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Management Rule #1 That Makes No Sense: In The Absence of Orders, ATTACK!

February 28, 2014

For those of you whom I haven’t had a chance to meet yet, my name is Rodney Bliss and I’m the new Team Manager for the Messaging and Collaboration team. I like to start off my first team meeting by explaining some of the rules that I tend to manage by. The first one is the most important. In the absence of order, attack.

The reactions I got from the 6 men in the room were a study in contrasts; from confusion, to curiosity, to mild derision, to ernest attention. We were not in the army. In fact, we worked for a large non-profit organization. And it was clear that none of these guys had ever heard the phrase before.

Ah. . .Rodney?

Yeah?

What’s that mean?

Glad you asked. The phrase originated with General Edwin Rommel. He was a German tank commander who battled US General George Patton in North Africa and later was assassinated for attempting to kill Hitler.

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(Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Rommel understood that in battle, initiative was critical. He was empowering his troops to take that initiative. In the fog of war, communication lines go down, couriers never reach their destination, or key leadership is cut off or killed. What are his tank drivers to do in these situations?

Easy.

Attack the enemy.

I first heard the phrase as an ROTC cadet at BYU. Our Battalion commander drilled it into us from the first formation I stood in. If you don’t know what to do, figure out where the enemy is and attack him.

At this point several readers are thinking, “That’s okay for the military, maybe. But, that would never work in my workplace. We don’t even have guns!”

Here’s how I explained it to my team.

There will come a time when a decision needs to be made. A decision that I, as the Team Manager should make. Maybe it’s signing off on a new software contract. Maybe it’s agreeing to an exception to our provisioning policy. Maybe it’s committing to take on a special project for the CIO. Most of the time I’ll be here to make that call. But, there will come a time when I’m not available, and the decision has to be made right away. At that point, I want you to go ahead and make the call. And if you will commit to use your best judgement, I will back your decision. . .even if it later turns out to be wrong.

So, you want us to take over your job?

Well, not exactly. But, I want you to feel empowered enough to make a decision. What I want to avoid is having you guys paralyzed because you can’t move forward until a decision is made and all the managers are off at some “no cell phone” retreat.

And if we screw it up? We pick the wrong software?

I’ll take the blame. I will explain to upper management that it was MY decision.

They didn’t believe me, of course. Not at first. But, that was the start. I knew that trust would be only be given to me if I first gave it to them. In the absence of orders, attack is a rule that I’ve used with every team I’ve managed. Only once in all that time did I ever have to deal with a poor decision.

We were building a reservation system for rafting companies. Our beta site was several hours away. My head developer on the advice of one of our developers, made the determination that there was a problem with the beta site that required someone to physically drive down there. I spent several hours driving down to Moab, UT only to find that the server only needed to be turned off and back on, something our customer could have easily done. I had the entire hours long drive back to decide exactly how I was going to address the issue.

It was late in the afternoon when I got back. I pulled my head of development and the programmer into my office. All I said was

That was a mistake. Let’s not make that one again.

And that was the end of it. I had lost a day’s worth of work in a useless drive, but my team came to realize that I actually meant what I said when I told them I trusted them to make decisions.

It was well worth the drive.

This is the first in a series of 14 Management Rules That Make No Sense. Look for a new one each Friday for the next few months. If you have some experience of your own on empowering your employees, leave me a comment. The plan is to collect them into a book next summer.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

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