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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Five Classic Management Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

There are some classic mistakes business owners and managers make on a regular basis. Mistakes that mean they are not getting the results they want and need from their people.

Mistake 1: Only clarifying, and managing, ‘the numbers’

Leaders often tell us that they focus most of their attention on the ‘numbers’ part of their employee’s performance. They set objectives for producing the right amount of work on time, meeting a deadline, achieving the % increase in sales or the $ of savings. They monitor the numbers and, sometimes, they give feedback to their staff about their performance against those numbers. It makes good sense.

But what about the behaviors? What about; the way the employee manages their time, the way they build and maintain customer relationships, their ability to be solution focused, their ability to work in a team and so on? The difficulty is that managers often see these behaviors as subjective and unquantifiable meaning that they cannot be measured and managed.

But here’s the thing; Why manage behaviors? Behaviors are crucial to the success of your business. Can you be successful without your employees demonstrating the ability to manage their time, build and maintain effective relationships, develop practical solutions and so on?

Because managers also tell us they regularly judge their employees on their ‘attributes’ without being able to clearly define those attributes as behaviors. They say “he’s just not committed enough”’ or “she’s not a team player” or “he lacks creativity”. Without being able to define what ‘being an effective team player’ looks like in practice how can you help your employee improve in this area?

Identifying the Crucial Behaviors

The key questions to ask are:
· What are the behaviors that differentiate us from our competitors?
· What are the behaviors that contribute most to our success?
· What behaviors must a person demonstrate to be successful in this job?
· What do I want from the people I manage?

Of course you then need to share your descriptions of the behaviors you want and need with your employees – without making the next mistake.

Mistake 2: not helping employees to understand the bigger picture

We know from the research that employees want to ‘connect their efforts to the mission and purpose of the business’. In short, they want an answer to the question – ‘why am I doing this?’ The mistake owners and managers making is assuming that the answer to that question is obvious. Well maybe it should be, but often it isn’t.

Let’s take a look at how you can communicate objectives in a way that helps your
employees understand their importance to the business. Let’s begin with the objectives that relate to the quantifiable parts of the job – the numbers element. There’s a simple process you can use to frame the conversation.

Communicating quantifiable objectives:

·        WHAT – the objective is
·        WHY – it’s important

Communicating behavioral objectives.
When you are communicating behavioral objectives it’s always a good idea to explain the ‘Why’ and ‘How’ and to associate the ‘why and how’ with a business need. This is because most people can relate to doing something new or differently when they can see it’s to meet a business need. It just makes more sense to them.

So it’s about explaining WHY – why we need the new behaviors and HOW the new behaviors are going to meet the business needs.

Here’s an example of how these principles could apply to behavioral objective for


Example of a performance objective for ‘Team Player’

I will consider you to be an effective team player when you;

·  Explain the team objectives and your role in meeting those objectives
·  Identify when your team members need help or assistance and offer that help
·  Fully participate in team meetings and events
·  Identify ways the team can work together more effectively
·  Gain feedback that you are an effective team worker

Example of how to communicate the ‘Team Player’ objective

WHY it's important

·  Major challenges facing the business - in the current economic climate we’ve got to retain more customers.
·  Challenge to us – to improve our efficiency in servicing our customer so they stay with us and refer their friends and family.
·  Challenge for us as individuals – to maintain or improve our job satisfaction during these challenging times.

HOW the new behaviors are going to meet the business needs.

·   If we work better as team we’ll improve our efficiency and customer experience
·   Working better as a team should improve our job satisfaction

In short, if we work better as a team we’ll keep more customers and enjoy work more!

It’s all about helping the employee see the importance of their work to the success of the business.

Mistake 3: giving meaningless praise

The research shows that ‘receiving positive feedback and recognition for work well done’ consistently ranks highly as a motivator in employee surveys. Yet research also shows that most people don’t feel they get enough praise. So what’s going on?

Putting aside the fact that it’s likely that some of our survey participants feel they should be praised for just turning up every morning, my view is that business owners and managers are sometimes reluctant to give praise because they’ve had experiences of being praised themselves in ways that, frankly, haven’t motivated them at all. And, of course, they’re not over keen on having the same effect on their employees. It’s actually quite easy to deliver praise badly - praise that is seen as patronizing or manipulative by the employee. But done well, its dynamite.

Here are five ways to do it well:

1. Prepare the praise
It’s interesting that many managers will spend some time preparing to give criticism, but only a matter of seconds (if at all) preparing to give praise. The result? A passing comment (literally) on the lines of ‘nice job Doug, keep it up’ Say what? Which job? The whole job? Keep what up? Not only is this type of praise confusing but, by and large, it’s not wildly motivating.

2. Be specific
Describe exactly what you are praising and why. Try the following method:
When you....
What happened was...
And the result is....

E.g. When I showed the client the research you had done on their business she said she was really impressed by the insights you had provided. The result is she wants us to make a proposal for a further piece of business. That’s a really good outcome for us so thank you and well done.

3. Show genuine interest
Ask questions to better understand what the employee did, for example, what preparation they did for a successful presentation, how they managed to design such effective presentation slides etc. Describe how you feel about what they’ve done e.g. pleased, impressed, excited (the hug and kiss might be slightly over doing it)

4. Let the praise stand alone
Don’t be tempted to mix the praise with criticism e.g. That was a great presentation.
If only your written work was as good. Deal with the written work issue at a different time.

5. Do it quickly and time it well
Give your praise as soon after the event as possible – it has far more impact. Be careful not to give the praise at a time when it will appear conditional or a ‘softening up’ process e.g. just before you delegate a task or ask for the person to work late

Public or Private?

There’s an old saying ‘praise in public, criticize in private’. Though we wholeheartedly agree with the latter we’re not totally convinced by the former. Of course the principle is sound. We want other employees to hear the praise and understand what we are praising because we hope that they will want to copy those behaviors or achievements. But not everyone is comfortable being singled out in this way and some people find accepting praise in front of their coworker embarrassing.

Try delivering the praise in private. You can then ask the employee if they are happy for you to share the praise with their coworkers – say in the next team meeting - and take it from there.

What if there’s no praise to give?

Of course employees find praise motivational, who wouldn’t? A challenge is when there is no praise to give because the employee is not performing effectively. The answer is to give regular feedback rather than praise.

The best way to motivate employees to improve their under performance is to give them what I call ‘positive criticism’ – criticism that’s easy to understand and easy to accept because it’s clear, objective and fair.

Mistake 4: avoiding talking to your employees about their job satisfaction

We know that showing a high level of interest and concern for our employees results in higher levels of motivation and performance. One of the most powerful ways to do this is to have a conversation specifically about how to maintain or improve their current level of job satisfaction/engagement.

After all, who wouldn’t feel motivated by having a supervisor who cares about our satisfaction at work and who is happy to spend the time talking to us about this subject which is so close to our hearts? Some managers, though, are reluctant to hold these conversations in case they result in ‘opening a can of worms’ – more specifically in case the employee comes to them with a list of wants and needs they cannot meet.

Good point.

Mistake 5: Neglecting to set high standards and hold others accountable

This denies employees the chance to learn and excel. Employees do not want to be told, “Let me make your life easier by enabling you not to learn and not to achieve anything new.  A balanced combination of uncompromising standards and confidence-building reassurances sends a very clear and consistent message to your team: “I believe in you and I want you to win as much as I want to win.”

There are two strategies for dealing with poor performance: One-minute reprimands and redirection. A reprimand works best with people who have “won’t do” or attitudinal problems. These people are winners and they know how to do it but for some reason they are not doing it. Redirection is appropriate for people with “can’t so” or experience problems.  There will be more need for redirection because things are changing so fast now in most fields that competencies to do a job is often short-lived.


1.  Make sure they know that a problem exists. Be specific. Share what happened clearly and without blame
2.  The person being redirected needs to know the negative impact that the error caused
3.  If appropriate, the manager should accept responsibility for not making the task clear
4.  Go over the task in detail and make sure it is clearly understood
5.  Express your continuing trust and confidence in the person

Bottomline: Hold people accountable to high standards while allowing them to hold onto their dignity as human beings.

All the success!

Peter Mclees

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