Book Review of Bare Knuckle People Management by Sean O’Neil and John Kulisek

Key Concepts to take away from this book:

  • As a manager of a small team of 10 to 15 employees, a leader can actually be more effective by limiting hard-and-fast rules to a short list of directives.
  • It is vital that managers determine what each employee wants, and find a unique way to incentivize their behaviors.
  • Managers must discuss “large pink elephants,” or any type of uncomfortable topic of conversation in an office setting. For example, a pink elephant might include interpersonal dynamics, or reasons why someone was passed over for a promotion. Not talking about these issues can hurt productivity.
  • Managers must avoid delivering bad news in a cavalier tone, and be aware of thin-skinned employees. Making a concerted effort to do so results in increased productivity and higher job satisfaction.
Introduction In Bare Knuckle People Management, authors Sean O’Neil and John Kulisek present a frank and edgy guide to helping managers get the most from their teams. Rather than subscribing to traditional leadership attitudes, the authors argue that managers should keep using the skills that got them promoted in the first place to deal with the new challenges of their leadership roles. Bare Knuckle People Management can be used as a “field guide” for spotting various types of employees and deciding how to best manage them.

Part 1: The People Principles

People Principle #1: Team-Wide Rules Suck The authors argue that team-wide rules can actually inhibit a good team. They use the example of a high school, where authority figures must shape the behavior of the masses. While such rules work to control students and keep them working efficiently, the authors argue that in a business setting, unyielding rules can do more harm than good. For example, a manager might institute mandatory weekly meetings. However, attending the meeting might cut into the most productive hours of a star salesperson. Alternatively, a large meeting with the entire team in attendance could provide to be an intimidating atmosphere for a team member who lacks confidence. Instead, managers should take time to learn the strengths and weaknesses of each team member, and then customize policies that promote maximum job satisfaction and department-wide productivity. People Principle #2: Own Your Own Shit Managers need to be aware of their own contributions to poor employee-manager dynamics. This makes it easier for them to objectively assess issues with problem employees. The authors point to an example of a boss avoiding one of his employees because of the employee’s tendency to tell boring stories about his pet cats. After the boss owned up to his avoidance and explained why he was dodging the employee, the working relationship between the two men was repaired. People Principle #3: Look for Leverage Everywhere…and Exploit It Like Crazy “Management leverage” is an advantageous situation where a manager can exert a small amount of effort to reap a large return. The first step in finding these leverage points is for a manager to have one-on-one meetings with every team member to find ut what specifically motivates them. For example, an employee might be angling for a promotion. If he wants to be considered for a management role himself, his boss might suggest that he mentors a new hire on the team. An active mentorship benefits the manager, who needs a team that works smoothly, as well as the employee, who craves mentorship experience in order to advance his career. People Principle #4: Talk Often about Large Pink Elephants “Large pink elephants” are any type of uncomfortable topic of conversation in an office setting. The longer these types of issues fester, the more damage they can do to a whole department’s productivity. By having frank discussions about interpersonal issues, such as employee hygiene or bitterness over a lost promotion, a manager can clear the air and address issues head on. Being up front and honest delivers the message that hidden agendas and sabotage have no place on the team. People Principle #5: Weigh Words and Tone Carefully Some managers rise to their current positions by being thick-skinned; however, they must remember that not all members on their team have the same ability to shake off criticism. Choosing words and tone carefully ensure that the real message is getting across during conversations with employees, and helps to prevent sensitive team members from getting hurt. Knowing who needs to be coddled and who can take constructive feedback is an important skill for any manager. A bit of forethought can vastly improve how a manager gets through to his more sensitive employees. People Principle #6: Give Individual Feedback Frequently (and Remember That Point about Leverage) The authors argue that giving feedback to employees is the best way to mold their behavior. The authors point to the “ABC” method of delivering feedback: A: Ask employees to accept some direct feedback. B: State the employee’s observed behavior in objective, unemotional terms. C: Identify the consequences of the target behavior, be it an enticement or an undesired consequence. People Principle #7: Apologize Well…and Then Move On! When sensitively delivered, a simple, unqualified apology can magically right a wrong, or help to humanize a leader to his staff. Managers should give an apology, acknowledge errors, and move back to the business at hand. They can also follow a three-pronged, cautionary list to review before giving an apology: 1. Do not use apologies as vehicles to restate a position. This makes the apology seem insincere. 2. Do not lean too heavily on apologies. If apologies are used constantly, they lose their effect to diffuse tense situations. 3. Check for large pink elephants. A pink elephant might be the underlying cause of an incident.

Part II: Your Workplace: Winners, Losers, Misfits, and All

The authors present a system where every employee can be categorized into one of sixteen different character profiles. In each example character profile, the authors refer to the character by a single gender; however, in reality, a character can be of either gender. Character Profile #1: The Franchise The Franchise is an employee with all the right moves who acts as a great example to other team members.Despite being a winning member of the team, Franchise often struggles to accept constructive feedback. The authors suggest that real-life celebrities like Derek Jeter and Michael Jordan are good examples of the Franchise in action. Strategies for managing a Franchise player include giving him room to spread his wings, giving him a high-profile project, and using him to develop the skill sets of other team members. Character Profile #2: The Legend The Legend commands respect wherever he goes, and is always honest and professional. He delivers predictable results, knows many people in the industry, and possesses skills that can be invaluable if correctly transferred to underperforming team members. Real life examples include Tom Brokaw, as well as Michael Jordan when he moved from the Bulls to the Wizards. The Legend has a unique propensity for teaching others; however, it is vital that the Legend never feels like he is being targeted for training that is beneath his level. He often needs to be treated with care and needs to be given a chance to shine. He wants to feel that he has been specially targeted for work on big projects. Keeping a Legend on a team, even if he struggles with the latest technology, is a good idea as his continued presence shows younger employees that they can be treated well after years of great performance. Character Profile #3: The Player The Player is a smooth-talking, amiable sort of person. Real-life examples include Bill Clinton, Ryan Seacrest, and Ashton Kutcher: people who are so charming it is hard not to fall under their spell. That does not mean that the Player is without faults, however. While they excel at schmoozing, their banter can sometimes come off as insincere or even “used car salesman-like.” Being “one of the crowd” will sap his energy, and he also does not do well in detail-oriented positions. Instead, he should be placed in a role where he can network and build relationships. Managing a Player well often involves varying his scenery and job responsibilities, letting him take the lead on big projects, and keeping him from getting bored. He can sometimes be prone to backstabbing behavior, as well as drops in performance after he detects some perceived slight against him. By trying to please all people, all the time, the Player often bites off more than he can chew. Character Profile #4: The Badass The Badass is often so self-confident that she rubs people the wrong way. There is a reason for her attitude, however: she is always working and always getting results. On the other hand, she can often trample her own colleagues in her quest for dominance. Real-world examples include Hilary Clinton, Angelina Jolie, and Dick Cheney. The Badass is not a good team player, but that does not mean she does not deserve a spot on the team. Despite being abusive of her peers, she performs well when she is given clear goals to meet. When directed with firm feedback, the Badass can sometimes work well with others. Character Profile #5: The Future Future is a young-blood that is self-motivated and hungry for experience. Real-life Futures include Mark Zuckerberg and Tiger Woods (circa 1996). Rigid hierarchies where seniority is based solely on tenure can make Future feel like his accomplishments are not being counted fairly. A Future does well when put on a variety of projects to stave off boredom, and he takes feedback very well assuming his bad habits are caught early. Character Profile #6: Steady Eddie Steady Eddie is the proverbial glue that holds a team together. The authors describe him as being cut from the same cloth as a basketball player with plenty of assists and rebounds. Real-life examples of this personality type include any NFL Right Tackle. Additionally, Alice from The Brady Bunch had a similar effect on her family “team.” Steady Eddies are willing to do grunt work, and they deliver consistent results. However, some of those results may not always feel tangible since so much of what they do is providing support for other members of the team. While not a self-starter by any means, a Steady Eddie with solid training is capable of working independently. This character type excels at deconstructing why a certain process is broken, and then finding a creative solution to fix it. He usually has his finger on the pulse of the entire team’s morale. Character Profile #7: The Noodler The Noodler thinks he is the smartest guy in the room, although his colleagues rarely agree with that assessment. While his reports are always impeccable and he is good at uncovering underlying issues with future plans, the Noodler lacks creativity and speed. A real life example includes NFL coach Bill Belichick. Think of the Noodler as that annoying know-it-all from high school: every question he asks is designed to show off how smart he is. However, the Noodler is easily overwhelmed, and cannot be micromanaged. While the Noodler can be a nightmare, it usually pays to have someone on a team who is willing to comb through details and red tape that no one else wants to deal with. Character Profile #8: The Doer The Doer is usually the first one at her desk in the morning, and the last to leave at night. Always on the move, the Doer has a sense of smug self-importance. However, her calendar tends to get cluttered with appointments and meetings that are not a good use of her time. The Doer is obsessed with perceived achievements, not with measurable results. Examples of this personality type include Donald Trump and the U.S. Congress. The Doer thrives at places like accounting firms or law firms because these types of employers generally favor workers who put in long hours. Whoever is giving the Doer a list of assignments needs to make sure that the list is long enough to fully engage the Doer, or else she will look elsewhere for tasks to keep her occupied. The Doer also has a tendency to use her self-created busyness as an excuse for missing deadlines. When forced to give daily activity updates to her manager, the Doer can start to see patterns in her own behavior and fill her hours with more productive output. Character Profile #9: The Whistler The Whistler is the team’s self-appointed whistleblower, always taking it upon himself to report to the manager about the misbehavior of his colleagues. However, this desire to monitor the behavior of fellow employees often results in lost productivity. Real-life examples include Sammy “The Bull” Gravano and Chris Hansen. Strategies for managing a Whistler effectively include placing him in a situation where he must be accountable for his own output in order to keep him from spending all his time spying on others. Additionally, it pays to investigate his claims independently, as the Whistler may just be tattling in order to shift focus from his own underperformance and mistakes. Character Profile #10: ADHD Butterfly While the ADHD Butterfly might be friendly and gregarious, she tends to focus on all the wrong details. She focuses on socializing and relationship building, but does not always have the output that should come from those relationships. However, she is always a hit at conventions. Examples include the character Kelly from the television series The Office and Robin Williams. She is generally a visual learner, and she needs to be educated face-to-face, not with a book or over the phone. Under rigid supervision and high-volume workloads, the flighty tendencies of the Butterfly can be reined in somewhat. Enlisting the aid of a Whistler to monitor the Butterfly can help keep her on track. However, the ADHD Butterfly needs a distraction-free work environment to really produce quality work. If she continually drains the energy of management or the rest of the team, she should be set free. Character Profile #11: Needy Ned Needy Ned is a sheepish, meek individual who is constantly seeking approval for even the most minor of requests. While this trait is annoying, there are some upsides to Needy Ned’s behaviors. For example, he will never make a big decision that could hurt the company because he lacks the confidence to make any decision without authorization. Additionally, Needy Ned is usually very loyal. Examples of the Needy Ned personality include Cameron Frye from the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, or what the authors call a “Needy Nadine,” meaning an overly clingy high school girlfriend. Government agencies, law firms, and the military are all great environments for a guy like Needy Ned. The authors note that it is easy to mistake new hires for a Needy Ned, since many new hires are tentative about decision-making in their new positions at first. By pairing Needy Ned with Steady Eddie and praising Ned when he makes an independent decision, a manager can temper his bad qualities and make the best of an employee with a great work ethic. Character Profile #12: Mr. Inappropriate (Yes, It’s Almost Always “Mister”) Mr. Inappropriate is an HR nightmare and a lawsuit waiting to happen. Rude, crude, and lewd, this character is sometimes a hit with clients of a certain age. More often than not, however, he is an embarrassment. Examples of famous Mr. Inappropriates include Howard Stern and Andrew Dice Clay. While he will play well with the Badass and the Player, Mr. Inappropriate is often a liability. While he usually has great productivity and performance, his personality has an adverse impact on those around him. If he refuses to stop telling inappropriate jokes, it may be time to find a new role for him. Character Profile #13: The Slacker The Slacker is defined by a blend of intelligence and flakiness. Famous examples of the Slacker include George W. Bush (who took more vacation days than any other President), as well as Paul Allen, the cofounder of Microsoft who cashed out early to fund his yacht and guitar hobbies. While the Slacker has plenty of the Three Ps (pedigree, polish, and potential), he also excels at the Three Ds (disappointment, difficulty tracking them down, and damn good excuses). He is suited for environments where he needs to meet a bare minimum quota for sales or production since he lacks discipline. While he has a lot in common with the Franchise, the Slacker never rises to the level of success that the Franchise has because he is simply too immature.
Management is hard work. You have to find out what makes each of your people tick, and leverage that information to get as much as you can from each. You have to study the dynamics of your team and carefully craft a set of policies accordingly.
Character Profile #14: The Burnout While the Burnout once had the potential to become a Franchise, that was decades ago. Now, the Burnout is woefully behind the times. Though he means well, the Burnout lacks verve and energy. Examples include the late-stage careers of Steven Segal and Whitney Houston. While mentoring and training roles are a natural fit for the Burnout, it must be noted that he might hand down outdated training techniques if left totally unsupervised. The authors suggest that gently guiding a Burnout toward retirement may be the best result for all involved. While the Burnout has paid his metaphorical dues and is therefore deserving of respect, that does not change the fact that his career is on an irreversible downward slope. Character Profile #15: The Retread The Retread is always dressed like a pro and up on the latest jargon. She seems like the total package, but she’s really just a Trojan horse. As soon as she’s hired, her inability to do her job becomes apparent. Worse, the Retread refuses to take responsibility for any wrongdoing. Instead, the problems are caused by “the market” or “the idiots I work with.” Examples of the Retread include Don Imus or DC Mayor Marion Berry. When the Retread claims that she spent 50 hours on a project, she likely only spent five. Because she will not ever change her conniving ways, the authors recommend that she be fired as quickly as possible. Character Profile #16: The Asshole According to the authors, there are three types of workplace assholes: 1. Type A: Associative Asshole. He is the worst possible combination of Badass, Noodler, and Player. He demands recognition for his value, though in reality he has no value at all. 2. Type B: Born-Better Asshole. Despite coming from a prestigious family or school, this character lacks the work ethic to live up to his fancy credentials. His vanity is one of his many personality issues. 3. Type C: Cantankerous Asshole. Arguably the worst type of workplace asshole, the Cantankerous Asshole is mean simply for his own amusement. O.J. Simpson and Simon Cowell are prime examples of assholes in real life. The authors note that there is no cure for his behavior. The Asshole will not respond to training or coaching, and should be removed from the team as soon as possible.

Part III: The Teams

Team #1: The Dream Team After exploring the character types, it is important to learn how to manage different combinations of these players. The first team combination is the Dream Team, which is often filled with Franchises, Futures, Legends, Badasses, and Players. At first, it might seem like managing a Dream Team is a wish come true since there is no dead weight on this team of ambitious gogetters. However, the Dream Team only works when the team members are all doing what they are best at. Dream Team members often need someone to dump their paperwork on since they refuse to do anything beneath their levels. They are also susceptible to conflict within the team caused by big egos. To combat these issues, a good manager must love the team members equally, but differently. Each person needs to feel appreciated and unique in order to perform their best work. Team #2: Hickory The Hickory team is easy to spot: there is usually just one star player (a Franchise), surrounded by Utility Players and Benchwarmers. However, that one Franchise player can carry the entire team, much like the character Jimmy Chitwood in the film Hoosiers. As long as the Franchise gets along with the rest of the team, he will share his skills and connections with them. When working with a Hickory team, the authors suggest implementing something called a “Franchise Forgiveness Factor.” Much in the same way that Michael Jordan was allowed to miss practices and travel apart from the rest of the Bulls team, the Franchise player on a Hickory team can also benefit from preferential treatment. It must be made clear to the rest of the team, however, that if they reach Franchise’s level of success, they will also gain these benefits. Team #3: All Thumbs The All Thumbs team contains only Utility Players. On the plus side, any manager who can achieve a great performance with a team like this will receive major recognition. The main problem with an All Thumbs team is the lack of confidence displayed by each team member. One technique for boosting the performance of these middle-of-the-road teams is to start a contest among them to see who can get the most sales. A customized weekly activity chart can also help to motivate performance. With this group, micromanaging is a must. Team #4: Wounded Veterans A Wounded Veterans business team is populated with tired, embittered players, including Retreads, Burnouts, and Slackers. While they may have a long tenure, this group plots together to do as little work as possible. The one thing this group excels at is outlasting managers. To manage this close-knit team of scoundrels, the key is to bring in fresh blood. For example, a Badass will call a Retread out on her unjustified claims and take the wind out of her sails. By hiring true professionals to round out the team, these Veterans will have to become accountable for their behavior. Team #5: The Rookies Rookies are young, foolish, and prone to making mistakes. However, they are also impressionable, and a good manager can easily mold the raw talent of the players. Constant micromanaging will help the Rookies learn good habits. Additionally, Rookies benefit from participating in corporate or team cultural events, such as outings and team building exercises. The manager who takes time to build the right corporate culture with the Rookies can instill values related to great customer service and work ethic.

Part IV: Getting the Call

The First 30 Days as a Manager The first thing a manager-to-be should do when they “get the call” is to START right. The START method for assuming leadership includes:
  • Surveying the landscape.
  • Tailoring the team policies and strategies to fit.
  • Announcing the plan.
  • Rolling out the plan.
  • Tweaking the plan based on the first 30 days.
By assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the team (and the out-going management), a manager-to-be can start defining rules and expectations for the team as a whole. During the first 30 days after the new plan is rolled out, the authors recommend a “Start-Stop- Continue” exercise, where the new manager gets feedback from the team about what practices should start, stop, or continue in the future. Lastly, if you liked this book review please don’t forget to leave your comments with any feedback & also I would be glad if you share this with your friends via Facebook, Twitter, etc.]]>

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