A colleague recently asked my opinion about a website he had built for his office. He was a writer and organizer by trade, and had been asked to build this site using Microsoft SharePoint 2010 to facilitate online interaction in the office. But it wasn’t having the intended result — no one wanted to use it. I offered to meet with him to try and understand why.
His website just wasn’t good, I said. The layout was confusing and the features chaotic. Who was it intended for? I asked. What were they supposed to do with it? “Lots of things,” he said, and listed a variety of features the website had to offer. But where were they supposed to start? I continued. Where should they focus? What should they expect to get from using it? The more I drilled down, the more difficult it was for him to answer. By the end of our conversation, he realized he had to redo the entire project.
Similarly, another coworker I knew, trained in journalism, had been tasked with writing a marketing blurb for our organization’s new recruitment web page. I knew from previous work of hers that she was a very good and engaging writer. But the short blurb that she wrote came off as the opposite — it was terribly unpersuasive. We couldn’t use it, and I had to re-write it.
Both of these employees were very talented and accomplished individuals that had been assigned new tasks, but had failed to accomplish their supervisors’ goals, even though they each had the fundamental skills and knowledge needed to succeed. What went wrong?
To help them understand the disconnect, I asked each of them to talk to me about a professional accomplishment of theirs, and to walk me through the creative process they used to do it. They each gave me very detailed answers describing their methodology, planning structure, best practices, and the theories they employed to get the intended result. Then I asked them about the creative process they had used for their failed assignments. Which was, basically, none. I knew that the creative processes they had used before were very similar to the best practices for their new tasks — So if this process had worked for you before, I asked, why not use them here?
They admitted that they had thought that these other disciplines — marketing and web design — were easy, and required very little thought or effort, so that’s what they gave it. Unlike their primary disciplines, which they put a tremendous amount of rigor into practicing, they had failed to appreciate these new disciplines, and it showed.
Often in management, you have to stretch your skills and the skills of your team to accomplish the mission. In the short run, it can give you the flexibility you need to meet project deadlines. And over the long run, it gives you deeper insight and appreciation of other skills, which helps you to identify and recruit top talent in those other skills — and in the face of heavy competition from other managers. Each of these managerial roles requires having an interdisciplinary mind — one that understands, appreciates, and at times even adopts different disciplines as needed.
That is what those employees lacked, and why they had failed. Unfortunately, I find this trait to be surprisingly common in aspiring managers. I see would-be managers who are also writers deprecate web design, web designers deprecate journalism, journalists deprecate marketing, and so on. This is very unhelpful. Each of these disciplines serves a vital role in building great products and services in government and elsewhere. Even though you may personally never wish to practice one of these disciplines, as a manager, at some point you will need many — if not all — of them to be effective. You should really learn to understand and appreciate what each has to offer, and what is the proper method for being a great writer, web designer, or marketer.
Think of it this way: Would you want to work for someone who didn’t appreciate your work?