Let me start off by saying, this is not an intended pun. In the title I said, “Being the conductor”, I am not referring to an electrical conductor, as many may think who are in my same industry. I am referring to a musical conductor. This article came from a conversation I had with one of my managers a while back. I was telling my wife about it and she mentioned what a great illustration it was, so I decided to share this with my followers, I hope you enjoy.
One business unit I had overseen continued to struggle financially, so I went to have a conversation with the business unit manager, to see how we could improve the fiscal performance of his group. For the purposes of this article I will call this manager Stan.
Stan was a dedicated hard working manager. He would work on average 75 hours a week, yet his division was still struggling. One thing about Stan was that he was not a conventionally trained business unit manager. What I mean by that is he didn’t have any formal college or professional training. He managed to work his way up through the field, a hard route to go no doubt, and a testament to his tenacity.
Over the past several months, when I would have conversations with Stan, he would always be out in the field or on projects with his guys. He was definitely a boots on the ground kind of guy. Who could blame him? The field forces are who he could relate with best, and it was where he felt most comfortable. His team respected him greatly, and the customers loved him. However, the financial performance of his group continued to falter.
I scheduled an entire day to spend with Stan. We started off by going through his paperwork and analyzing the financial reports to identify where the problems were, and to start brainstorming on solutions for improvement. Throughout the morning, Stan had some great ideas on how to increase productivity, and in turn increase profits. However, every time I would bring up metrics or processes to put in place to measure and reinforce the improvement, I would get the same answer, “I don’t have time for that”. I explained to Stan that, “you have plenty of time if you would stop spending all of your time in the field.” I further told him it was time he realized that he had to put down his tools and start managing the outcome, not being a part of physical effort.
Stan told me that he couldn’t leave the field because nobody could do what he did. This is probably one of the most common statements I have heard over the years. The truth is, most anyone can do what we do, but most people will be happy to let us do it if they have a choice. That is to say, rarely will someone interrupt you from doing their job for them.
I asked Stan to come with me and take a break for lunch. As we sat eating lunch, I kept drilling Stan as to the real reason why he couldn’t let go of the field piece and start planning and managing. Finally, just as we were finishing up lunch he broke down and told me, “I don’t like the office part!” He went on to tell me that he likes the satisfaction of completing a project with his hands and when he is done, there is something tangible to show for it. The office work is an unseen, unappreciated, part of the work and when you are done there is nothing to show for it. At least not anything anyone will remember a year from now. He then looked me right in the eye and said, “You’re a musician, don’t you get a better feeling playing music rather than listening to it?” I was set aback for minute by this analogy. But then I thought about what he said.
I then said, “Stan, let’s look at the example you just gave. You are right I am a musician, and back in the day I loved playing music in front of a crowd. But if we are going to use this analogy, listening to the music wouldn’t be the appropriate parallel. You have to think of yourself as the conductor of a symphony. It is your job to get all of the musicians to play in perfect rhythm and harmony for a successful performance. No matter how great the individual musicians are, without a talented conductor to lead them, they will not come together and no one will appreciate the talents of the orchestra. Furthermore, you said that there wouldn’t be anything tangible to prove what you had accomplished a year from now. Using that same analogy, do people remember the name Beethoven, or the name of the third chair viola in his 5th symphony?”
To put together beautiful music, it takes the conductor, the musicians, the gaffers, the event staff, all the way to the parking attendants. No one job is more important than the other, because if one person doesn’t do their job well the whole production is at risk.
I believe that Stan left the meeting with a better understanding and a whole new outlook on his role as a manager. While Stan now works at a different company he is a very successful senior project manager and has developed in to a great leader. To this day when I see him and I congratulate him on his success, he still waves his hands around and tells me he is just the conductor of a great orchestra.
Footnote: For those of you who are in the electrical industry the same principle applies. How effective are electrons if they don’t have a good conductor? Just had to throw that in there…LOL