they talk to me like I’m still in high school.”
Then she turned to me, and asked:
“Can bosses be insubordinate?”
For those of you who have been following my blog, I guess this is sort of a spoiler alert.
You see, what Joyce summed up with her question/observation is the essentially the main thesis of my blog. It’s what I’ve leading up to (or perhaps dancing around) for some time now.
- In Why your boss probably sucks, I argued that “If your boss sucks, it’s because he or she doesn’t listen to you. Simple as that.”
- In There are three kinds of people, I made the claim that “…the one thing we think we know about good management…is wrong.”
- In A very short post…, I insisted that “Your boss isn’t really your boss.”
- In Charles Koch would like the world to buy his book, I professed “A manager’s job isn’t to tell employees what to do… It’s really the other way around.”
- And then last week, I argued “…we all accept as de facto truth that employees must listen to their boss… [But] what if that wasn’t true?”
Now, however, I think it’s time to just come out and say it.
The job of management is to listen to those they manage—and then do what they tell them to—not the other way around. Managers should consider themselves as “reporting to” their employees, not vice versa. This means that your company’s organization chart (if it has one) is effectively upside-down.
I know – either you’re skeptical, or you think I’m speaking metaphorically. What makes you say that?, you’re probably wondering. “Subordinates” in charge of their “supervisors”? How is this even possible?
Believe me, I get it.
But bear in mind that this is not just something I believe, or simply wish were true. Nor is it my opinion, or how I think things “should” be done.
This is something I can prove.
So stay tuned for answers/rebuttals to these, and all of your questions/objections. You can do this by continuing to follow my “Timeless Tirades” posts, which are written as a sort of series. (Start with “Why your boss probably sucks.”) In these posts I’ll be explaining more of what I mean by all of this, and in turn what it means for you, your organization, and your manager (if you’re not a manager yourself).
But back to Joyce’s question: Is it possible for a boss to be insubordinate?
Well, not only is it possible, it happens all the time.
For instance, any circumstance wherein you, as an employee, find yourself being told what to do by your manager, as opposed to the other way around, your manager is being insubordinate. On those occasions when he or she refuses to listen to you, or rejects out-of–hand what you have to say in favor of whatever he or she has in mind, your manager is being insubordinate.
Your boss is even being insubordinate when he or she makes a decision that you haven’t signed off on – particularly if it affects you and/or your ability to do your job.
So Joyce’s question really sums it all up. “Bad management” is what happens when bosses try to tell their employees what to do. “Good management” can only happen when managers listen to their employees, and then do their best to follow those directives.
And so after just a moment’s pause, I turned to Joyce and answered:
Alright, that’s it for my recap of the AOM’s 2016 Annual Meeting. Next week it’s back to my usual mix of posts. Be sure to look for the next installment in my “Timeless Tirades” in a couple weeks…