The Golden Rules for Managers

The Golden Rules for Managers

by Frank McNair
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The Golden Rules for Managers by Frank McNair

Quick, expert advice in the best-selling, easy-to-read format that business readers demand.

"A penny saved, a penny earned." "Never leave till tomorrow what you can do today."

Often, the advice that makes the most impact does so because it's delivered in a clear, memorable saying that cuts to the heart of the issue. For business readers fed up with long books that say little, nothing could be more refreshing than The Golden Rules for Managers. Management expert Frank McNair distills the best business wisdom into 119 memorable nuggets that speak directly to management issues, then explains the lessons behind the each saying.

  • Paint a Clear Picture of the Target (goal setting)
  • What you Reward is What You Get (providing employee feedback)
  • Employees will Respect what you Expect if you Inspect (follow-up)
  • A Plan Is Not a Straightjacket (flexibility in execution)
  • The Madder You Get, the Dumber You Are (self-management)

Packaged for visual impact and easy reading, The Golden Rules for Managers is the new golden standard in management guides.

"Frank McNair's straight-forward, pragmatic information is to the point, is easy to apply, is relevant and will continue to be relevant 10 years from now for companies such as ours. I use the techniques at my own company."
Chris McSwain, Director, Global Benefits | Whirlpool Corporation

"Frank McNair captures the very essence of what makes good managers into great leaders. And he does it in a way that allows the reader to remember and put into action. A must read."
David Moff, SPHR, Chief Executive Officer | The HR Group, Inc.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781402245190
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 07/01/2009
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Frank McNair combines more than a dozen years of managerial experience with a decade and a half in the training arena. He was a Brand Research Analyst at R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and a Product Manager at the L'eggs Division of Sara Lee Corporation.

Frank McNair combines more than a dozen years of managerial experience with a decade and a half in the training arena. He was a Brand Research Analyst at R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and a Product Manager at the L'eggs Division of Sara Lee Corporation.

Read an Excerpt


By Frank McNair

Sourcebooks, Inc.

Copyright © 2009 Frank McNair
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4022-2335-8

Chapter One


I once worked for a company where the following story was legend. This company had a number of truck drivers. They drove relatively heavy trucks throughout the Southeast, delivering an automotive after-market product to dealers for resale. This particular incident was reported to have happened in Kentucky.

An excited truck driver called to say that his truck had fallen through a bridge, and was now hanging precariously in the under-supports of that bridge, twenty feet above a scenic waterway. He asked us what he should do.

Our first response was, "How in the world did your truck fall through a bridge?"

His reply? "Well, it turns out that the bridge had a load limit of 10 tons, and my truck weighs 55 tons."

"Didn't you know this?" we responded.

"Oh, no," he replied. "The first I knew of it was when I fell through the bridge."

With our curiosity piqued, we sent a management team member out to assess the situation. When he got into the county where the incident occurred, he began to drive down the small country road leading to the bridge. He was surprised to see, not far in front of him, a sign. The sign said, "Caution. Scenic covered bridge ahead. Load limit: 10tons."

On he continued; several miles later he encountered another sign. "Caution. Scenic covered bridge ahead. Nine miles. Load limit: 10 tons." Past that sign he drove, only to encounter another sign. "Caution. Scenic covered bridge ahead. Four miles. Load limit: 10 tons." And yet another sign. "Caution. Scenic covered bridge ahead. Two miles. Load limit: 10 tons." Then another. "Caution. Scenic covered bridge ahead. One mile. Load limit: 10 tons."

When he approached the bridge-the now-bottomless bridge with the truck dangling dangerously above the scenic waterway-a large, orange sign affixed to the covered bridge said, "Caution. Proceed slowly. Load limit: 10 tons."

From this, we derived our own internal maxim: "If you don't read the signs, you'll fall through the bridge."

If You Don't Read the Signs, You'll Fall Through the Bridge

Reading the signs is all about vision; it's about climbing all the way up the mast to the crow's nest of your business-ship to get a clear understanding of where you have been and what lies before you. It's about surveying the sea and the horizon a full 360 degrees-looking for both channels of opportunity and dangerous shoals of misdirection.

Vision exists before we chart the course. Vision is about understanding the climate and the currents, knowing the abilities and weaknesses of your crew and vessel, and selecting an achievable destination that will yield profits to the ship's owner plus safe passage and fair wages to the crew.

Vision weighs the risks of one route versus another; vision considers the current atmosphere and the competitive ships. And vision ultimately decides: "For this ship, in this port, given these conditions, the best destination is X." Only then are the sailors ready to begin charting their course, planning the safest and fastest route to this destination that accords with their vision.

It's easy to get it backwards; to begin planning before the vision is clear, to confuse tactics with objectives, and to give in to the great American prejudice for action: "Do something wrong, but do something!" And it's a mistake that can kill a business.

If we begin to act without a close reading of the environment, clear objectives, and a coherent strategy, we will fail ourselves, our company, and our employees. We will launch products just as consumer demand for them has peaked and is beginning to fall. We will staff up and make tremendous capital expenditures to manufacture a product that is at the tail end of its life cycle, or we will incorrectly discern that there is tremendous market demand for a product that, while still healthy, is beginning to plateau.

Reading the signs gives us knowledge of market growth or stagnation, of technological change or relative stasis, of burgeoning consumer demand or slackening interest in our product.

So one of our key jobs as managers is to read the signs. And it is from the sign reading that we derive our plans, using the signs (economic trends, market share data, consumer surveys, industry analyses) to keep us from falling through the bridge. If we lose sight of the signs, we may wind up managing efficient business operations that are all pointed to a flawed strategy. And that can be disastrous.

Manage the Vision and the Strategy, Not Just the Business Operations

A good friend of mine (a bright and accomplished manager with great passion for his work) once worked for a major regional catalog showroom chain. As you likely know, catalog showrooms have largely disappeared from our economic landscape. They have been buffeted on the one side by big-box toy retailers who took away a substantial share of their business, and have been slammed on the other side by megastore consumer electronics and appliance retailers who took away that part of their business.

This manager spoke of the challenges they faced in the catalog showroom business and how they had confronted them. His response was telling. He said, "We managed the business well; we just didn't manage the strategy."

There is a wealth of wisdom captured in this statement, and we can learn much from it. My friend spoke to the fact that his company had done a good job of managing the store operations in their showroom.

They built a top-flight warehouse and kept costs down. They distributed products at efficient prices to their stores. They found good locations for their stores, and stocked and staffed them well. They did a great job of managing their business operations. Unfortunately, they didn't manage the strategy well. The market niche that catalog showrooms had carved out for themselves-a market niche in which they survived and flourished for decades-disappeared. Big-box toy retailers and megastore consumer electronics chains whacked catalog showrooms in these two key product categories. Superstore home centers snatched away the lawn and garden business. Eventually, catalog showrooms were left with the dregs of mid- to low-price jewelry sales and some moderate sporting equipment sales, which didn't leave them enough volume to generate a profit. The showrooms could not see beyond the trees of their operational excellence to the forest of their disappearing market, so they disappeared. It's a tragedy, and it's all the more tragic because it did not have to happen.

Managers must not only manage their business operations, they must also understand the impact of changing market conditions on the strategy they have articulated. And they must continually ask themselves, "Is the plan we crafted last year consonant with the market conditions we face this year?" If there was ever a call for continuous improvement processes, that call is found in the planning process for businesses in our era of fast-paced change and market evolution. It was a challenge my friend's company could not meet.

In the early stages of the business' demise, several key management members identified the flawed strategy as a major problem with the company. They climbed the crow's nest, surveyed the horizon for a safe place to sail, and identified a likely port of call: the superstore jewelry business.

Their executives asked the key strategic questions: what do we do well? What are our strengths? Which market is underserved? How can we fill it profitably? And the superstore jewelry business-the Toys 'R' Us of jewelry retail-was an unfilled niche. It looked to be safe, profitable sailing.

But the most-senior members of management could not-would not-embrace this change in direction. The admirals vetoed the proposed course, the ship ran aground on the shoals of a disappearing market, and then it sank in a sea of red ink.

It could have turned out differently, but senior management was married to the plan. In the end, no amount of cajoling could get them to sign a separation agreement. It's a pity.

A Plan Is Not a Straitjacket-Build Flex into Your Plan

Have you ever seen a straitjacket? They are made of heavy canvas. The wearer steps into it "backward," and it is secured down the back, with fasteners conveniently out of reach of the wearer. But that's only the beginning.

The sleeves of the straitjacket are then crossed across the body of the wearer and tied behind the wearer's back. It is-quite literally-impossible to move your upper body when wearing one. Affixed too tightly, they even make it difficult to breathe.

Yet many businesspeople treat their business plan like a straitjacket. It's written, it's typed, it's published, and it's bound. And it becomes sacrosanct. A plan should be a guide and only a guide.

A plan is a snapshot, taken at a moment in time, of the path forward that looks most attractive to a company at that moment in time. Circumstances change. Competitors grow or weaken. Markets open, fads fade, and consumers are bewitched by the next "most attractive" thing. If we are so constrained by our plan that we cannot see the changes going on in the market, we are as condemned to fail as people who never planned at all.

So remember: a plan is not a straitjacket. Build flex into your plan. That being said, a countervailing point obtains as well.

A Business Is Not a Restaurant-Avoid "Strategy du Jour"

If it is fatal to get a death grip on a strategy and never let go, it can be equally deadly to operate a business on the "strategy du jour" model. I once worked with a client who seemed to embrace this strategy, and it was the most bewildering experience of my life.

The company's strategy changed so often-and was communicated so poorly-that sometimes field operations people were two or three strategies behind. Their strategies changed so often that, when holding a four o'clock meeting, we had to check to make sure the company was still on the strategy articulated at the nine o'clock in the morning meeting.

Are we going to sell direct-to-consumer or use a distributor network? Go to distributors through manufacturer's reps or a dedicated company sales force? Own our manufacturing or outsource it? Be a technical innovator or a fast follower?

Companies can and do succeed by selecting either of the options in these pairs. But they rarely succeed by changing rapidly and repeatedly from one to the other.

In many ways, this company was like a child with hyperactivity/attention deficit disorder. The company changed strategies and directions so often that it was hard to focus on any topic or goal long enough to achieve it. Projects were started with great enthusiasm then stopped abruptly. Four months later, they were restarted. But this time the energy and passion level was diminished-sapped by the constant to-ing and fro-ing of the strategy du jour management style.

The downside of this approach to management is multifold:

* IT PERPLEXES THE EMPLOYEES. They are never at all sure what it is they are supposed to be trying to accomplish today, under this plan, this time around.

* IT CONFUSES THE CUSTOMERS, who are never quite sure what this company stands for this week.

* IT BEWILDERS WALL STREET, which has a lot on its mind anyway and is completely unable to fathom what a company is about when it changes strategy more than biennially.

Why would a company change strategies so often? What drives this behavior? Sometimes it's the absence of a decisive, visionary leader at the apex of the organizational pyramid. Sometimes it's the presence of two competing leaders-leaders who have divergent views about where the company ought to go. Most often, though, companies do the strategy shuffle because they seek the lone, perfect, bulletproof strategy for their industry.

Give It Up! There Is No Lone, Perfect Strategy

What's the best way to make money in the automobile business? Should you produce lots of high quality cars and sell them to the mass market like Toyota? Or should you produce relatively fewer cars-still high quality, of course-and target a premium demographic as Mercedes has done?

What about the tool business? Does it make more sense to sell through mass retailers and home centers like Stanley Tool Works? Or should you market through independent distributors as Snap-On Tools has done?

Who's right? Both of them are right. Each of these companies, while pursuing a strategy vastly different than its paired competition, has been successful. There is no one perfect, all-purpose, bulletproof strategy. So the search for a perfect strategy is pointless; it merely consumes time that could better be spent elsewhere. If your strategy is even close, and if your people buy that strategy and embrace it passionately, that's good enough.

Eighty Percent Strategy Executed with 100 Percent Commitment Always Beats 100 Percent Strategy Executed with 80 Percent Commitment

"Whether you think you can-or whether you think you can't-either way you're right!" I don't remember the first person who said this to me; it was many, many years ago. And it's true-commitment and belief are two of the key drivers to any strategy's success.

So how do we get this level of commitment? Do we demand it? Or can we engender it? There's an old saying that is apropos here: "You can force compliance; you have to earn commitment."

And we earn commitment by involving the employees-to the extent appropriate-in the creation of the goals.

Input Raises Buy-In

It is a management truth that the people closest to the work generally have the best idea about how the work should be done. Why not? They live it every day. Yet managers regularly ignore the insights and opinions of their followers as they develop strategic vision and operating plans for their organizations. That's too bad, because a little bit of input will produce a quantum increase in (1) the employee's commitment to the strategy and the plan, and (2) the quality of the plan itself.

People like to give input. Input increases the likelihood of their commitment.

Think about the sales world; there's even a sales technique driven solely by this observation. In closing on a minor point, the salesperson asks the customer, "Would you prefer that appliance in stainless steel or classic white?" The opportunity to have input heightens the likelihood that the customer will buy the appliance at all.

Or reflect for a moment on the world of parenting. A tired six-year-old is approaching bedtime. Two tasks remain before he can go to bed: taking a bath and picking up his room. The parent could dictate what gets done first, with predictable results. Or, the parent could ask for the child's input: "What would you like to do first, pick up your room or take a bath?" And the buy-in would likely be higher, and the protest moderated.

Input raises buy-in. If you truly and authentically seek 100 percent commitment to your strategy, the easiest way to engender that commitment is to involve the people who will execute the strategy in its creation.

If You Don't Know Where You're Going, You'll Probably End Up Somewhere Else

Defining a cogent business vision and articulating the objectives, strategies, and tactics to support this vision: this is the foundational task of managers.

"We must ask ourselves," Abraham Lincoln once said, "from whence we have come and whither we are tending." And-I might add-if whither we are tending is where we intended to tend. We can only make assessments about what and how we are doing if we know what (and how) we intended to do. We must know where we are going.

So our job is to help the organization develop a vision-an understanding of what it stands for and wants to become. From that vision we shake out the key objectives-the specific goals that will help flesh out the vision.


Excerpted from the GOLDEN RULES FOR MANAGERS by Frank McNair Copyright © 2009 by Frank McNair . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


CHAPTER 1 Vision and Planning....................1
CHAPTER 2 Motivation....................19
CHAPTER 3 Expectations....................49
CHAPTER 4 Coaching: Them That Can, Does-Them That Teaches Are Priceless....................69
CHAPTER 5 Feedback and Performance Management: What You Reward Is What You Get....................93
CHAPTER 6 Rewards and Consequences....................123
CHAPTER 7 Relationship Management....................141
CHAPTER 8 Self-Management: The Toughest Nut of All....................161
CHAPTER 9 Leadership....................181
CHAPTER 10 Shaping Your Management Philosophy....................211
ABOUT THE AUTHOR....................237

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