Learning to Manage with The Management Center: A Conversation with Jerry Hauser

Though there are many important skills for every organizer to possess and develop, one of the most critical skills is effective management. The best part about effective management being so critical is that management is a skill that can be taught. Even if you don’t feel like the best manager right now, or even if you haven’t made management a priority, you can easily begin to shift your focus, adapt your mindset, and implement specific practices to become a better manager. In turn, you’ll deliver better results for the causes we all care about.

Every expert we’ve talked to brings up how important management is to successful organizing. Sara El-Amine, one of this issue’s featured organizers, looks at investing in management as the key to boosting your own productivity and scaling your efforts—making you a better organizer and better prepared for your future. Repeatedly in our chat with Sara, she brought up The Management Center and the work they do to prepare progressive leaders to better manage their work, their staff, and themselves. Sara has worked with The Management Center over many years and credits their trainings for helping to develop her and her team as effective leaders and better managers.

After our conversation with Sara, I was so excited to reach out to Jerry Hauser, the founding chief executive officer of The Management Center, to hear his insights and advice for organizers working to improve their management skills. The Management Center helps progressive leaders learn how to build and run more effective organizations. Jerry and his team founded The Management Center because they saw a lot of talented, committed activists fighting for progressive values and facing an uphill battle against opponents who, as Jerry puts it, “had more money, more power, and the advantage of a system designed to resist change.” Jerry knew that unless progressives learned to fight more effectively than their opponents, they will lose. He wanted to do his part to help progressives fight for our shared values as effectively as possible.

At The Management Center, Jerry and his team aim to equip progressive leaders with the best management practices from across sectors. They do this through one-on-one coaching, trainings, and publications that help build exceptionally effective organizations that win a disproportionate share of the time. “In essence, we aim to make it easier for leaders to get great results,” Jerry says.

Jerry wrote Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager’s Guide to Getting Results, to deliver to a broad audience the lessons that he and his team have learned working with and leading non-profit organizations. Every word of their book is remarkably useful for anyone who is invested in being a better manager of others and of themselves.

We hope you will carve out some time very soon to study the entire book; but in the meantime, we worked with Jerry to bring you some of his best tips and advice that you can learn from and implement right away. What follows is just a taste of the incredible wisdom The Management Center offers leaders at every level.

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First of all, why should organizers invest in managing?

Jerry says there are two main reasons you should invest in managing:

1. You will get better results! Not just in the long term but right away!

Management isn’t just a feel-good process that is nice to do if you have spare time. It’s the essence of how you get work done through other people.

Think of it like a numbers game. If you can build a team of volunteers and fellows who can make calls instead of just making calls on your own, you will get more done. Harnessing the power of people is a force-multiplier for organizers.

2. You are part of a broader movement. As an organizer, you are trying to change the world. No one can do that through one campaign—it’s a lifetime battle.

Part of the legacy you will create as an organizer is building a broader circle of people who can do the work. Through better management, you develop a team of leaders—a massive force of people who have the skills to deliver change.

So, if management is about “how you get work done through other people,” there are three parts of that definition– the work you’re trying to get done, the people with whom you’re doing it, and the you. To start, let’s look out how you should Manage the WORK.

Manage the WORK. How should organizers approach delegation?

As organizers, you are constantly delegating. When you recruit volunteers to help you knock on doors, you are delegating. But hopefully, as you become busier and more experienced, you will trust your volunteers to do much more.

When thinking about delegation, The Management Center recommends the guiding principle, “guide more, do less.” Guiding may take more time on the front end, but you will greatly increase your volunteers’ chances for success.

These are the components of good delegation The Management Center encourages you to do:

  1. Agree on expectations. Make sure you and your volunteer both know what success looks like.
  2. Stay engaged. Don’t just disappear! Find ways to know whether or not the work is on track, and to support or intervene as you need to.
  3. Create accountability and learning. Recognize accomplishments and acknowledge and address mistakes, all of which is a way of growing your people’s skills and of reinforcing an expectation that the work matters and that you’re paying attention to how it’s done.

 

How should organizers establish responsibility for different projects?

Use MOCHA! MOCHA is a simple framework The Management Center developed to cover the different roles needed for each piece of work.

  • Manager. Assigns responsibility and holds Owner accountable.
  • Owner. Has overall responsibility for the success of the project.
  • Consulted. Should be asked for input.
  • Helper. Available to help with the work.
  • Approver. Signs off on decisions before they are final.

 

How would the MOCHA framework (and taking the time to think through it) help an organizer be more effective?

JH: Three ways:

  1. MOCHA broadly makes sure that the roles on any given task are clear. On campaigns, everyone is so busy and no one has time for people to be tripping over each other or for people to be duplicating work.
  2. Part of the effectiveness of MOCHA is the O(wner) part. Everything has to have an owner. My team and I have sat in on meetings of organizers where we would see great ideas get developed and discussed and even agreed to. But then people would leave the room and there would be orphan ideas because nobody was taking care of the project. Part of what we wanted to develop was a simple vocabulary that helps people say, “Whose job is it to make sure that this idea is happening?”
  3. The third thing is for more senior organizers: it is really important to go from being an Owner to being a Manager. MOCHA helps you frame that transition. Organizers need to get really good at getting work done through other people and learning how to make that shift. Handing off the weight of responsibility is really key, so having a vocabulary around it helps organizers understand that they’re transitioning from being in an Owner role to that of Manager.

 

What are the benefits of delegating overall responsibility instead of continually delegating specific tasks?

JH: You can get more done because there’s less back and forth. You don’t have to sit down and agree on every little piece of the work. Because of that, it’s also a lot more rewarding for the people on your team to be able to drive a bigger area of work and to think bigger picture about how to make something successful. They will develop, they will grow, and they may be more likely to stay longer when they feel ownership of a bigger piece of work. Ultimately those two things add up to better results.

Also, there may be a bunch of tasks that you wouldn’t have thought through, or that someone else might just be better at thinking through. If you can hand over a broad responsibility to somebody—for example, saying, “Make our spring house parties successful”—you’ll get better results because your volunteer may think through a whole bunch of stuff that you as a manager wouldn’t have. They’ll be clear that they’re responsible for the success of the project as a whole, not just for a few specific activities they’ve been delegated.

What sort of structures bring all of this work management together?

When you approach managing the work, you want to have a clear understanding of the day-to-day work that needs to be done, who’s doing the work, and how this work connects to your big picture goals. Weekly one-on-one check-in meetings is one tool that is very helpful in doing this.

Check-ins ensure you and your volunteers have a regular time to touch base, discuss results, and agree on prioritization. As The Management Center says, “regular one-on-one meetings give you a forum for management.”

Scheduling weekly check-ins might get hard for organizers. Why should they make these check-ins a priority?

JH: There are a lot of reasons, but one that might be less obvious is diversity and equity. I think a lot of organizers are rightly very committed to building diversity and to promoting equity through their work of the campaign. Check-ins and direct feedback are often extra important when you’re managing across lines of difference where there may be miscommunications that arise because people are bringing different assumptions or different backgrounds to the work.

We know the progressive movement only succeeds if it looks like the country as a whole and to the extent that people are passionate about building diverse teams and succeeding in that way, using these management practices is particularly important in that context.

Now, here is how you should Manage the PEOPLE.

You will sometimes feel disappointed when managing individuals. Disagreements, miscommunications, and mistakes happen. Trusting in and working with others requires you to face these issues head-on, but we know how hard it is to address performance problems when dealing with volunteers.

What are the advantages of an organizer taking a thoughtful approach to addressing issues when they arise instead of ignoring them for too long?

JH: To be transparent, doing this can be really hard and I don’t want to minimize the difficulty of doing it in a volunteer context. That said, as a manager you have to start with an understanding that your impact is a function of what your team gets done, and what your team gets done is in large part a function of the caliber of the people you have on your team. It is really helpful to build a diverse team of high performers who can deliver at the highest level.

When issues do arise, most people appreciate direct feedback. If they’re not good at something, so often they know it deep down and talking about it openly can be a relief so that you can both figure out what makes sense from there— whether it’s coaching them to get better or realizing it’s just not the right fit. Also, though people can be pretty set in their ways, sometimes they don’t know what they’re doing wrong and what they need to change. By taking it on directly and having the hard conversation, you might turn a low performer into a high performer.

In raising performance issues with volunteers, ground the conversation in respect for the person and in what you’re trying to accomplish in the campaign. It’s been our experience that if you treat people with respect, they will often respond better than managers might fear. We know it’s a difficult dynamic with volunteers when they’re giving you their time for free, but people who’ve had tough conversations, even with volunteers, pretty much always end up saying that it was worth doing. You just have to do it carefully and thoughtfully, as you should in any context, but the dynamics don’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

Finally, make sure you learn to Manage YOURSELF.

In order to invest in managing other people, you need to also make sure you are managing yourself effectively.

How should you exercise authority?

The Management Center teaches that the key to exercising authority effectively involves avoiding being a wimp or a tyrant. Instead of being either of these (or even worse—both of these!), you should aim to be fair and assertive.

Jerry’s colleague Alison Green describes this middle ground as being matter-of- fact and collaborative about problems: “Yes, you’re holding people accountable, yes, you’re holding a high bar, but you’re not doing it in a way where you lord authority over other people. You are just calmly asserting what you need.”

Part of not being a wimp is not ignoring an issue when it arises. On the flip side of that, don’t yell or berate people (that would move you into tyrant territory). Instead, if you feel like a volunteer dropped the ball, sit down with the person and ask what happened— calmly! Conduct these conversations in a way that respects the dignity of the person while holding a high bar for what you need. You can be assertive and firm about expectations without being mean.

How should an organizer frame time management in their mind?

As Jerry says, part of approaching time management is simply a question of being intentional about your calendar. Do not just come into work and be a servant of your calendar; instead, come in and make your calendar a servant of your priorities.

What are some of The Management Center’s best tips for time management?

  • First, fit in the big rocks. Figure out what are the most important tasks that will dramatically drive your work forward. Allocate enough time for these big rocks first, because if you prioritize all the other little things (e.g., mini fire-drills, emails to respond to, etc.) there’s a danger that time for the big stuff will never materialize. Don’t just assume these critical priorities will happen because they are important. The time you spend on less-important tasks will either shrink or expand into the room you give it in your day.
  • Schedule blocks of time into your calendar to focus on these big rocks. Just like organizers know it’s more effective to ask a voter “when” they plan to vote instead of just asking “if ” they plan to vote, the same principle applies to getting important work done. Do you really need to write that recruitment email? Then block off an exact date and time on your calendar when you’ll focus on getting it done.
  • Make deliberate decisions about what tasks you won’t get to do. You may think you can do it all, but usually what happens is there’s not enough time and so something falls off. You need to be in control of what falls off. Is it still important? Then figure out who you can delegate the task to on your team.
  • Understand your comparative advantage. What are the things that— because of your skills or your role—you’re much better positioned to do than others on your team? What are the tasks you can delegate? The tasks you delegate may still be very important, but you should be spending your time in the areas where you’re much better than your volunteers because the pay-off will be greater.

 

If an organizer has a tough relationship with their own manager, what can they do to improve the relationship?

JH: There’s a fundamental change in mindset that my co-author on our book, Alison, has suggested and that can help lead you to think of the right practices. Alison suggests that people think of themselves as consultants and of their managers as their clients or their customers. For example, Alison really is a consultant herself and I’m one of her clients. When I do annoying things or make annoying requests, she can think, “Okay, that’s just Jerry, my client. I’m going to figure out if and how I can do that. If I need to push back, I’ll let him know.”

It becomes much less personal and leads you to be able to appreciate where your manager is coming from. If you’re not clear on what your manager wants, instead of feeling kind of like a victim, you’ll realize that you can say to your manager: “Hey, I walked away from that meeting not totally sure on what you wanted. This is what I think you were saying, is that right?”

Alison puts it similarly: “In strained employer/employee relationships, you often get this weird parent/child dynamic. If you think of yourself as a consultant and your boss as the client, when your boss says what they’re looking for, you can figure out whether you can do it and seek clarification where it’s needed. You can suggest modifications and then jointly kick those around. The whole time you’re seeing yourself operating as an independent person freely offering your services to the client and you’re approaching the relationship more like a peer. It takes a lot of the emotion that can make those relationships fraught at the moment.”

 

Effective management is the key to your success as an organizer and essential for professional growth and career advancement. Schedule some time to take a critical look at the way you approach management and figure out what else you can do to improve in this area. If you manage to improve your work, your people, and yourself, you will certainly manage to change the world around you.

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