Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Manager's Special - (Managing When No One Wants to Work - Final)

A unique opportunity came my way this week in the form of some assigned reading. My boss gave me a book, Managing When No One Wants to Work by Ralph Peterson. I can't recall if I raised my eyebrows, a pleading look plastered across my face, as he handed the book to me. I feel like that's how I must have reacted. I did something because he felt the need to defend it before passing it my way. Granted, I'm in no position to refuse help, of any sort, having never worked a management position before. But, for some reason, the idea of management books has never sat well with me. At least I can try to make the best of the situation by adding the surprise reading to my list. Sure, it's not exactly non-fiction but I don't want to suffer alone so I figured I'd drag you along for the ride. Don't worry, I'll try and keep it fun. 
Managing When No One Wants to Work is comprised of a series of short stories, more anecdotes really, intended to teach various lessons about managing a housekeeping department. The book was written by Ralph Peterson, an executive housekeeper, and all the stories are told from his point of view. I'm not sure what an Executive Housekeeper is, but judging from his writing at least Peterson appears to have actually worked in the field. Still, I was under the general impression that once you graduated from Housekeeping Supervisor that 'housekeeping' was dropped from the name and replaced by Environmental Services, or Department Head, or some other title that suggests you cough nervously at the mention of manual labor. I'll believe that the title actually exists but it sounds as absurd as 'Executive Truck-Driver'. As for the stories, I will admit that I found some of them potentially useful. I say 'potentially' since I haven't had a chance to test them out yet, but there are a few decent ideas buried in there. As skeptical as I can be I try and keep an open mind when reviewing new information. 

Still, management culture has never sat well with me. 'How to Manage' books have always seemed a polite way to say 'How to Manipulate and Control People in a Work Environment' and the advice is usually the same. The advice being to, essentially, look sharp and give the impression you are better than your employees but not talking to them that way. Distilling that concept even further, the idea is to look and act like a soulless automaton that is solely devoted to its work. Looking back now I know a few managers who really had that image down. Okay, yes, management is a lot more nuanced than just that; it's a job that can take a lifetime to master. At the end of the day though, the name of the game is still controlling people and a lot of that is based upon image. Which is something Managing When No One Wants to Work also focuses on. 

At 157 pages long, Managing When No One Wants to Work contains, if I recall, twenty-seven lessons in the form of stories. As I mentioned before, this is a concept that could work quite well. Unfortunately, a lot of the stories came across as quite muddled at times and, even worse, didn't offer any definitive proof that the strategies work. I will grant that some of the stories presented some common-sense strategies and some appropriate cautionary tales. Again, I did learn a few things here and there, but some of the stories were also self-defeating. Many of the stories contained stories within stories, as Ralph Peterson recalled events in which he lectured other budding managers/supervisors. Sometimes, after a story, there would be a brief post-script describing what happened months or weeks after the story. In some of the stories the managers who had been lectured still ended up quitting, even after following the advice. In one story a manager was reamed for being a poor manager only to be described as still limping along in the same position months later. During moments like those I would briefly lay the book down and stare off into space as I struggled to figure out the point of what I had just read. 

I will give Ralph Peterson some due credit for being pragmatic in some of the stories, despite some of the obvious issues in other tales. Still, even some of the better tales were marred by the author's tendency to glorify himself. In most of the tales he was the hero and he frequently lectured and critiqued other managers for their approaches without contrasting the good ideas with the bad. For the sake of fairness he didn't portray himself as without fault, and some of the stories are genuinely interesting. However, one of the other issues with Managing When No One Wants to Work is the fact that the book was obviously self-published. This is not an issue in and of itself, but the book definitely needed the help of a professional editor. The book suffered from occasional grammatical and spelling errors that were distracting and too common for such a short book. At one point a story turned unexpectedly dark when Peterson, describing his experience working in a nursing home, mentioned that he was "running out of patients and getting desperate". Only a paragraph later he described one of his coworkers as sounding "horse". All in all, the book was moderately useful, but it could have been a lot better with a little more focus and some closer attention to the editing. 

Of course, the whole book misses a very crucial issue. What I could really use is a book titled: Managing When You Don't Want to Work.

That's all for now. My regular reading/discussions should, hopefully, resume later this week. I'm currently in early pages of Exile, and because of my tendency to forget Exile at work I've also started The Briar King. So far both books seem promising and are guaranteed to be more interesting than today's selection. 

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