Management in terms of what’s going on – Who Cares?

When we hear the expression “who cares?” we usually think the speaker is saying that he or she certainly doesn’t care and perhaps that we shouldn’t either. If we are in a sensitive mood we may consider that someone is questioning our character. Put all that aside for now because throughout this blog when I refer to caring I’ll be talking about interest, or what Michael, my associate, calls the energy of attention that fuels the authenticity and power of our acts.

What does a manager do? There are only three energy consuming management activities: worrying, dreaming, and being interrupted. We dream about what might or might not happen. The product of this is planning and organizing. If we set ourselves to plan without dreaming, all we can do is make a list and if we haven’t done any dreaming since the last time we made a list, we can use the old list. We worry about what is or is not happening and the product of this is directing and controlling. If we set to direct without worrying, all we can do is call a meeting and if we haven’t done any worrying since the last meeting, then we’re likely to have another useless meeting. We are interrupted by someone whom we have asked to worry and dream about something on our behalf. His or her worrying and dreaming has become combined, at night, and the loneliness of this nightmare has encouraged him or her to get back to us for help. This is called the delegation process.

Since people don’t worry or dream about something they don’t care about, we can combine the two words into one, “caring.” Management then is all about caring and a management system is a system for sharing caring. Further we can say that accountability is the word we use to describe what a person is supposed to be caring about. “Who cares?” then means “Who is the single person who’s energy of attention is focused on worrying and dreaming about this?”

Some years ago, the president of a financial institution called on Michael, my associate, for advice. The presidents’ company was nearing the planned completion date of a major computer systems implementation project and he had become concerned that things may not be going so well. On his way to meet with him Mike already knew the project was in trouble, else he shouldn’t be concerned.

“Who cares, George?” Mike asked. “Who are you holding accountable for it?”

“Well I guess that would be John. He’s the project manager.”

Because he voiced it as a guess Michael suspected that the project accountabilities may not be clear. When people don’t all share the same understanding of who is accountable to whom for what, a project is vulnerable to unresolved problems. Such problems are usually difficult to address and since it is not clear who is accountable, nobody cares enough to confront them, and they fester.

They talked on for some time following the “who cares?” question down the project line as far as George knew it and it was apparent that the project accountability line was not clear and visible. Later, Michael talked with John and a couple of others and confirmed his suspicions. The players didn’t all have the same answers to his “who cares?” questions. In other words it wasn’t commonly understood who’s energy of attention was focused on what. Also they seemed uncomfortable and he could feel their pain.

This situation occurs often in project work, much too frequently to be attributed to ignorance or stupidity on the part of the individuals involved. In fact we see it so often that the first thing we check for in a troubled project is whether the Caring Line is healthy where everyone knows who is accountable to whom for what. The problem has to do with the mismanagement of caring energy and the symptom is always the same, pain. The solution is always the same too: establish or refurbish the Project Caring Line, i.e. the structure and process for dynamically managing the current status of project accountabilities and the trust relationships between them.

Next post: In my nest post – after the Holiday Season – I will suggest that we are diminishing a lot of individual spirits and losing a lot of productivity with our current management systems.