I admit it. I’m not the
world’s greatest manager. I’m not the world’s
near-greatest manager. In fact, I’m probably near
the bottom of the managerial scale. I don’t delegate
when I should. I’m more like a one-week (some might
say one weak) manager than a one-minute manager. I don’t
praise my employees enough, and I’m often too vague
when I want something done: “I think it might be good
if perhaps we maybe did X, Y and Z.”
I know all the managerial theory, I’ve got the business
degree and I’ve read all the books. I mean well, but
I just get preoccupied. Maybe I have some type of managerial
attention-deficit disorder. I’m just more comfortable
writing and editing than I am being the boss.
I also have the distinct disadvantage of being a manager
in a small company. I don’t have the luxury of just
being a manager. I have “real” work to do. You
know, all that writing and editing. Don’t you just
pity my poor staff? (Don’t feel too bad for them;
I’ll never live this down.)
I suspect that many of our readers are in the same boat.
As quality departments continue to disappear, the responsibility
for quality spreads across the organization. That means
in addition to being responsible for getting quality products/and
or services out the door, quality managers are spending
more of their time managing people.
You’d think that with all of their great quality
knowledge, quality managers would be high-quality managers.
After all, there are all of those documented procedures
that ISO 9000 has wrought. Thanks to the ISOcrats, our organizations
are teeming with procedures and work instructions that tell
us how to do everything from building flawless parts to
where to dump the trash. Surely, all the overburdened quality
manager (or editor) has to do is open a binder or look up
the appropriate procedure on his or her company’s
intranet, and the secret to managerial success is at hand.
If only it were that easy. Although quality management
systems, such as ISO 9001, capture the procedures and instructions,
they don’t capture the “tribal knowledge”
of the organization. Tribal knowledge is the organizational
wisdom that isn’t documented.
Even though ISO 9001 provides an outline of how to build
an effective quality management system, it doesn’t--despite
many consultants’ exhortations to the contrary--tell
you how to be a good manager or a good businessperson. I’ve
discovered that documenting your procedures is easy; getting
people to use them is difficult.
One of my employees, who of course has the distinct disadvantage
of having me for a manager, recently remarked about how
we operate solely on tribal knowledge. At first, I was offended.
After all, we do have procedures and work instructions.
Why didn’t this employee (and the rest of my employees)
use them? Aside from my obvious lack of managerial expertise,
I think it’s easier for an organization to operate
from tribal knowledge than from documented procedures and
work instructions. After all, who wants to deal with checking
and updating procedures when they can just “wing it”?
It’s my observation--perhaps I’ll call it
“Paton’s Law of Tribal Knowledge”--that
it’s easier for employees to complain about something
than it is for them to correct the problem, take steps to
prevent it from occurring again and document the process,
particularly when they have a less-than-perfect manager.
Send your thoughts on tribal knowledge, quality management
systems and referrals to remedial manager lessons to firstname.lastname@example.org.