Posted: 10:02 a.m. Tuesday, May 7, 2013
By Jay Steinfeld
These management strategies sound smart in theory--but tend to backfire in practice.
It's amusing to watch employees straight out of college (or from particularly large corporations) come to work at my company. They've had these "how to act at the office" lessons drilled into their brains, which may make great sense in theory, but they often backfire in practice.
Here are a few things that I've seen many managers do with the best intentions that can lead to unintended, damaging consequences:
1. Taking ownership
It's great to be responsible and conscientious. But no leader is going to be truly effective if she is stuck doing all the grunt work. Let go, let go, let go. Delegate and give yourself the time you need to focus on the big picture stuff, like growing your employees and building important relationships.
2. Answering questions
As a leader, it's important to be available for ongoing guidance. But many bosses do more harm than good by not encouraging a culture where employees self-evaluate and think for themselves. When employees need help, rather than just give them the answer, it's better to ask them to propose solutions. Then try to understand how they came up with those proposals. You'll learn how they think. Pretty soon, with some tweaks along the way, they automatically begin to ask themselves the right questions without feeling the need to come to my office for validation or simply to communicate they're "busy." Train your employees do their own thinking (and give them some leeway).
3. Awarding employees for doing what they're told
It's all too easy to condition your employees to stick to what's asked of them instead of rewarding them for keeping their eyes open to new opportunities and improvements. Reward them for initiative.
4. Striving for harmony
You might think a meeting without debate, where everyone gets along, is better. But let's face it: "yes" men and women are a hindrance to business success. And you know, some CEOs fall in this category too--trying all-too-hard not to rock the boat in the name of employee and board happiness. Teach your team how to connect over tension and how to grow from healthy and vigorous debate; harmony is not necessarily your company's best friend.
5. Using tried and true ROI analysis to judge success
No doubt you have very solid metrics you use to predict and evaluate your business success. But there are many situations that require entirely different ways of thinking. You must learn as you go--also known in business parlance as "discovery-driven growth."
For example, when you grow incrementally and organically, standard ROI and net present value calculations work well. But when you tackle new markets in which information is limited and execution risk is high, it is impossible to have enough data to do those calculations. So instead you must spend frugally, test, and investigate new opportunities, discovering new questions along the way. As these initiatives become more established, you can use more traditional metrics.
6. Providing constructive criticism
I'm adamantly against the "sandwich method" of feedback, where you layer criticisms with praise. I prefer candid feedback sessions focused on what was done well. Why? Picking apart an employee's performance isn't always helpful, no matter how constructive you're trying to be. I'll bet if you ask your employee what she thinks she could have done better, she'll know. Then you can coach.
7. Putting the brakes on a project
Stopping projects in mid-stream is sometimes the best decision you can make when things go off the rails. But so many times leaders make these decisions without telling others involved why or how the organization learned from their efforts and how that knowledge will be used in other ways or in future projects. Help your employees realize their work's value, even when a project must be scrapped. If not, you're certain to demoralize and adversely affect their future efforts.
8. Keeping strong employees in their sweet spots
Not allowing employees to move to another department within your company is one of the most destructive things you can do for employee morale and longevity. Just because an employee is an asset where they currently work doesn't mean it's the best seat on the bus for them. You may be strengthening a single department by pigeon-holing strong employees, but why not strengthen your entire company by letting these strong employees flex their skills? If you don't, they're apt to leave anyway.
What behaviors do you witness in your own company that are done with the best intentions but have negative consequences? Do you have any lessons we can learn from you?