TAG Consulting

Management Mistakes You Don’t Have To Make (Part 3)


July 5, 2016

Mature business woman overwhelmed with frustration, pulling her hair.  Isolated on white.

We’ve been taking a look at a number of common management mistakes we see repeatedly and that, unchecked, can become career- and organization-killers. But the good news is that you don’t have to make them at all! We finish our series today…

To read Part 1, click here.

To read Part 2, click here.

Remaining reactive. In this rapidly changing world, organizational life tends to be rapid fire with demands for decisions and performance occurring at all levels of the organization all the time. The seduction to be drawn into the tactical is ever apparent. Often people have been elevated into management positions precisely because of the technical expertise (which usually has zero correlation to the skill set needed to manage effectively). So the new manager is comfortable with the technical aspects of the job (which now should have diminished considerably), and uncomfortable with the management aspects (which has a great deal to do with ongoing relationships). The tendency for all of us is to default to our comfort zone, and avoid activities that increase anxiety. When a technical issue arises, often the manager, rather than defer the issue to a technical subordinate who is now tasked with handling it, will herself jump into the technical (where she is most comfortable) and begin fixing it.

Under- or over-managing. There is no such thing as ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to managing people. Some people, especially new hires, need a great deal of initial oversight as they integrate into their new jobs and ‘learn the ropes.’ Seasoned people who have been at their jobs for a long time should require little oversight to accomplish their tasks adequately (If this is not the case, then accountability and proper ‘fit’ in the job become the issue for the manager). We have found that often managers, usually due to their own insecurity, will micromanage those who need little or no management. This behavior is not only not useful, more often than not it slows down and distracts the persons whom the manager hopes to improve. If the micromanaging manager is open to it, s/he needs to explore the basis of the insecurities that drive her/him to micromanage. Often the origin is in the need to be in control or the striving for an excellent product (If I allow you to manage yourself, probably the product produced won’t be up to specs).

Failing to plan for succession. Baby boomer managers are retiring in huge numbers. In many industries, succession planning has been relegated to the back burner, and as these retiring managers walk out the door, an enormous amount of intellectual property and experience walks out the door with them. Succession planning is a part of talent management within an organization. Talent management entails selection, onboarding, development, and the identification of potential leaders among employees. As managers descend into the weeds (see points above) attending to the technical aspects over against the people management aspects of their jobs, succession planning usually gets lost in the shuffle. Then, when managers prepare to leave their positions (retiring, or taking new positions), there are no appropriate candidates to backfill. Talent management is central to the management functions. And succession planning is a key aspect of talent management. Organizations who ignore this will do so to their own peril.

Blame-shifting. In some organizations, blame-shifting rises to the level of an art form, no one taking responsibility for the actions and decisions they generate. Accepting responsibility, and in some cases asking for forgiveness to put things right, requires courage. Courage often is in short supply in the management ranks. Jim Collins, in his seminal work Good to Great, discusses the Level 5 leader who, in an ongoing profile of humility does two things: 1. When there is praise for an action or decision made, the leader ‘looks out the window,’ crediting everyone else involved in the decision while ignoring her own contribution. 2. When there is blame for something that goes wrong, the level 5 leader looks in the mirror, accepting the blame for whatever the mishap.

Failing to take time off and away. Leisure is not an activity. It’s an attitude of mind. It involves stepping out of the ‘rat race’ and finding a sanctuary (a place of refuge and safety). We live in a world where we are bombarded with information. We carry cell phones and smart pads that are at work 24/7. The temptation to never shut off, to never power down is always present. So many people feel that if they shut off all devices so that they can just relax and possibly reflect, they’ll somehow be cut out of the loop and lose their place with friends, business associates, etc. What we end up with is a life with no margins, a never-ending cycle of distractions to which we give continuous partial attention. This is a recipe for burnout and relationship breakdown on the home front.

Management Mistakes You Don’t Have To Make (Part 1)


June 23, 2016

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At TAG, we wake up every day committed to helping leaders and organizations perform at a higher level, in ways that lead to productivity, employee and team engagement, and success as measured by a chosen mission.

Because we are strengths-based in our thinking, we spend more time focusing on what’s going right in an organization – or with a leader – than what is going wrong. But combine decades of experience and you’ll see some common mistakes managers make that can be organization- and career-killers unless they’re addressed. We’ll take a look at a number of those mistakes we have seen again and again – and that YOU don’t have to make!

Lacking self-awareness.  Like the general population, managers tend to have little self-awareness, all the while thinking that they know themselves perfectly well. But study after study continues to confirm the fact that our minds generally are very unreliable. And this is especially true when it comes to knowing ourselves and analyzing our own behavior.

A question we like to ask is “What is it like to be on the receiving end of you”? Many leaders have no clue as to their own ‘wiring’ and how their behavior is perceived by those around them. That’s why in our consulting practice, we take a great deal of time to assess people and organizations, to get a handle on how people are wired, and how they go about ‘doing life.’

Managing and leadership generally has many behavioral facets: how I deal with superiors, with peers, with subordinates. How I communicate both verbally and non-verbally. What activities energize. Which drain and deplete. One of the most interesting facets of leading is the decision-making process. Most managers will tell you that they make decisions logically and reasonably, my desires conform to the plan, and then I execute the plan. But studies indicate quite the opposite. Your desires decide what you want. Your logical brain crafts an explanation, and you execute.

Mistaking ‘care’ for affirmation. A manager has taken a new position in a new city in the non-profit organization in which she has worked successfully for some time. This is a significant promotion which carries with it a great deal of responsibility and a team of eight direct reports. After she has been in this new position for six months, one of her direct reports levels the charge on her that she “doesn’t care.”

Sue, our manager in question, is a brilliant woman who has always made significant demands on herself, always expecting the highest performance, and needing little if any outside encouragement or motivation. All of her motivation is internal. This profile has translated into superior performance, and has led to one promotion after another.

Now with the charge of ‘not caring,’ she is baffled, and wonders if she is doing the wrong thing by her team. When asked about some of the history of her new team, as best she understands it, she explains that they have been led by managers who were very empathetic, constantly asking reports about their current personal situations. Accountability was another matter. Yes, there were the usual number of high performers. But mediocrity and poor performance went unchallenged.

Now Sue has entered this organization with high standards and a very specific vision (endorsed by leadership) as to where she wants to take the organization, and the performance needed by everyone to achieve.

Sue needs to have her situation reframed, so that she can refocus on what is actually going on, and what she now needs to do. She has become semi-paralyzed with the ‘not caring’ charge. But is that charge valid? Does she in fact need to alter her behavior?

The reframe is the fact that this is the organizational system pushing back on her higher standards, and need for accountability. She definitely is not the empathetic person delving into the personal lives of her reports. She is the high-achieving manager with a definite program that requires particular performance goals. And now the system is reacting and pushing back on her, attempting to alter her behavior (as she is trying to alter the behavior of her people) and become more in line with what the system has experienced down through its existence.

Caring has to do with nurture. It is a valid characteristic, when used at the right time in the proper context. But it often competes with another value: challenge – the value that sets goals and expectations of performance to reach those goals. Proper parenting is a mixture of nurture and challenge. When one of these values is emphasized too strongly over the other, difficulties will begin to emerge for the children.

As a first step for Sue, clear performance standards and metrics need to be established for each position. This first element is unfortunately lacking time and again across the organizational spectrum. When there is unclear performance standards, expectations become fuzzy (what am I to do, at what intensity, over what period of time?).

As people are clear on what is expected of them, it becomes clear what represents superior, average, or subpar performance. As people perform in expected to above expected levels, the manager can then affirm them. These people will then feel appreciated for the work they are doing, and understand clearly how they are contributing to the successful completion of the mission.

Failing to hold people accountable. This builds on the point made above. First, people need clear expectations. Then they need periodic feedback (accountability) as to how they are measuring up to the expectations. What often happens is two fold: 1) no precise performance standards are ever laid down specifically tailored to each position, and 2) no periodic performance reviews are scheduled wherein employees are evaluated on the specifically tailored performance standards. Evaluations, when they are conducted, are general and subjective, and therefore of no practical use in helping employees understand how their performance fits into the overall mission of the organization. These evaluations are useless in assisting employees to understand how they are performing with a view toward making modifications for improvement.

Failing to provide due diligence in hiring. Turnover in the workforce is the largest bottom line killer across the organizational spectrum. Yet in spite of these grim figures, managers time and again make the same mistakes when it comes to hiring.

Research has shown that most decisions about new hires is made in the first twenty seconds of the interview. Because of this, most hiring is subjective. If the potential hire is attractive and likable, then she is hired. If not, she is not. Often only a cursory consideration of skills and ‘fit’ is performed.

IDMatch©  – developed by TAG  – first takes care to first establish clearly what the position involves and what specific behaviors will be expected. Then candidates are carefully screened as to ‘fit’ for the composite of the behaviors.

Inability to confront a dysfunctional situation, allowing it to grow into an organizational nightmare. The CFO of a large organization (let’s call him Mike) is conflict averse, as is one of his direct reports (Joe), the director of a budgeting office. Joe has a peer (Bill) who also reports to Mike.

Bill is very ambitious, and has found ways, due to reorganization and lack of clarity around specific office functions, to syphon off more and more responsibilities away from Joe’s organization, which have historically been Joe’s to perform. Mike has refused to address the situation, and draw clear boundaries as to who is responsible for what. Joe refuses to address the situation, not wanting to ‘rock the boat’ and cause unpleasantness within the organization. Bill is therefore given free rein to do pretty much what he pleases by way of appropriating more responsibilities into his organization.

When Joe’s direct reports complain that they don’t know who they now actually should report to, and who is actually setting policy for their work, Joe chides them and tells them to ‘play nice.’ Needless to say no one is happy, and morale plummets.

When managers are conflict avoidant, critical issues that need to be addressed are allowed to grow and then fester. This creates ‘elephants in the room,’ where everyone knows there’s a problem, but no one is willing to address the situation. From this, work arounds are created (“We do need to somehow get things done!”).

In other words, no one is talking and everyone is either in denial or furious at the high level of denial in others!

Do you recognize any of those mistakes in your own career? Stay tuned and we’ll survey a few more and then talk about how to avoid these mistakes you don’t have to make!

Image cred: aresprism.com

What, Exactly, Is “Empowerment” At Work?


February 8, 2016

It’s unusual that a client does NOT tell us “I am interested in doing a better job of empowering my team”.

“Empowerment” falls right in with apple pie, mom, and the Super Bowl as things everyone seems to love, or at least feels as if they should love!

But a question hangs out there:

What, exactly, is “empowerment”?

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It’s not flowery or academic. It’s elemental and essential.

Towards a working definition:

We measure empowerment by how willing people are to offer us their maximum discretionary effort.

People aren’t doing the bare minimum, just enough to get by. They aren’t cutting corners or running the clock out.

They are giving of their best, giving what they don’t “have” to give.

You don’t do this unless you feel as if your efforts will pay off.

You don’t do this unless you feel that you matter and that you can make a difference.

You don’t do this unless you feel that you have power.

In other words, people feel empowered when they are motivated to give their all.

And when that happens, everyone wins – the team member, the team, the leader, the organization.

So, how do you empower your team?

That’s tomorrow…