Fri | Nov 24, 2017

Francis Wade | Makers versus managers

Published:Sunday | October 22, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Newly promoted managers sometimes become obstacles to people with good ideas.

Often, they do not realise that their elevation to management puts them in a different world, with a new way of allocating time that interferes with the productivity of their best employees.

A few years ago, an investor by the name of Paul Graham wrote an article arguing that there are two different kinds of schedules professionals make. In his 2009 post entitled "Maker's Schedule, Manager's Schedule", he described a shift that takes place when people who have technical or artistic expertise are promoted into managerial positions.

They start attending lots of meetings, tackling one issue after another. Their 'manager's schedules' are marked by sharp switches from one topic to another, in a fairly unplanned, random manner. These schedules are ideal for people whose jobs involve putting out fires.

Unfortunately, managers often forget what it was like to be a 'maker'. These employees are the ones who create new things, like computer programmes, advertising copy, or specialised customer solutions. Their job requires them to exercise creative powers on a daily basis.

By contrast, meetings are their worst enemy. When they are forced to attend them by an organisation's norms, it drags them away from their primary task: making new stuff. It ruins their productivity.

A manager may think that a single one-hour meeting in the middle of the morning or afternoon isn't too much to ask of makers. However, it actually robs them of their most valuable assets: blocks of uninterrupted time. In their world, this resource allows them to enter the magical, deep state of concentration defined by experts like Mihalyi Csikszentmihaly, Anders Ericsson, and Cal Newport.

 

KEEP THEM BUSY

 

This is a tragedy that affects every Jamaican company's productivity. After all, the goal of employing another human being is not merely to keep them busy. Instead, the best managers unleash creative power, using the following three approaches.

n Teach individuals how to guard focused time.

If you are a manager, your employees may understand what excellent work looks like and how it should be measured, but they probably don't know where it originates.

First, you need to show them that chasing around doing a manager's bidding is not enough. If such behaviour happens to be a sad fact of life in your company, then you have a much scarier problem.

Instead, teach them that working in blocks of focused time ranging from two to four hours is essential to high performance.

At the same time, warn them. The modern office does not support the maker's needs. Sadly, with modern portable devices, expectations around email responsiveness and open-seating plans, it's designed to maximise distractions. Altogether, they make you less productive.

However, the responsibility to produce results lies with makers, not their circumstances. While many motivated employees compensate by arriving very early, leaving late, telecommuting, and working on weekends, holidays, vacations, and even sick days, this is not a sustainable strategy. They must learn to cordon off blocks of focused time in the regular working day if they hope to do their job effectively.

- Get work groups involved.

As a manager, you also have the power to create policies for your team that support maker time. Simply block out times during the week when meetings are not allowed such as Monday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Now, your makers can relax knowing that none of their colleagues will interrupt them during these periods or expect them to undertake non-creative activities. This tactic allows them to be fully focused even when they are outside of blocked-out times because they know that their time slot for doing great work is already set for the near future.

- Protect employees from outside intrusions.

There's more. If you are serious about giving makers the time they need, you must buffer them from organisational pressure to disrupt their best work.

This means running interference, making sure that no one is pulling your employees into meetings that minimise their maker time. If this requires you to approve these gatherings beforehand, do it.

Until you educate the rest of the company on the difference between maker and manager time, you may just have to say no several times so that your organisation's most important objectives can be met.

If you use these three approaches, you may be able to keep your makers not only productive, but fulfilled. I have met many who quit or become deeply resigned because they cannot do their best work. Don't wait. Intervene early before their frustration builds to the point of no return and you'll no longer be an obstacle.

- Francis Wade is a management consultant and author of "Perfect Time-Based Productivity". To receive a Summary of Links to past columns, or give feedback, email: columns@fwconsulting.com