Management by memo… is not management.

Management by memo… is not management.

As general manager of a motel, my Saturday routine included walking each floor. One morning as I walked the hall, I saw an open door to the South Central Bell office. I thought something was wrong, maybe someone had broken into the room. I pushed the door open a little and looked down the short hall. All I could see was a foot with an old wing tip shoe on it. At once, I recognized that Furman was in his office. I asked, “What the heck are you doing in here on a Saturday?” He explained, “Jim I sent in a memo for a requisition”. The memo got through South Central Bell with all the approvals. The memo got to our vice president at AT&T; he questioned why I had put the memo in the wrong format. I must give him an answer. Jim, I can’t figure out how to answer him. Furman, I could see, was sweating bullets; he looked like someone who thought his career was over. I thought how stupid and bureaucratic his company must be, I was glad not to work at an outfit like that.

 Now, supervising a dispatch center, I live and die by the memo process. Dispatch center employees work rotating shifts. I use memos to communicate with my employees. A memo is different from a process. Most times a memo is for information; and, not a change in a process. I am very careful about sending out memos. I remember that God gave Moses a memo that did not work out well for Moses. Moses had to explain to God why he broke the first one. I am certainly not Moses, but some of the bosses I work for think they are God. So, I always have someone review the memo to make sure the memo says what I want it to say. Most times the person is my boss; or, an employee that the memo will affect. Sometimes, I will consult with the company’s risk department. When my memo has an impact on another department, I contact that department to make sure the memo does not cause problems for them. I know that once the memo goes out, it can seem to be written in stone. Therefore, I add the comment, “if you have any questions please contact me” above my signature.

The memo is not a manager; I have to follow up to make sure we all perform as the memo states. I experienced this lesson early in my career. At the Admiral Benbow Inn, I supervised a restaurant manager and he supervised the chef. Every time I went into the kitchen cooler it was filthy. I instructed the restaurant manager to get the chef to make sure the cooler was cleaned daily. This did not happen. I then instructed the chef to keep the cooler clean, it did not happen. Then, I got a wise idea. I put a memo on the cooler door from the cooler to the employees. It stated the cooler was upset; because, he was dirty. The memo informs the employees of all the issues he felt a need to be done to keep him happy. Guess what, none of the employees read the memo. The cooler and I became very disappointed. I was back to where I started. I tore the memo from the door.   I took the same memo to the restaurant manager and chef with the admonition that it be done. I told them that the cooler will be clean or their monthly bonus is gone. This worked a “double team”, the memo and the admonition. I learned that management by memo is not effective. A memo without a manager is not effective. 

Management by memo is very difficult. I understand a memo without my follow up is not effective. I know once the memo is sent, it can be an effective tool for managing individual performance. I only put out a “shotgun” memo once. I use the memo in follow up discussions with individual employees who do not perform. I inform employees that ask me to send out the memo again to all the employees; I will not. If I have an employee that is not performing according to the memo, I talk with them one on one. Sending the shotgun memo multiple times does not work. It seems that the individual employee with the performance issue misses the point again and again. Also, all the other employees wonder why I keep sending out the same memo, they are doing as required. This is the memo trap, just because you send a memo; do not expect all employees to adhere to it without your personal input.

Memos do not manage, you do.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

About OJ

I am a retired first line manager with over 40 years of experience. In operations management, accounting management, and central operations management. It is my wish to convey some of the experiences I have learned form over the years in the articles on my site.
This entry was posted in business, Jim's mistakes and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.