Abby: It's good to see you, Zack. These 3D life-sized screens are marvelous. I could swear you are only ten feet away. Maybe later we can flip to the holographic mode and shake hands. I did want to get in touch with you to discuss a number of managerial issues and changes to see whether they are affecting your company and how you are responding.
Abby: We are trying a new rotation system which I know you have had some experience with. What we are doing started in think tanks, as you know, and moved quickly into corporate marketing and into planning, but my focus is on R&D. The issue is the rotation of managers. I am responsible for about 140 people. The managers I supervise are now being stressed by the rotation program. At any one time, we need only about 12-15 folks in managerial functions. We've been rotating them. Rotation can be either for an individual project, running anywhere from one month to 15 or 16 months, or they can be strictly ad hoc activities in which the time could be as short as a week or as long as a year. The rotation is done not just to broaden the managers' experience, but to be a continuous test of their managerial skills.
Zack: We've done that and it has worked out extremely well. It was not just a matter of taking the group of managers as they existed and shuffling them around. We went to considerable trouble to test and evaluate the managerial potential of all of our then current and now present managers. As you know, for the past 50 years we have known on the basis of rather primitive testing something back then called the Myers-Briggs--that managers tend to move up in managerial responsibility because they have a great personal drive and capability to make decisions quickly. However, these same characteristics tend to isolate the manager from understanding the people under him or her, their differences, and how they do or will interact as a team.
Today, we have broadened testing and evaluation and have had great success. Decades ago they tended not to waste time; getting things done quickly was much in favor. One of the tools we have adopted is the critical incident technique. Coming out of work from, again, decades ago, it tests would-be managers for their ability to deal with complex, technical personnel interfacial issues. Managing a technical team of about 12 people and the various technological choices that they have as they pursue their research or their development project is the core issue. The critical incident technique involves posing an artificial but realistic situation and then having the person describe how he or she would handle it. This is powerful in sorting out the person who has great technical judgmental strengths but from the point of view of work-related social interaction is a zero. In putting that all together, we have tremendously increased the competence of our rotating pool of managers.
Abby: Thanks a lot, Zack. If you can send me anything about that, I would appreciate it. It should give me a few references or maybe suggest a consultant. By the way, have you tried any of those robotized consultants with which you type in your problem, issue or concern and sign up for a fixed amount of time--5, 10, 15, or 45 minutes. The automated managerial advisor gives you the best of its thinking by talking to you. We have great fun playing with it at our place. I'm not quite sure it is ever going to supercede living people, but it's a fun thing, particularly for the more junior staff and for the younger members of our managerial cohorts. One young fellow had a bad experience with it--he selected a mature male voice, and after a half hour "knew" it was his dead father, returned to help him.
Zack: No, never tried that, but with your recommendation, I'll give it a shot and shoot a few bucks on it.
Abby: You know, we have had the problem of communication for years. Among themselves, technical types are usually okay. …