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Managing the Management

Ever wish your direct reports did a better job of managing down as they do up? Have your HR take this brave step.

T Price, Blogger

November 11, 2009

4 Min Read

When I used to work for large publishers, I was often frustrated at the poor management skills of Executives (VPs, Studio Manager, Exec Producers) regarding their line employees.

I thought these people did an abysmal job of managing their employees, but did a stellar job of managing up the chain.  Managing down to the line troops never seemed to enter into their mind during daily interactions.  Employee growth, moral and confidence was an afterthought (if it was even a thought).   

Then a brilliant idea/process from one publisher literally saved the day and solved the problem.  I am going to chicken out now and not use the actual publisher names in these examples for fear of legal repercussions, especially with Publisher 2. 

The solution that worked remarkably was 360 degree management reviews.   

At Publisher 1 we (production) had a Studio Manager that while left brain savvy, had no people or communication skills.  He also had a disjointed, direct way of speaking which put you at on-guard at all times.  In Executive meetings, while representing your game, he often flipped-flopped his position (which you worked hard to lobby for) to appease that of the Director and/or board.

Vigorous and passionate discussions with the Studio Manger to make changes failed to achieve any substantial gains.  Frankly, at a certain level, I think Executives often drone out their team when their opinions/arguments do not synch with them. 

Morale was miserable, with Sr. Producers ready for open mutiny.  Then the company instituted a management 360 degree review.  Now 360 degree reviews have been around for awhile for line employees (sometimes to their profound angst).  However, now there was an outlet for the line troops to voice their displeasure.  The 360 management review was offered, with employee results anonymously collected and tabulated (hidden identity is key to ensure honesty).  

As expected, the Studio Manager faired so poorly (below the accepted average) that he was placed on probation by the company with a retest in six months.  He was also asked to take employee management classes.  Six months later, after the retest, he faired much better but still needed to improve to reach the bonus metric.  Now the key of the 360 review for upper management is to attach a penalty to failing.  In most cases, attaching 5-7% of their yearly bonus to passing the review is suitable to motivating a manager to improve their management skills.      

At Publisher 2, now a major force in the industry, there was a complete absence of caring by upper management and HR to ensure line employee were happy and growing in their position.  However, they did have an ultra-high expectation of a line employee’s performance and productivity (and to some degree obedience to direct reports) output.  

This adherence to bottom-line management by the board resulted in a very poor work atmosphere and high employee turnover (shockingly high in some studios).  I was one those who left after 18 months.  The breaking point was when I complained directly to my studio VP about the terrible behavior of my direct report, only to find this VP grimly unsympathetic.  I think his quote was ‘you should be happy you have a job’.  

During my exit interview, I nearly pleaded with the HR Director to instill the 360 manager review for the sake of the studio grunts and to reduce turnover.  While she seemed to agree with the merits of the review, to this day, nothing has changed at that publisher.  There is no manager review and turnover continues.      

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