Over the course of my career, I spent nearly 50 years in supply chain management. Each time I started a job, I found it challenging to determine what my new company expected of me as a manager. In the 1960s, when there were no computers, manufacturing managers typically rejected the implementation of procedures and disciplines and valued only expediting. By the 1970s, managers had accepted computers, but only for simple accounting functions. Computers were not trusted, so expediting remained the primary objective.
By 1980, the next generation of managers were finally embracing modern technology. It was around that time, in 1982, that I joined a new organization. Unfortunately, my first performance review indicated that I was on the wrong side of the company’s expectations. Apparently, the general consensus was that I didn’t do anything. Subordinates, peers and superiors all agreed. Despite the fact that I had trained my subordinates well and we brought our department metrics to an all-time high, people noticed that I was not stressed out and always resolving some minor disaster. So they decided I wasn’t busy enough.
My boss asked me to describe my daily routine. I told him I had none. My management style was to ensure my subordinates were following the disciplines and processes I had put in place. My only routine activity was to continually assess whether the processes and procedures themselves were still valid. My boss believed that a manager ought to personally handle more tasks, rather than delegating most everything. But my results were undeniable, so he could only advise me to change my ways. I disregarded the advice.
A year later, my department’s metrics were even more impressive. Business leaders decided to send newly promoted managers my way so they could learn my methods. My boss hated it; I was changing the expectations.
A few years later, I interviewed for a job with a supplier to the automotive industry. My second interview was with the company president, who eventually asked me to describe my management style. I knew this could kill my chances, but I decided to be straightforward: “I don’t do anything,” I began with a smile. “At least, that’s how it appears to others. I learn every process, procedure and discipline in my areas of responsibility. I teach each one to my subordinates and expect them to be followed routinely. My subordinates know to come to me if something is not right, and I fix those things. I have been very successful and would like to continue this success at your company.”
The president smiled. “You are the only candidate who has clearly described his management style,” he said. “And I agree with you: The busiest-looking managers rarely get the best results.”
I was offered the job, and on my first day at the company, the president asked me to write down the description of my management style that I had shared during my interview. He wanted to memorize it because an old boss of his had also once accused him of not doing anything.
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Randall Schaefer, CPIM, is an industrial philosopher and retired consultant. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.