Monday, August 26, 2013

On management 2

The Argentine guerrilla Che Guevara wrote in his book on guerrilla warfare:

"There is nothing more important than information. Moreover, it should be in perfect order, and done well by capable personnel".

I have found, as a manager, that this is very true. Management is about making decisions, and you cannot make good decisions if you do not have good information. This being the case, the most valuable staff you can have as a manager are the staff who will tell you what they think rather than telling you what you want to hear. Getting a forthright, unfiltered opinion is essential to any manager, and the staff who will give you this are the ones you must value the most.

Some managers find those sort of people hard to manage, but I never have. I think that's because, if someone is forthright in their opinion, then it is easier to make them happy. People who keep their thoughts to themselves are harder to manage because you don't always know how to make them happy, and if someone isn't happy in their work, they won't do their job well.

It is tempting to dismiss this as "touchy-feely stuff" that doesn't have anything to do with research, but that's not true. Managing research certainly requires a good knowledge of research, and a good research background - the best managers are leaders, and leaders should lead from the front. But managing research is not really about doing research, it's about managing people. And that is where so many academic labs fall down: they are headed by someone who is very good at research, but doesn't know how to deal with people. These labs are marked by dissatisfied staff and a high staff-turnover, as people arrive, get rapidly disillusioned, and leave. The lucky ones will find a better job somewhere else, while the unlucky ones end up with their careers in ruins. As a person of conscience, I do everything I can to avoid that happening to the people I manage - to the people for whom I am responsible.

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