Time out

There's no way around it. To do the job of a middle manager well, one must put in the time. But with three children, ages 17, 15 and 14, work/life balance is something Bic Vogel at Delta Technology Inc. struggles with day in and day out.

"Delivering excellence across the breadth of responsibility and then having a family is so ..." he says, abruptly cutting himself short. "I have not figured that one out."

Valorie Hartridge, director of marketing systems at Marriott International Inc., says the key to sanity is careful planning and staying committed to a schedule. While she has an open-door policy for end-users in Marriott's marketing department, her calendar is booked solid a full month in advance. She blocks out time, usually early morning, for research, brainstorming and planning and tries to spend at least two hours a day outside of meetings. She keeps Fridays light so she can review the week and plan for the next one.

When tasks start to get the best of her, Hartridge seeks help. She used to spend a great deal of time reviewing her group's IT budget, for instance. Then she trained an analyst in her department who's strong in that area to take it over, which gave the analyst a welcome opportunity to advance her career.

Certified for Structure

One thing that has helped Mike Keslar, systems manager at Mellon Financial Corp., create structure is striving toward Level 3 certification from the Software Engineering Institute's Capability Maturity Model, which helps create and institutionalize software development processes. His development teams that serve Mellon's trust and global cash management divisions are certified at Level 3, and the other teams he leads are working their way up from Level 2.

Building a strong team is critical. Despite the temptation, middle managers can't do everything on their own, or the job won't get done, says Stephen Kessler, systems vice president at MetLife Inc. in New York. "You become the bottleneck," he says. "I never touch code anymore, though I would love to. I don't have time to anymore."

But "you can't be the Dilbert manager," he adds. "You can't be totally disconnected."

Hartridge says she makes a point of raising successors, not only for their career development, but so that every member of her team can serve customers in the best possible way. Often, when she's working with her team, it's not clear who's in charge, says Hartridge.

"You don't really mind having people on your team who may be smarter than you in certain areas," she says.

A common mistake among managers is to get so caught up in their titles and positions that they forget to tap the expertise on their teams, says Hartridge.

"Recognize that you are there as a guide and a mentor ... not cracking the whip," she says. "You can be a hindrance if you're not listening." And since it's the employees who have to do the actual work, they'll grow frustrated if you create obstacles rather than remove them, she adds.

"They will turn on you," warns Hartridge. "They will leave."


Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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