Wisdom rarely comes cheap. Usually, it takes decades of experience to learn lessons in.
Alan Webber devised a simpler path to enlightenment. He identified 52 insights he gleaned from meeting successful people throughout his career. Webber, co-founder of Fast Company magazine and former editorial director of Harvard Business Review, wrote Rules of Thumb to summarize these 52 pieces of advice. He discussed those rules with Managing People at Work:
MPAW: One of your insights is “Knowing it ain’t the same as doing it.” Why do some managers hesitate to act even if they know what to do?
Webber: The ability to convert knowledge to action is key. It helps to use time as a metric to clock how you’re doing. If you’re trying to execute a decision, how long does it take?
MPAW: Is there a risk that tracking time can cause people to rush and make mistakes?
Webber: Time is not the only thing to measure. Boil down all your metrics to the important ones that indicate how you’re really doing in fulfilling the organization’s mission. Keep the metrics simple, few and focused. Refine them to that level of clarity.
MPAW: Another lesson you cite is to focus on the “signal-to-noise ratio,” to cut through data overload to address what matters most. How can managers do that?
Webber: By being self-aware. As you gain authority, the urge is to exert more control. That’s a mistake. I learned from Peter Drucker that a manager’s job is to let workers work to the best of their ability, not interfere. You want to monitor, not control it.
MPAW: But if you can step in and solve problems, everyone wins.
Webber: There’s a fine line between fixing every little problem and micromanaging. At Fast Company, I tried to control everything early on. But I learned that I added value by helping structure a story on the front end and polish it on the back end. My meddling in the middle wasn’t a good use of my time.