One of the fundamental management tenants I have used in my career, something I originally first learned from one my large and successful customers, is that you don’t want to have two managers in a row that don’t know.

Let me explain what I mean by that.

When you think about executives or managers inside your organization, you can often divide them into two categories: technical and people-oriented. In other words, some managers are exceptionally skilled in a technical area: think IT, finance, HR, marketing or engineering. An area where someone can have deep subject matter expertise. On the other hand, you have managers that are really strong “people managers.” These are the folks who are strong communicators, hold people accountable, deal with conflict elegantly and keep action registers. Both types of leaders are extremely valuable and needed inside your organization. They key, however, it to make sure that you don’t stack them inside the organization in a way that creates a knowledge vacuum inside a functional space. That can be a formula for disaster.

As an example, I was having a conversation the other day with a CEO whose IT organization was struggling-;especially when it came to delivering on customer requirements. The CEO had a VP reporting to him who was very technical. But then that VP had a applications development director reporting to him who was also very technical. The problem became that while the technical side of IT functioned well, there was a vacuum when it came to connecting the technical side to the customer needs. That had created a situation where two managers in a row didn’t know anything about how to connect the technical side of the business to the customer-facing side of it. Unfortunately, outside of a pretty sophisticated infrastructure, most of the development demands were about customer systems interfaces.

So the CEO made what might seem to some a radical decision to move the applications development director (a serious techno-geek) under his VP of customer support, someone who had very little technical knowledge. But this was a great move, because it eliminated the problem they had been experiencing of two in a row who didn’t know. Now, by having someone with deep customer knowledge working with the technical teams. They could better tackle the needs of their customers with their technical projects. There was some pushback from the technical teams about ultimately reporting to someone without technical knowledge (it’s an engineering thing - I am one and I get it).  However, it ultimately worked itself out because everyone soon realized she brought something else valuable to the table instead and all of the work was more efficient and delivered what the customers needed.    

You could imagine similar scenarios where the situation could be reversed-;where a people person could report to a technical person-;but the dynamic is the same in either case. You just don’t want two managers in a row who have too much of the same knowledge that they wind up canceling each other out.  

While I have broken this into people leaders and technical leaders, the idea applies more broadly in that you don’t want too leaders that are too similar in skill set working for each other or blind spots open up.

So when it comes to designing your organization, and deciding who you want to put in key roles when it comes to driving the critical success factors for the organization, take a look at the skills your managers have and make sure you don’t have two in a row that don’t know.

Published on: Jul 2, 2019
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