05 Nanny

A good manager is aware of the capabilities of his staff. He assigns responsibilities and makes plans to suit the best match between skills available and the nature of the task. This much is obvious. There are some managers who go one step further: They provide a working environment– both technical and sociological–that maximizes people’s abilities to use their skills and to improve them. These managers ensure their staff has the tools they need to do the job. These managers encourage questions and debate among the staff; they give each team member the appropriate challenges; they criticize where necessary; they provide a workplace where people enjoy their work; and they make the adjustments necessary to keep things running smoothly. In short, good managers nurture their people like nannies nurture their charges.

A nanny, in the traditional English sense, is employed by a family to take care of the children. The nanny–usually trained to be a teacher, nurse, and cook–is responsible for the physical, emotional, social, creative, and intellectual development of the children. On a day-to-day basis, the nanny makes sure that the children are safe from harm, and that they get enough fresh air and exercise, eat nourishing food, and learn more about the world and how to live in it. Apart from looking after the children, the nanny also communicates any concerns about their development to the parents, while encouraging the special talents of her charges. The nanny creates an environment where it is safe to take risks and to learn.

When managers have these nanny-like qualities, they get more and better work from their people by fostering and developing their talents.

    The best manager I ever worked for was Peter Ford. There were obvious things, such as his making sure we all had the facilities we needed to do our work. For instance, we had an open plan office–not the best environment for thinking work–and he managed to get the budget for some sound-absorbing screens and to reserve a couple of “quiet rooms” for our team. All of this, and many other things he did for us, involved negotiation and politics that we were unaware of. He encouraged us to read and discuss new ideas in systems development. He brought books and magazines for our team library and scheduled time for us to discuss them together. He noticed when we were feeling unhappy or unwell, and he talked to us and helped us. He protected us from the rest of the organization, but if he was unhappy with us, he let us know. His office door was rarely closed. Peter was our nanny. –SQR

There may be some nannying already going on in your organization if you notice one or more of these conditions: You don’t have to make an appointment to see your manager, or you don’t have to spend much time on trivial and irritating administrative tasks. The environment has an atmosphere of openness; people say what they think, and they learn from each other. The manager treats training and education as a necessity rather than a luxury, and there is time set aside (like the morning coffee powwow or the Friday afternoon book review) for discussing new ideas together.

In any group of people, there will always be rumors and gossip and the time-wasting activities that accompany them. However, in an office blessed with a nurturing manager, this time-wasting is minimized because the manager makes sure the team knows what is really going on. People don’t have to rely on the rumor mill to know what’s happening in their organization. Instead, they feel informed and trusted, and they focus on their work.

A nanny-like manager thinks of himself as an enabler of work. While the traditional nanny’s job satisfaction comes from seeing the development of the children’s abilities, the “nanny” manager gets his satisfaction from seeing individual team members develop in their roles and become more productive and more satisfied with their work.

You see the opposite of this pattern when a manager’s attention is on politics, administration, procedures, and kowtowing to more-senior managers. Drawing and adjusting PERT and Gantt charts seem to be more important than talking to the team. And some managers do much of the actual development work instead of looking after the needs of the team.

How does your organization view the role of a manager? Does it reward managers for being work enablers? Does it hire nannies or administrators?