48 Things Every Good Boss Needs to Know


Editor’s Note: What exactly makes a good boss? In the November 2012 issue of HOW, noted business consultant David C. Baker writes about “Designing Change Through Management.” He challenges all managers to make their biggest impact yet with changing the world by simply being a good manager. Baker then divulges a list of tips and advice for every manager to soak in order to make such a positive impact at their organization. (illustration by Elizabeth Shirrell; www.bethshirrell.com)

  1. Any non-evil person can be a manager.
  2. Management doesn’t make you special.
  3. Managers shouldn’t always make more money than those they manage.
  4. There should be two career paths so that we don’t saddle technicians (craft people) with management.
  5. Nearly all important information should come from an employee’s direct manager.
  6. Why you were promoted or why you promoted a certain person tells a huge story.
  7. The biggest danger to your company is a very skilled employee who doesn’t fit in with the company culture.
  8. You should tell a new employee how many weeks/months you plan to give them to get up to speed.
  9. By the time you fire an employee, all the team members knew that you should have done it two months ago.
  10. How you treat an employee on the first day sets the stage: desk and related items fully prepared, welcome strategy, gift at home, etc.
  11. Someone doesn’t need to be more skilled at something than someone he’s managing.
  12. If you don’t give someone a personality profile before you hire them, and give them a copy of yours, you’re getting very close to the “stupid” line.
  13. You don’t have to “make a way” for a good manager. They pave their own way.
  14. If you promote someone internally, no one should be surprised at who you chose.
  15. Employees want much more structure than you think they want. You made all these promises to yourself (like using time sheets) when you founded the firm, and then you slowly discover why they were in place.
  16. Employees are not entrepreneurs or they wouldn’t be working for you. Don’t be resentful if they leave on time, take vacations, etc. Why the heck shouldn’t they? Don’t let your entrepreneurial loneliness create a false sense of dependence on the commitment of an employee, measured by how late they stay.
  17. If you’re not willing to fire someone, eventually, after lots of other steps, for not following your  agency’s timekeeping policy, you’ll never accomplish anything except demonstrating that you are a wuss.
  18. There are official managers with the title, and then there are unofficial leaders without any external distinction. They are both important to your company’s health.
  19. Sometimes your job as a middle manager is nothing more than to protect your direct reports from your boss.
  20. Most entrepreneurial types are control freaks, not in the name of quality but in the name of control. Their head begins to explode when the firm gets beyond five to six people.
  21. If you’re the principal, tell folks what culture you want, but don’t put it on a wall on some silly plaque. There is an inverse relationship between the number of plaques and the real truth. Instead, reinforce it with your actions at least 50 times per day.
  22. When you delay a decision about someone, it’s seldom from lack of clarity but rather from lack of courage.
  23. Your employees are not your friends. The contract is that you pay them and they get things done. You owe them nothing beyond that, and they owe you nothing beyond that. There are cheaper ways to make friends, and if you use your business to do so, you’ll soon be running an orphanage.
  24. Annual performance reviews are one of the silliest inventions of mankind. Do you keep track of when your dog pees in the right place and then settle up with treats once a year? Do a 10–15 minute walk every month, unscheduled, where you both go over your monthly notes and set goals. The yearly meeting is for celebration and big-picture thinking.
  25. The first year that you dole out a bonus, you’re Santa Claus himself. After that, the bonus is just an entitlement that gets compared to last year’s.
  26. Quit trying to motivate employees—it cannot be done. Motivation is an internal force. You can, however, demotivate them. If you’re doing that, stop it or up your meds.
  27. Everyone should have one supervisor. Period. No exceptions.
  28. Just because you want to get something off your plate so that you don’t have to think about it doesn’t mean that it’s automatically a good time to interrupt an employee. Save those interruptions up and limit them.
  29. As a whole, principals don’t celebrate successes enough. Do it more. Act silly, even.
  30. Either do open-book management or don’t, but don’t start it just when things suck.
  31. Be honest and transparent with employees. They would much rather know the truth than invent something in their minds that’s likely to be much worse than the actual truth.
  32. If you have to dismiss several employees around the same time, rip the Band-Aid off and do it all at once. Otherwise, employees wonder how many more layoffs are coming.
  33. If you make a mistake in hiring someone, which happens to the best of us, don’t make a second mistake by keeping them around.
  34. Don’t hire family members. There are too many reasons to even begin a list here.
  35. Trust people. They aren’t out to get you (unless you’re evil or just a jerk). They want to please you, make you look good and do excellent work.
  36. Your reaction to bad news should be predictable (and good).
  37. Two to four years after starting your firm, you’ll have to stop hiring for affordability and start hiring for need (to heck with the cost).
  38. The first high-profile, highly paid person you hire, seldom lasts. Your expectations of them are way too high.
  39. If you’re solving the same problems every day, you need to quit watching “Groundhog Day” or implement more process. Or read “The E-Myth Revisited” by my friend Michael Gerber. The first half is good—just skip the last half.
  40. If all new employees are not trained in your special “process,” it’s a lie and should be taken off your website. In other words, until that training is a part of the orientation process, it’s just marketing blah blah.
  41. If you wake up several mornings in a row and your first thought is, “Dang, I’ve got to get up and feed the machine yet one more day,” then you need to have a smaller firm.
  42. Don’t let growth happen to you. Be intentional about your size, or your clients will make the decision for you. Not good, especially if you’re a poor manager.
  43. Always have more opportunity than capacity so that you don’t try to keep employees busy with lousy-paying work. You can do that by getting more good work or laying people off.
  44. Employee morale goes down when they don’t have enough work to do or have too much work to do.
  45. Some of the best employees you’ll hire didn’t do well in school, and they probably interview very poorly. Heck, they might be so nervous that they stumble all over themselves. Listen to the human inside that body.
  46. All employees must write well enough to not embarrass you.
  47. Group interviews are cruel, except when hiring for business development or account service.
  48. The best training for management you’ll ever get is a) having kids and b) having a great role model boss in your past.

Additional resources for design managers:

  • Learn project management skills in Success By Design
  • Get in-the-know on integrating the values, creativity, ethics and innovations of the design process into the management of business with Design Management

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