The OpSec Blog

Security and privacy information and advice at home and abroad.

Google’s Guide to Management Success

with 2 comments

Last week Google announced the results of a study on how to build more effective managers (NYT article, list of good behaviors).  The following is the list of Eight Good Behaviors and how they apply to my day to day job as an Security Engineering Officer (SEO).  While I’ll use SEO examples just because that’s what I know, you can really apply these to any specialty, cone, or upper-level position in the Foreign Service.  I wish that some of my (former) bosses and former friends’ bosses would take some of these to heart…

To follow along, Google’s advice will be bolded, with sub-items indented in an unordered list.  My commentary will be italicized.

1. Be a good coach

  • Provide specific, constructive feedback, balancing the negative and the positive.
  • Have regular one-on-ones, presenting solutions to problems tailored to your employees’ specific strengths.

I completely agree with having a good “mentor” (the FS word for “coach”) or mentors throughout your career.  SEOs are thrust into the management scene fairly early on in their careers; it’s not uncommon for junior SEOs to supervise multiple other direct hires, local staff, or contractors in their first tour.  Given that they’re fresh out of training, it’s hard to mentor an STS who has been on the job for 15 years and a Seabee who has fixed more locks than you can shake a stick at.  That’s where you seek the advice of a more senior SEO on what to do.  I haven’t met an SEO yet not willing to help out a junior colleague.

2. Empower your team and don’t micromanage

  • Balance giving freedom to your employees, while still being available for advice. Make “stretch” assignments to help the team tackle big problems.

One of the worst experiences as an SEO I can remember was on my training temporary duty (TDY) in which the well-meaning Officer In Charge (OIC) at the post I traveled to stood over my shoulder while I was trying to do something I had never done before.  I resolved never to do that to one of my people if I ever made it that high.  As a manager I emphasize that I trust the expertise of the people working for me, and that I’m always available to lend whatever assistance I can.

3. Express interest in team members’ success and personal well-being

  • Get to know your employees as people, with lives outside of work.
  • Make new members of your team feel welcome and help ease their transition.

This really should go without saying.  I can promise you that at small posts this is not an option- you know everybody’s business (and everyone knows yours) whether you want to or not.  The Foreign Service also does an incredible job of welcoming new employees whether in orientation or fresh off the plane in a new place.

4. Don’t be a sissy: Be productive and results-oriented

  • Focus on what employees want the team to achieve and how they can help achieve it.
  • Help the team prioritize work and use seniority to remove roadblocks.

This is a nice idea, but it’s not how things work in the Foreign Service or in DS.  “The team” doesn’t decide what they want to do- you do (or your boss does)!  If you don’t like that, tough it out- you were hired for your ability to see the big picture and adjust resources as appropriate.  You need to integrate your team’s strength into the overall plan, and put people on course if they’re astray.  While you should never close the door to employee input, as the SEO you’re going to have the final say (unless the Regional Security Officer (RSO) or Ambassador stops you, which is rare because they usually turn to you for technical security advice).

5. Be a good communicator and listen to your team

  • Communication is two-way: you both listen and share information.
  • Hold all-hands meetings and be straightforward about the messages and goals of the team.  Help the team connect the dots.
  • Encourage open dialogue and listen to the issues and concerns of your employees.

Communication skills are not only essential when dealing with the engineering team, you’re going to have to deal with lots of other embassy employees on a daily basis to do your job.  The General Services Officer (GSO) and Facilities Manager (FM) own the building and embassy grounds.  The Financial Management Officer (FMO) controls the cash.  The RSO will make your case to the Ambassador with, if you do it right, their blessing (usually enough to get the Ambassador to sign off).  An embassy is one large team- nobody can do their job well without involving multiple others.

6. Help your employees with career development.

This sort of goes back to #1.  The mentor program in DS is excellent- volunteers are enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and usually bend over backwards for their apprentices.  You also make a good friend in the middle management, a relationship which can pay off handsomely if they rise into the upper echelons.  As an SEO, you owe it to your Seabees and Security Technical Specialists (STS) to write excellent Employee Evaluation Reports (EERs) that will get them promoted.  This is a great situation- rarely will an SEO be in a position to write an EER for a colleague who might compete against them for promotion in a reasonable amount of time.  There’s no conflict of interest and everyone’s happy (in theory)!

7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team

  • Even in the midst of turmoil, keep the team focused on goals and strategy.
  • Involve the team in setting and evolving the team’s vision and making progress towards it.

My favorite boss summed up an SEO’s job in five words: “Keep people alive.  Protect information.”  If an SEO is doing something unrelated to those ideals, they are not doing their job right.   In a stressful situation I’ve never had a problem keeping my team focused on the task at hand, and everything we do makes progress towards those intangible goals.  (Since last March he told me he had gotten it down to four words; “Nobody dies.  No Wikileaks.”)

8.  Have key technical skills so you can help advise the team

  • Roll up your sleeves and conduct work side by side with the team, when needed.
  • Understand the specific challenges of the work.

Guess what?  You don’t have a choice whether or not to learn the technical skills needed as an SEO.  If you don’t, your employees are going to resent you as the paper-pusher.  If you don’t, you will not get promoted.  If you don’t, your corridor reputation will suffer.  SEOs are managers- but if you’re not capable of doing even just a B+ job (compared to a Seabee or STS)  on any of the technical systems we deploy overseas, I would suggest that you are no longer qualified to do your job.

Well there you have it- a jumbled and fairly incongruous summary of management from an SEO’s perspective.  Google also lists “Three Pitfalls of Managers” which I won’t spend time going over- basically all you have to do is put a “Don’t” in front of #1-8 above and you have a good idea of what they’re getting at.

Got any good management tactics from a previous or current job you’d like to share?  Leave one in the comments.


2 Responses

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  1. The OpSec Blog is a great one. I often read it from home several times-a-week.

    I joined the Foreign Service after working nearly 20 years in the private sector. The Department of State has a LONG way to go before embracing Google’s management styles. Change takes time and if DoS wants to remain a competitive employer, then upper management should take heed to what you posted “at the soonest”.

    Globe Trotter

    30/05/2011 at 07:37

    • DOS is a long way from Google, but the nice thing about it is that individuals have some leeway to develop their own management style within the confines determined by your post, your superiors, and your subordinates. I do what I can to be a good manager… it’d be nice if people **ahem** higher up the chain would do the same from time to time. You run into management issues everywhere, as you probably know… management is often a product of the person, not the institution. At least that’s my opinion (i.e. doing a crappy job with a great boss is a lot better than doing a great job with an awful boss).

      Thanks for your comment.


      30/05/2011 at 22:23

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