On ‘management by due date’

Management by Due Date

There are differing types of less-than-stellar management, including:

All these things have flaws, and they all have flaws for two very basic reasons:

To the Hall of Fame of ‘bad management practices,’ let’s add a new one: Management by due date.

You’ve all had this manager, and probably more than once, but here’s a primer on how they act:

  • You come out of a meeting or conversation with some action items.
  • Your manager tells you that X-action item is due on Y-date in the future.
  • Oftentimes, the date is randomly selected; it’s not necessarily tied to anything of any import.
  • The goal now becomes the due date, as opposed to the purpose, value, or potential ROI of the actual action item.

This starts to get dangerous when you think about the other major time-suck of the modern workplace, i.e. e-mail. E-mail is all about “push” and “pull,” and since no one really understands that, here’s what they do: they get an e-mail and they stop on a dime, pivot, and start chasing the task/project/deliverable/bullet point needed by the new e-mail. Right there, they’ve lost focus on their key project.

When you manage by due date — which a ton of managers do — it’s very hard to set clear priorities, because you’ve completely ripped “How does this work relate back to the goals of the organization?” away from the discussion. Instead, it’s now “You need to complete this thing by this time in the future.” Rather than staying focused on that thing — because it’s essentially devoid of context — a person will get easily distracted by other, seemingly-more-pressing things flying around and chase those due dates (also remember: you have a manager, but other people can assign you work too).

At some point, it all becomes a muddled mess of humanity whereby no one is sure exactly what to prioritize or when. This is a good loose definition of “work” at most places, honestly.

Can we fix it?

Sure, but it’s hard. Here’s where I’d probably start:

This is just scratching the surface of how to improve the quality of management at most places, but it’s something.

Other thoughts?

Ted Bauer

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