The One Minute Manager

I’m branching out in my reading lately to new topics. Mostly I spend my reading time with technical books – Programming Pearls is what I’m working on right now – but tonight I took a bit of time to read one of the classics on management: The One Minute Manager by Kenneth H. Blanchard and Spencer Johnson. It’s a very short book, with only a few key points, and while they all seem obvious, it’s really amazing how most people don’t use them. While reading the book I often found myself thinking “of course this works…so why don’t I do it myself?”

The three main points of the book are

One Minute Goals
Set a few clear, simple, briefly worded goals for your employees. These goals should not necessarily describe what you ultimately want from them, but rather should be steps along the way to acheiving the ultimate goal, which can be left unstated at first. The goals should guide the employees to develop good skills and habits that build up to promote excellence, both for the company and for the employees too.
One Minute Praisings
Especially with newer employees, watch for signs of progress. When you see them do something right, by even partially acheiving a goal, take a moment to sincerely praise the employees and let them know that they are doing well. The positive reinforcement helps to establish new habits of productivity and good behaviour. Take note that the praise really does need to be sincere! People can tell when you’re being fake.
One Minute Reprimands
After a while, people start to feel good about themselves and they make progress. But we all make mistakes, too. When you find that someone has made a mistake, take a moment to let him know exactly what he did that you disapprove of and how it makes you feel. Let it sink in. Then let him know that you really do value him as a person and the reprimand is about the behavior, not his worth as a human. And be sincere! And then move on.

In other words, this management philosophy is about being clear about goals, sincerely praising good work, and being clear about bad work without being mean. It’s simple, and yet apparently so very hard for lots and lots of people.

In my own job, I often feel that goals are very unclear. It’s never really clear whether or not I’m doing a good job. In part, this is because I am, for all intents and purposes, my own development team entirely unto myself. In my department there’a few dozen people, but most of them work on other systems (in teams) while I have sole responsibility for my project. It’s not a small project, but it’s not a priority either, so I tend to be left alone, and this means I have neither goals, nor praise, nor reprimands from my manager. It is very frustrating, and I’ve actually mentioned these very points in my self evaluations from time to time. Reading this book brought these issues into sharp relief for me.

Well, I can’t change my managers, and honestly, I think they are a bit overworked anyway. But I think I can still apply lessons from this book in my work. I can become a One Minute Manager Of Myself. I can set my own goals, formally. I know what they are informally, of course, but I should write them down, and review them on a regular basis. My first thought is to review them on Friday, but in the book, the character of the One Minute Manager holds goal setting and review meetings on Wednesdays, and I think that might not be random. Doing the review at the end of the week would mean that I decide how I’m doing and what I need to change to meet my goals…and then I go home for a couple of days. Having the review in the middle of the week would mean that I could make adjustments right after deciding on them, while everything is still fresh in my mind. That seems more sensible to me.

So, is the One Minute Manager worth the $14 I paid for it? Yes, I think it is. The advice may be simple and short, but it’s definitely good advice and I think it’s what I needed to hear. Heck, it prompted me to make a blog post, and given my track record on that front, I’d call this a “win”!