The management override

I talked in an earlier post about people’s misconception of the management big stick, i.e. the ability to just instruct someone to do something rather than come to an agreement with them that they will do it. The misconception that I was highlighting was the belief of some people that wielding this big stick is what management is all about.

The truth is that the more I do this the more resented and thereby ineffectual I become. Only a little bit of respect is lost each time, but it soon adds up.

There are times when it can have the oppposite effect, but those are largely when I’m using the management override (to give it a more polite name) to impose a view that is almost a consensus, just one or two intransigent people are holding out.

So here are my tips on how to wield the management override:

Only ever do it when the situation absolutely requires it.

I have come across far too many managers who invoke the override at every point where they believe that people need directing to do something better than they currently are. In other words they think they know best and so they make people do it their way.

In many cases the manager will actually be right, their greater experience and awareness of the situation giving them the edge. But in these situations I ask myself the question – do I actually need to use the override or is there a better way to get what I want? In almost every case the answer is that I don’t need the override. Instead I can explain to the person concerned why I think there is a better solution and let them make their own mind up. Doing it this way means I have treated them with respect, like a fellow human being, not like a machine.

Another question I ask myself is – is this sufficiently important for me to want it changed? Surprisingly the answer I keep coming across is no, it isn’t. Again, there are some managers who have to fix everything they think is broken, no matter how important, who is doing it, or what the possible outcome, and they fix it by using the management override. I think that what they forget is that we are all learning and we all learn by making mistakes and getting it right the next time. If I stop someone from ever making a mistake then they might end up learning what I teach them, but they will never learn to learn for themselves.

This is one of the biggest generators of resentment for management – if we don’t let people get on and do their jobs because we interfere too much.

If it has to be done then it should be done as respectfully as possible

There are times when we have to do it. For example I do it about the use of indirection in our infrastructure because I think that is so overwhelmingly important. But when I do it there is a certain process that I follow to minimise the impact.

  • At the forefront of my mind is the knowledge that I am overriding the will of others, and their views are based on just as much thought as mine and just as deeply held.
  • I explain my reason for doing it, which is normally because there is no consensus and yet a decision must be made, or because I’m convinced this is the right way to go.
  • I explain the decision in as much detail as possible to those affected.
  • I generally need to publicly state that my solution is not perfect and there are unresolved issues. Then I need to make it clear that I know those issues and will keep a watch on them.
  • I have to make it clear that if a better solution comes along, in particular one that has consensus, then I will change my views. The door is not closed.
  • But sometimes I have to make it clear that the fact I am using the override does not mean they can disengage and leave things to flounder. Of course good staff would never do that.

Other tips

When I’m involved in a discussion about what is the best way forward, or how something should be done, I have to make it clear that I am participating on an equal basis as others and not using the override. I have to repeat this often. If I don’t then people forget and assume I am using it just because of my position and not anything I say.

Occasionally, despite my being convinced I am right, I find that I have got it completely wrong and so if I had used the override then I would have caused a real problem. I wonder how many managers do that and then don’t have the integrity to admit it and try to undo the mess they’ve created?

1 thought on “The management override”

  1. This year I’ve been on an ITIL course, understood the jargon, and passed the exam. I looked forward to implement this in our organisation as it would manage the requests of work that came to me and make my day less messy, less problematic and more structured.

    Management would often remind us to only do work that was put through the ITIL compliant recording system so all work was processed and logged.

    The problem? The management overide. “Come and fix my problem now, no call has been logged, don’t worry about that”.

    I’ve need seen so much negativity caused by a single person waving the big stick, and when questioned hard the inevitable override is made in lieu of a valid arguement backed on technical or logical merits.

    I’ve worked for a few good managers, and one great one, and every one of them made me feel like I wasn’t being managed…

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