5 managerial shortcuts guaranteed to make your life miserable

If you’re like most managers, you’ve probably at one point in your career thought “I’d love my job if it weren’t for the people messing everything up”.  I’ve never met a manager who didn’t at one time or another wish that s/he didn’t have to deal with people any more.  All managers get anxiety when their people are not performing, but the great leaders are the ones who channel that anxiety into helping people improve rather than make themselves feel better by unloading on their subordinates.   There are countless books about how to be a better manager and implementing the ideas in them will help. Regardless, there are still some common pitfalls managers engage in that may seem like shortcuts at the time, but end up causing unnecessary time and energy dealing with ‘people problems’.  So here are some common offenders


1)      Not taking the time to understand your own strengths, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies

I’ve spoken previously about common traits of entrepreneurs.  Chances are if you are a manager or leader then you were a great individual contributor with high capacity and are achievement oriented.  You also are comfortable with if not desirous of holding positions of authority.  But what’s it really like to work for you?  Do you like to micro-manage every little detail, or are you more comfortable with a 30,000 level update?  Please take the time to know your own strengths and weaknesses and hire people who complement you.  It is rarely necessary to hire your clone, so please avoid the temptation to fill your office with people just like you.  It rarely works well.

2)      Not developing good behavioral interview questions to use on each potential new employee

The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.  I have not been exposed to an argument to the contrary (and there are many, to be fair) that has swayed me from this tactic.  While I understand the theory behind situational questions (What would you do if…) I remain unconvinced of their predictive validity.  If I need someone who can manage difficult clients, I would much rather hear about the most difficult client relationship they managed and how it was resolved than their thoughts on an imaginary situation.  Yes, a terrible answer to a situational question can weed out the horrible applicants, but I prefer to think of interviewing as ‘mining for greatness’ rather than ‘weeding out bad eggs’.

3)      Not having an ‘expectation’ discussion with new team members

This is the ‘culture talk’ and ideally happens before someone joins your team.  It goes along with point one and requires you understand how things really need to work in your department or company.  For example, if you want to create a culture of accountability, don’t ever assume this goes without saying.  In fact NOTHING should go without saying.  Spell out what this is and how it looks.  For example:  ‘Ours is a culture of accountability.  We reward people for owing up to their mistakes and taking action to resolve them.  We encourage risk taking and understand that we all learn from mistakes.  Finger pointing and blame laying are not compatible with this goal and are not tolerated.’  Believe it or not, this can be communicated in a way that is motivating and exciting and not negative.  It just takes passion and sincerity.

4)      Not having regular one-on-ones with subordinates

No managers have time for one-on-ones.  They are all too busy.  You are too busy too.  You are also too busy for ‘gotta minutes’, replacing staff who leave because their career paths aren’t clear and who don’t feel you care about them.  Like it or not, the newest generation of workers wants and needs this and won’t stay around long if they don’t get it.  Even the GenXers and Babyboomers do better with one-on-one time so make sure it happens with all your staff.

5)      Coaching in public and praising in private

Surprisingly, there are still leaders who don’t get this.  Never, ever, ever, criticize, denigrate, humiliate, correct, constructively criticize or any other euphemism for calling out your subordinate in front of his/her peers, subordinates, customers or anyone else.  This is never a good idea, is never called for and will lose you loyalty faster than anything else.  You should, on the other hand praise lavishly in public. 

Of course it is possible to do the above five things well and still experience performance problems but I would wager heavily that you will have much fewer performance problems and by being disciplined at executing the above five you will be much more equipped to deal with any issues that do arise.   At the end of the day, a good manager is well served to remember to be clear and concise about expectations, respectful of others’ time and to be practice the golden rule.  


“We value people” Series: Part I-Overview

One thing I have found to be pretty much constant in every organization I have encountered, whether as an employee, consultant or other is that they all describe their culture as one that values their people.  Every one.  Another thing I have found is that it is relatively uncommon for employees in organizations to say they feel valued.   The disconnect is puzzling.  I have worked with leaders who sincerely want their employees to feel engaged and appreciated and just don’t know why nothing works.   My theory about what causes the disconnect can be summed up in two words: Clarity and Expectations.   Part of this lies in our culture and part of it in simple human nature but I do think that if organizations are clear and intentional about what they can provide employees and what employees can expect in return, then more employees will feel fairly treated and invested in their organizations.

It seems like there always has been tension between employer and employee: 
Our European feudal roots were one of aristocracy and peasants.   If one was not born into the aristocracy, one was likely to live on a farm owned by a rich landlord.  One’s life was spent eking out a living and any excess went to the landlord.   As scientific ‘advances’ were made, it became easier to accumulate excess everywhere.  This allowed for factories, mass production and industrial revolution.  Now, it was possible for an individual to hire many employees and for people to make a living working for someone else.  

Over the last few hundred years we have seen such extremes as owners brutalizing, endangering and even cheating employees and employee groups refusing to work unless owners provided benefits and wages they could not sustain.  Around the middle of the twentieth century a sort of détente was realized.  Organizations acknowledged they could not be successful without the willing participation of employees (aided perhaps by the rise of communism and a genuine fear of what could happen if laborers were pushed too far) and employees began to realize the power they had, as well as the choices that were available.   

In an effort to retain the best of the best, and aided by a booming post war economy, organizations began to offer things like job security, pensions and entitlements.  This seems to have ‘stuck’ in the collective consciousness of our society, despite the facts that the world is very different.  With several economic crashes in the last twenty years and more looming, more people than ever have experienced the dooming sensation of being let go from a job they thought would sustain their family until retirement.  We’ve seen corporations intentionally steal people’s pensions and we’ve seen lives and health endangered to increase bottom lines.  People don’t trust big corporations anymore and we have seen an upsurge in entrepreneurs like never before in response. 

Today, we say we know that job security doesn’t exist and that our employer is not expected to provide for our every need.  But do people really believe it?  What do we really expect from our employers and what does it mean to feel ‘valued’?  We’ve all seen the surveys that support the idea that what workers really want is to be appreciated and empowered and that pay is not really the issues.  We’ve also all been exposed to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and understand that if one is not earning enough to acquire basic food and shelter, that one will not be happy.   

When organizations say they value people, they usually mean that they acknowledge that without people, the basic functions of the organization could not be accomplished and that therefore the organization wants competent people to agree to work there and contribute.  Some company owners generally want people to be happy as well, but if they honestly had to choose between a productive worker and a happy one, they would choose productive.  So they walk a line and try to figure out ways to make workers be productive AND happy.

When employees say they want to be valued, they don’t usually mean they want to come work for an organization and contribute their very best to the bottom line.  They usually mean they want to be liked, appreciated, well compensated, afforded flexibility and essentially treated as friends or family members and not just numbers.  

There is a gigantic potential for unmet expectations here.  There is the unrealistic expectation on the part of the organization that people’s humanity can be ignored, and the unrealistic expectation on the part of the employee that the organization is the one responsible for their emotion and financial wellbeing for life.  An organization that is clear from the outset of what it can and will provide employees by way of emotional support, financial compensation, opportunities for creative and independent thought will go a long way to attract and retain the types of employees whose needs mirror what the organization can offer.  Promising what everyone wants to hear and not delivering is THE biggest contributor to dissatisfaction. 

There are some clearly established milestones in the employee lifecycle:  Recruitment, Onboarding, Employment, Termination and each one is a significant opportunity to ensure the right people are in the right organization and are engaged, effective and ambassadors for the organization.  Companies, either intentionally or unintentionally, invest a great deal of resources in each stage; sometimes more with a bad hiring decision than with a good.  

In the next installment, we’ll review what can be done from a recruiting standpoint to ensure realistic expectations and effective matches.