Introducing James Bond management

I’ve been directly managing product and marketing teams (and indirectly managing cross functional teams of all disciplines) for almost twenty years.  Over that time I’ve evolved a philosophy of management that I call James Bond management.

To understand James Bond management, let’s use the example of – you guessed it – James Bond.  James is a secret agent, which means his job is to go into difficult situations about which the facts are sketchy at best and drive a satisfactory resolution.  The mission goes something like this:  “James, our man in Bermuda has stopped calling in.  We don’t know what’s up.  Here’s your plane ticket and your false passport and a watch that squirts acid.  Go figure it out and call us if you need to.”  Now James wings off to Bermuda and starts sniffing around and makes decisions based on what he learns.  Sometimes it turns out that the agent in Bermuda is off drunk somewhere and the problem is easily managed.  Sometimes it turns out that SPECTRE is involved, and then it’s a much bigger deal.

But what doesn’t happen is the folks at home sitting and micromanaging James’s every move.  That’s because they can’t.  James is halfway around the world dealing with things in real time, and there’s no way M can look over his shoulder and say, “Throw the knife now!”  The folks in London instead have employed a highly capable, highly empowered agent, and they give the agent room to do his work.

To the fullest degree that I can, I try to use the same philosophy.  Each employee is a secret agent whose purview equals that employee’s job description.  Each is given James-Bond-like authority within that purview.  Just like James these employees enjoy as much latitude as they can handle, and just like James they all must hold themselves accountable to results.

Now, that doesn’t mean you just throw them into the wild and say, “Good luck with that.”  James Bond receives training and information and tools critical to his success, like the aforementioned watch that squirts acid.  So do James Bond employees.  James also knows where his boundaries are and when he’s stepping beyond them.  James can’t order an air strike, no matter how important he thinks it is.  But James can request an air strike and explain why it should happen.  Likewise James Bond employees enjoy clarity on what decisions they may make and where they become recommenders and influencers instead.

I mentioned above that James’s employers take this attitude because they simply have no choice.  To do otherwise is to guarantee failure.  I contend that the same is true for most information workers.  There is an old adage stating that if two people have the exact same opinion then one of them is unnecessary.  Over the years I have gotten great results by encouraging my James Bond employees to think for themselves.  Oftentimes they’ve innovated wonderful improvements that I myself had never considered.

Of course, while trust and freedom are critical to successful James Bond management, they only work if your employees really are James Bonds, at least in their specific areas.  That comes about through recruiting, mentorship, and culture.  I plan to get into more detail on how to attract, create, and maximize your James Bonds in future posts.  Stay tuned.

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