Originally from Qualicum Beach, BC, Aaron completed his BBA at Vancouver Island University with a double major in Marketing and Operations Management with a Diploma in Engineering. While studying for his degree, Aaron worked as a civil designer and on projects ranging from small subdivision developments to large-scale capital projects. He is now in his first year of MBA studies at Dalhousie University. Aaron enjoys sailing, rock-climbing and hiking.
I am in the middle of my corporate residency at Calgary Lock & Safe, the largest full-service locksmith/security shop in Alberta and among the top 10 in Canada. My title is Manager of Business Development and Strategy, but essentially my role is as a turn-around/business development consultant. My day/month includes a wide range of activities borrowing from accounting, finance, marketing and general business management. I oversee our three-person business/accounting team whose tasks include accounts payable, accounts receivable, general office activities and showroom sales. I am also responsible for dealing with pretty much every issue that comes up on a daily basis. My long-run projects include designing, constructing and implementing the company’s new accounting system, building our commercial credit application, developing our marketing strategy and identifying and improving company-wide processes and procedures.
Navigating Culture and Emotions
While the main purpose of my position is to help develop internal systems and processes that will allow the company to grow, much of my time is spent on managing people. Possibly the biggest shock for me was being thrown into a trades company that had a unique culture that I wasn’t necessarily used to. Most of the company’s employees are tradespeople, in contrast to the white collar environment to which I am accustomed. Different levels of formality, language, tone and even dress creates and maintains each unique culture. As a result, a manager needs to be very aware of how employees are interacting with each other, and respond quickly when a breakdown of their relationship occurs.
Another important element is the ability to engage in conversations without overreacting emotionally. The focus should be the issue, not necessarily the person. In fact, tone is often a more important element of a message, verbal or otherwise, than the specific wording. A good manager should be able to sense the type of emotion being put into the conversation by the tone, and adjust accordingly. I have found that the key is to remain calm, choose my wording and tone carefully, and focus on the issue at hand, not the person.
Managing Real People
At some point in almost every university graduate’s career, there will be the need to manage people. Perhaps not directly through formal authority, but indirectly through social circles. The big question is, how are we supposed to do this effectively? Prior to my work-term, my view on employees was that they should do their job, or they should leave. This is probably a result of the time I spent in the engineering industry and the intense culture surrounding it, but it has earned me the nickname at work of “Iron Fist”. However, what I have come to realize is that we do not all have the luxury of being able to hand-pick our employees to match our personal styles and preferences. I would guess that only a tiny portion of managers will ever be in a situation where they can hire an entirely new team. So for the rest of us, we need to find a way to work with existing employees and leverage their talents no matter their working style.
In any organizational behaviour textbook, statistics and models are used to predict employee behaviour and to determine how jobs are allocated. However, in the real world, you are dealing with real people with real personalities and real feelings. As a result, there are a plethora of personal issues that make their way into the workplace and, as a manager, you need to keep the positives maximized and the negatives minimized.
Managing happiness in the workplace is probably more suited to a psychologist than a manager, but in the business world there are a lot of managers and very few psychologists. As a result, most people management is actually just managing emotions. The age-old saying ‘a happy employee is a productive employee’ is quite possibly the most accurate phrase I have ever come across in business and is something I will consider in all my business undertakings.