Early this month I was interviewed on the Stu Taylor (www.stutaylor.com) radio show out of Boston. He asked very good questions, among them the following, “what do you see as the two biggest mistakes that managers make?” I hadn’t given thought to that particular question previously, but after wrestling with the question some more, wanted to share with you my thoughts. In answering, I focused on the management mistakes of those on the first and second line of management versus leadership at the top.
First mistake, managers/supervisors are not devoting sufficient time or focus on getting employees started on the right foot. They are not orienting or on-boarding well to give those new to the organization or new to a position what they need to begin their new position with a string of wins. In short, they don’t give those employees the answers to the 7 Questions detailed in my book, Creating High Performers, so that they know what is expected of them and where to find the answers they need. Thus, employees are not clear on expectations and come to learn the answers by trial and error. This makes for a frustrating early period in the job.
I went down this road early in my career. Not because I wasn’t interested in new employee success but because I felt that assuming someone didn’t know what to do or how to do it was an insult to their intelligence. I thought that what I should do was simply vehemently express my belief in their abilities. I learned hard lessons as I watched good people go down in flames because of my wrong headed thinking. Therefore, the 7 Questions began as a checklist used to prevent me from my natural instincts, which clearly weren’t working.
The second mistake managers/supervisors make is to remain in decision paralysis re. whether to blame themselves for non-performance of an employee or hold the employee responsible. Whomever is responsible must provide the way out of non-performance. Therefore, paralysis means the employee is stuck, whether by his own accord or the manager’s.
I struggled with this for years early in my career, falsely believing I should/could be able to make a success of any employee. If an employee was not performing, I always looked first to find my shortcomings. I later learned that there are simply some employees for whom no management/supervision action will turn the tide. For a variety of reasons, at this period in their lives, the employees are not able to perform and they need to take responsibility and confront that deficiency within themselves. But early on, not knowing this, I would agonize over the poor performance and continue to blame myself, thus wasting my time, the organization’s performance and a potentially bright future for the employee who chooses to turn their life around.
This type of employee is a “Won’t Do” employee – they have the skills and knowledge, but simply refuse to do the work. The opposite is the “Can’t Do” employee – who desires to do the work correctly, but does not know what is expected or how to do it. I, as well as those managers making this mistake, was assuming all the non-performers were “Can’t Do’s”, and I just wasn’t pulling my weight as manager. When teaching supervision and going over how to use the 7 Questions, trainees often told me that using the questions to determine whether they are faced with a “Can’t Do” problem that is their responsibility or a “Won’t Do” problem that is the responsibility of the employee was the best contribution to their future success. What I learned is that this decision paralysis was not something only I suffered from, but that it was an affliction for many.
What have you seen as the biggest management mistakes in your work history? I would be interested in hearing your thoughts. To join the conversation, learn more about Creating High Performers or for a list of the 7 Questions, drop me an e-mail.