Thursday, April 24, 2014

Mistakes (even good) Managers Make

Managing other people, and the work they do, is hard. We want to be seen as successful, we want to be liked and we (usually) want to get the work done. But whether we’re fresh, new and inexperienced managers, or seasoned managers, we make mistakes. In life, the key is always to learn from them, and hopefully learn not to repeat them, or at least not repeat them too often.

In managing people in the workplace, there are a number of mistakes that are all too common. These mistakes can be difficult to resist. But resist we must, if we truly want to be successful leaders of people. The solutions to these mistakes are usually a mixture of "tough love", restraint and focusing on the big picture, among other things. And when you think about it, they’re hallmarks of any good manager.

What are some of these mistakes and how do we fix them?

Shifting Criticism

You want to be positive, upbeat and encouraging. This is great! But when employees aren’t performing up to standards, you’re reluctant to move off that positive outlook. As a result, when you sit down with an employee whose performance is declining, you try to soften it, or cover it with something less confrontational. For instance, you may express concern, "Is everything ok? You don’t seem like yourself lately." But, you never really get around to telling her that her performance has been slipping and it needs to improve and how.

Your employee is left with the impression that you’re a kind and caring manager, but not understanding she isn’t performing up to expectations. Direct criticism is hard for most people, but by shifting or concealing (constructive) criticism, your employee will not understand the true nature and extent of the problem, and you’re unlikely to see any improvement. And that, of course, will lead to bigger problems down the road with unmet goals and lack of success for your department or organization. The goal is to develop and maintain a good working relationship with your staff, but keeping your company’s goals in mind while you do it.

Doing All the Work
Deadlines are looming; you’re swamped and stuff is piling up. You sometimes think you can do your staff's work better and faster than they can. And in some cases, that may be true. After all, that’s part of what got you moved into management. And yes, sometimes if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. But if you keep doing work your staff should be doing, you'll still be working like a mad person, no one will have learned how to do the job as well as you do, and no real progress has been made. Supervise the work your staff does, but let them do it.

A related mistake to doing all the work is being way too accommodating. Are you approving every vacation request, every time for every employee? Do you allow last minute call-outs because someone has tickets to the football game? Sure, those staff are going to love you for that. But the employees left behind to pick up the slack probably won’t. Deadlines are pushed back, work is not completed and schedules are in disarray, because you "made it work" in order to be accommodating. Yes, employee happiness is important and a priority for most managers, but in reality, you won’t be able to accommodate every request all the time. You have to keep your department’s and your whole organization’s goals and best interests in mind. If you don’t you’re not fulfilling your responsibilities as a manager.

Ignoring a Bad Attitude 

Bad attitudes are contagious. Someone who lives off negativity will always try to get other employees to see things like they do. Misery does love company. Negative employees never fail to complain. They focus on problems; they bitch and moan about perceived unfairness; they anticipate, cause, and often delight in things going wrong. If allowed to continue, they'll have your whole staff agreeing that their job sucks, and their boss sucks even more. After ample discussion, sharing of information and context, and offering appropriate support for appropriate change, if bad attitudes or resistance continues, you need to take action, before it infects and spreads throughout the whole department or organization.

Excuses Accepted as Reasons
If someone is late to work one morning because of a bad accident snarling traffic, the heavy traffic is a reason. If that same person is always late for work, heavy traffic then becomes an excuse. Similarly, if you make a mistake on a new task, the reason for the mistake is that you’re not experienced with that task. But if three months later you’re still making that mistake, then whatever reason you might offer can only really be an excuse. A temporary personal problem is a reason; a constant stream of personal problems becomes an excuse. We need to learn to tell the difference between someone who is temporarily unable, and someone you're simply enabling.

Promoting the Underdog
You’re interviewing for a position on your team. The candidate tells you much he wants the job, needs the job, and that he’s a hard worker. Of course, you want to believe him. You also know he doesn’t really have the right experience or education for the job, but you’re thinking his enthusiasm will make up for what he lacks in knowledge and skills. You figure you’ll be able to teach him what he needs to know; bring him along and he’ll be a great employee. Then, it turns out that despite everything he said in the interview and the hopes you had for him, he simply wasn’t willing, or wasn’t able to deliver. In the end, you have to let him go and you start all over again searching to fill that position. Don’t let your emotions get in the way of your common sense; you’ll only succeed in doing both your company and your employees a disservice.

Allowing Staff to Break the Rules
If you let your staff to get away with breaking even small rules, the message you’re sending is that it's also okay to break big rules. If you really don't care or don’t think it’s important if a particular rule is broken, that’s a sign that it's probably not a good or necessary rule in the first place. The proper response to that is to advocate to senior management for it to be changed or dropped. But recognize that if it's important enough to be a rule or policy, it really is important enough for both you and your staff to respect it. Model the behavior you want to see in your staff; model the respect for procedures and model the proper way to question or seek change for policies or procedures to be changed when necessary.

Yes, managing people is hard. But it becomes even more difficult if you become blinded by efforts that don’t take your goals, and your organization’s goals into account. To be successful, we need to lead.

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