How Often Should a Profit Center Manager Contact You?

Your business is going pretty well. You have 18 employees and three product lines. Each of those three profit centers is headed by a manager — Dick, Jane, and Spike.

Dick is in your office five times a day and copies you on every e-mail he sends or receives. When you give him advice on a direction to take, he asks for details. He tape records your directions and follows them scrupulously. His goal is to please you by doing everything you say exactly as you say it.

Jane is another ball of wax. When you challenge her with a business objective, she questions it as if she’s not quite sure you have it right. After a longish conversation, she will reluctantly agree to take on the project. And then you don’t hear from her again — no e-mails, no copied correspondence, no office stop-bys, nothing — until the project has either succeeded or failed. Jane’s goal is to impress you by showing you how smart she is and by doing everything herself.

Dick is a pain in the butt and a waste of your time. He makes you do his work by asking too many questions, and he never applies any of his own creativity to a project. Jane is a loose cannon. She is so intent on being in charge that she resists your advice. She doesn’t trust you and you don’t trust her.

You write a little story titled “Dick and Jane Meet Spike,” and give it to Dick and Jane. The story is about three profit center managers who are vying to be CEO. Spike gets the job. Here’s why:

  • When Spike wants your advice, he pops into your office, smiling. “Do you have a minute?” he asks. And he means it. He gets right to the point and is gone in the briefest amount of time. His behavior makes you feel that (a) he respects your time and (b) he values your judgment.
  • When you delegate a task to Spike, he asks you in advance if there is any aspect of that job that you want him to report on. Unless you specifically tell him that you want to be copied on certain correspondence or consulted at certain points, he operates invisibly. Because Spike takes the time to ask, you feel comfortable that he is happy to keep you in the loop. And since he is willing to execute his task independently, you feel confident that he will continue to grow and take on more responsibilities.
  • When Spike attends group meetings, he is always prepared. He has his marketing numbers at hand (although he seldom needs to refer to them because he can recite the key numbers off the top of his head). Furthermore, he always has at least one good idea to offer.
  • Spike is considerate and supportive of his fellow workers. But he never gets dragged into office politics or takes his focus off his job — which is to produce long-term profits for his product line.

If you have a Dick or a Jane working for you — or if you suspect you might be a Dick or a Jane — take a lesson from Spike. The guy is good. And he’s moving up.

[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]