A Charles Dickens Management Lesson

"Mr. Fezziwig’s Ball", from A Christmas Carol

In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, a ghost grants Ebenezer Scrooge the chance to look back into his past and see a company holiday party that Fezziwig, his employer at the time, threw one year. Scrooge observes Fezziwig and his family, the employees and their families, the apprentices (including himself), the household employees and even some of the neighbors as they prepare, arrive and celebrate.

For nearly four hours this party rages on and on. There was dancing and cake and food and beer and music. Scrooge observes every minute of it with glee. He “acted like a man out of his wits. His heart and soul were in the scene, and with his former self. He corroborated everything, remembered everything, enjoyed everything, and underwent the strangest agitation.”

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Getting over the hump

Getting Over the Hump

Getting Over the Hump (apologies to Jessica at thisisIndexed.com)

I had lunch with a colleague this past week and the subject of long, large-effort projects came up. Projects with a big “hump” keeping you from finishing easily and quickly. (see graph)

He manages a small team of folks who are all pulling toward the same goal. He articulated where he was in relation to the goal and what was needed to get there.

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Responsibility/Authority Ratio

High Responsibility - Low Authority

High Responsibility / Low Authority

It’s not uncommon for me to hear the lament that someone (usually the person lamenting) has too much responsibility.

On closer examination, however, I frequently find what’s really happened: They have been given too little authority. Their responsibility level is appropriate, they just have too little authority to get the job done.

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Managing in the White Space

A few years ago, I was given the task of improving an internal process at my company. Before this assignment, I had successfully managed groups of ten-to-twelve people: Unix administrators, web infrastructure experts and internet security technicians.

But I managed them—I had positional authority over them. There was a natural inclination to do what I would tell them to do. (That’s not why I was successful, but it helped in getting things done.)

In this new organization chart, however, there was this blank white space under my name: I had no staff, no people working for me. There was no one to tell, and yet I still had to get things done.

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