There are differing types of less-than-stellar management, including:
- The Merry-Go-Round
- The No-ROI Deliverables Model
- The ‘Set A Fire, Resolve A Fire, Brag About Fixing It’ Model
- The ‘I’ll Tell You Exactly How This Needs To Be Done’ Model
- The ‘Let’s Call A Meeting’ Model
All these things have flaws, and they all have flaws for two very basic reasons:
- Management isn’t actually intuitive; you need to reverse almost everything you learned to become a manager in order to actually be good at the new job.
- As generations change, almost everything that worked for one generation — think “command-and-control!” — probably won’t work for the next one, because generations rebel against each other.
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:
- If you’re going to keep calling meetings, think about how to use them effectively to push strategy and ROI forward.
- Teach the people in your organization to contextualize e-mails — so, who’s involved, point of the project, why are we doing this, when are things due.
- Realize that most employees want a stable paycheck and some degree of respect, and that’s about it.
- Stop hiding behind concepts like KPIs and bandwidth and deliverables and tasks and start just going around and talking to your employees and seeing what the ‘pain points’ and issues are.
- Realize there’s a big difference between ‘managing’ and ‘leading,’ and if you want to truly lead, you need to take empathy and emotional ‘soft skills’ into account. Those don’t live on a balance sheet, no, but they’re some of the most important things your business does.
- Realize a couple of other things too: your front-line employees are the closest to your customers, typically — so treat them well; good ideas should never be seen as a threat; and if you’re giving praise/feedback, please make it specific.
This is just scratching the surface of how to improve the quality of management at most places, but it’s something.