Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Kelly Management Technique

Yesterday, I covered the New York Times story about Gen. John Kelly work as White House chief of staff. Everyone who cares about management theory and even management practice is watching the process very closely. After all, Kelly knows how to manage. He knows how to be an executive. For the Trump White House, it's a new experience.

Of course, everyone is too polite to suggest that if President Trump needed Gen. Kelly to manage the staff, he himself was somewhat lacking in executive ability. You would think that a business executive would know how to manage a large organization. In Trump’s case, such seems not to be the case.

Today, a few words from the Wall Street Journal story about Kelly’s no-nonsense, no drama management techniques:

In the Oval Office earlier this week, a small group of senior officials talked with President Donald Trump about plans to take on Beijing over intellectual-property theft. When a side debate broke out between two top aides, the new White House chief of staff ordered the pair out of the room.

Return, John Kelly told them, once your differences are resolved, according to a person familiar with the exchange.

The move kept the meeting on track. It also signaled to top staff that Mr. Kelly, a retired four-star general, planned to bring new order and discipline to a West Wing that has been riven for six months with division and disorganization.

After one week, other signs of Mr. Kelly’s taking the reins include the end of the unchecked flow of paperwork that crosses the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, and a new, more formal process for meeting with the president, according to interviews with more than two dozen White House officials, the president’s informal advisers, associates of Mr. Kelly, members of Congress and Capitol Hill aides.

Taking charge of the White House has meant that communication with the president goes through Kelly. It is formal, organized, and decidedly not ad hoc:

The new rules extend to Mr. Trump’s family. Son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump, who serve as official advisers in the White House and have their own staffs, now report to Mr. Kelly instead of directly to the president, as does chief strategist Steve Bannon.

Staffers no longer loiter outside an open Oval Office door, hoping to catch the president’s eye to be waved in for a chat or the chance to pitch a new idea. That door is now closed.

Aides can’t linger outside the chief of staff’s office, either. White House staff waiting to see Mr. Kelly—or other senior advisers in nearby suites—are asked to remain in the lobby, where White House visitors sit on couches and can read a selection of daily newspapers.

Time and place for meetings also send a message to participants:

Mr. Kelly moved senior staff meetings to 8 a.m., instead of 8:45, and holds them around the long mahogany table of the Roosevelt Room. His predecessor, Mr. Priebus, held the meetings in his office, where the television was often turned on and where staff could often redirect the discussion away from the agenda.

Yesterday, I mentioned one of the most interesting aspects of this experiment. Can Kelly succeed in managing up? Can he manage his boss and teach him to be more organized…without appearing to do so.

The Journal hints at how “managing up” works:

 Among the clearest changes since Mr. Kelly’s arrival is a more careful review of information, from statements of fact to news reports, before it goes to the president’s desk, a White House official said. News articles and policy proposals will first be run through Mr. Kelly, in part to reduce the risk of erroneous material appearing on the presidential Twitter feed.

Mr. Kelly is also cracking down on what the White House official calls “paper”—unsolicited policy ideas that have made it to the president’s desk, and sometimes into his public statements, without serious review by his top-level staff.

For the first time since the Trump presidency began, someone is in charge. You might consider that to be a relief. While it does not reflect well on the management skills of the chief executive, it does show that Trump understood that he needed more help to do the job, someone who had the skills that he lacks. There was no method behind the chaos.


Webutante said...

Great post, Stuart. Deep down, all of us thrive on order, discipline and boundaries. And most of us need a certain degree of supervision. Time will tell, but I suspect we will see a gradual improvement in Trump's presidentialness-- and yes I know it may not be a word. We will know it when we see it.

Thank you.

Sam L. said...

If we do, Webutante, the media will hate that.

Ares Olympus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ares Olympus said...

At least we now have a narrative of hope. And these structural boundaries should also reduce opportunities for leaks.

What sort of person in the White House would leak embarrassing conversations by our president? This could drive any ordinary scoundrel crazy! Nobody knew winning could be so complicated.
---- Trump to Peña Nieto: 1/27/17
The only thing I will ask you though is on the wall, you and I both have a political problem. My people stand up and say, “Mexico will pay for the wall” and your people probably say something in a similar but slightly different language. But the fact is we are both in a little bit of a political bind because I have to have Mexico pay for the wall – I have to.

This is sort of like a middle school bully, who has been demanding lunch money, secretly negotiating with his victims to act properly defeated, to help with his reputation.

David Foster said... is this different from the JFK - Khrushchev deal for the US to remove the Jupiter missiles in Turkey, but Khrushchev to not tell anyone that was a quid pro quo for taking the Soviet missiles out of Cuba?

Ares Olympus said...

David Foster said... is this different...?

You must be joking.

It is different because Trump is a fool and creates his own problems. No sane person uses a vindictive crowd to set foreign policy.

David Foster said...

Why is it 'vindictive' if people who compete with low-cost labor want to reduce the supply of that labor?

If executives and unions in a particular industry want to reduce the imports that compete with their products, you might call them many things, but I doubt you would call them 'vindictive'.

So why do you apply the term to working people who have nothing to sell but their labor?