One out of Three ...

A few weeks back, when writing about cell phones, I mentioned that "... our Mokuhankan printmaking venture is about to take a pretty major step forward, one that will require me to spend a great deal of time away from my benches." Well we've moved forward a bit, and we're now at the stage where my foot is in the air, ready to be planted firmly on the ground for that 'major step'.

As all the staff here are very busy with their normal jobs, either making woodblock prints or packing and shipping them, it is falling to me at this point to do most of the preparation work for our new venture. But that situation can't possibly continue much longer, and I have begun the process of working out how everybody's jobs will change over the coming couple of months.

One of the more senior members of our printing staff was here today working on her current project, and as there was nobody else here, I had a good opportunity to discuss some of these things with her. I have her in mind for the position of 'manager' of the new shop we are opening this fall (there, the 'secret' is out!), but rather than straight-out offer her the position point blank, I kept the discussion in more general terms, referring back to the time many years ago when I myself was 'general manager' of a mid-size music supply company back in Canada.

She hadn't known about this part of my life, and she actually interrupted me, "Eh? You were manager of a business? You?" I insisted that yes indeed, this had been the case, but I can understand the reason for her disbelief. Over the two years that she has been here, she has seen me floundering with the 'manager' part of my job here.

I have been scattershot in organization; I have been disorganized; I have been a 'fire-fighter' type manager, always running back and forth fixing problems after they grow to a dangerous stage, rather than catching them before they arise. I have clearly not been a good manager, no doubt about it.

What she doesn't understand though, is that in a business like ours, there are three general types of position - all essential to the health and maintenance of the organization. At the 'top', there is the 'vision guy', the overall leader. He will envision new products, take the company into new markets, figure out how to finance it, etc. and etc.

At the other end of the organization are the 'line workers', the people who work at steady jobs either making things, or doing jobs that support the makers, etc. and etc.

In between are the 'organizers'. They don't do 'vision', nor do they work on the line doing the repeatable functions. In a wide sense, their function is to translate the vision into an actual structure of people, tools, and suppliers that will bring it to life.

Now I confessed a few moments ago to not being good at this, and that conflicts directly with my statement that I was a very good manager in my day back at the music shop, but there is no paradox.

Back at the music shop, I spent years first as a 'line' guy, wrapping packages, sorting out sheet music, and keeping a warehouse in order. When it came time for me to be the manager, freeing up the owner to be the visioneer, managing was all I did. I didn't wrap any packages and I didn't run errands, and at the other end I didn't sweat about where next month's operating cash was coming from. I did 'systems', only systems, and I did them very well indeed.

But here in our print-making venture, I have been trying to be not just that kind of general manager, but I have also been holding down a full-time line job (both carving and printing), while also trying to create the vision to take us into the future. It hasn't worked, as the staff member I talked to today well knows.

But she seems both able - and willing - to take on the position of manager of this new shop, and I am going to do everything in my power to make that happen, by doing the same thing that the music store owner did with me all those years ago: laying out a crystal-clear definition of responsibilities and resources, and then getting the hell out of the way.

It's going to be more difficult for me to escape from the carving and printing, but we are trying to convince some other good people to come on board over these coming months, so I may be able to reduce that part of my workload too.

Big corner office, here I come!


Comments on this story ...

Posted by: Mark Roberts

"Mado no giwa" at such a young age! ;-)

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