Despite our book learning, we tend to learn how things are done in the world of work from our experiences at work. Usually, our Master Mentor is the person vacating the job we’ve just landed or the boss who makes sure we know the “right” way to do things. By watching and observing what happens when things get screwed up, we get a pretty good idea of how things should be handled. We may learn that when we need to get something done, we get tough. When following procedures doesn’t work, we go around people. We learn that bullying is effective, or not.
Whatever our experiences in the trenches, they will likely shape the practices we employ at work—some good, some maybe not so good. To help us sort through and evaluate our work life practices, here are 10 management No-Nos—things managers should never do—and what to do, instead.
- Don’t create a policy every time somebody messes up. Don’t overreact. People make mistakes. Everyone does. Sometimes people make big mistakes like getting distracted on the internet when a friend sends a link to an online game, or sending an icy email to everyone in the company.It’s usually a one-time goof-up. Get over it. You don’t have to build another wall around Fort Knox just because somebody accidentally took a paper clip home. Have a productive one-on-one conversation about what went wrong, what problems it caused, what the individual should have done (or not) and why. Use questions to make it a learning moment for the employee so he or she can discover how to fix it and move forward.
- Don’t lie. In other words, don’t distort the truth, withhold information, or make things up even if it’s for a good reason. Don’t keep employees in the dark and don’t try to manipulate people to control their behaviors or feelings.To avoid keeping employees in the dark and making them feel you don’t trust them, be open and honest with them. When something isn’t working out, say it. When things are going well, let people know. When you have concerns, share them. When you need something next week and you’re worried it won’t get done, tell the person your concerns. Keep your staff apprised of everything going on. Beyond privacy and legal bounds, there shouldn’t be much preventing you from sharing. Have the difficult conversations and be straight about what’s on your mind.
- Don’t hide behind policies or senior management when making a tough decision. Don’t tell employees you can’t do something because of a policy or the fact that somebody else made a decision.Give reasons. If a policy makes sense, stand by it and explain why. If you believe something is unreasonable or unwarranted, say so. If you feel an employee’s request for an exception is reasonable, go to bat for him or her. If you don’t think the point is worth the battle, explain why you feel that way. Take a stand and stick by it.
- Don’t spy on your employees with cameras, with special computer equipment, or by following them around to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing and not violating any policies.Teach and nurture principles of commitment and trust. Deal with violations, but don’t throw everyone into jail just because there’s a possibility someone might make a bad decision or did so in the past.
- Don’t be a pest. Don’t delegate minor tasks and look over the person’s shoulder to micromanage them. Don’t take away responsibilities as soon as there’s a problem.Instead, delegate broader responsibilities providing information and training on the “how,” “what” and “why,” and trust the person to succeed. Help the person you delegated to experience accountability and learn from the experience.
- Don’t threaten staff. Using threats and intimidation in any form is a sign of a weak leader.A good leader knows how to build team and individual commitment for results creating a positive environment that invites people to engage with energy and purpose. You can discuss employee accountabilities and natural consequences, both positive and negative, without making threats.
- Don’t demand your staff do a physically impossible task just because your unreasonable boss pushed it on to you.Find ways to manage the demand by negotiating with your boss and committing to appropriate outcomes. Then support your staff doing all they can to exceed the commitment by creating breakthroughs.
- Don’t put employees in situations where it’s hard for them to do the right thing. Don’t ask them to do shoddy work, ignore a defect, fudge a report, mislead others, or do anything unethical.Stand by your employees believing they want to do good work and feel good about their employer. Be principled and committed to the greater good.
- Don’t let inflexible sick leave and other policies put your employees into a position of choosing between their families and their jobs. And when you do, don’t be surprised to find them violating policies.Instead, find a way to inject common sense and humanity into decisions about time off. If an employee was especially close to a deceased relative, give the employee the same consideration for attending an out of town funeral as you would if the deceased were the employee’s natural parents. If the employee just hired on, let him be at the hospital when his baby is born without having to worry about losing his job.
- Don’t beat up the employee who worked through the night to get that project completed on time when she comes in a few minutes late.If you want strict start and stop times, make that clear and enforce it on both ends. If you want employees to take responsibility and work late to get things done, don’t nitpick at start times. Instead, have a conversation about what’s really important, how start times support it, and what start time commitments and expectations are necessary and relevant.
Trying it on for fit:
Review the list of no-nos and take a personal practice quiz. Designate those you definitely don’t do and give your self a smiley for each. For those you definitely or partially do, take a frown and think about why you do them. Make an action plan for changing each no-no on your list that has a frowny face next to it. If your reasons for doing them are the result of company policies or leader expectations, make a plan for requesting a change or exception to those policies. Whether your actions are simply the result of a practice you picked up from a previous boss, or something you can take credit for all by yourself, develop a plan for changing what you do. Consider asking employees what they would like from you, instead.
Send an email and let me know what you learn from your experiences. I would love to hear from you!
Ascent Management Consulting is found at www.ascentmgt.com and specializes in getting workgroups and business units back on track through performance turnarounds that create breakthrough leadership, workplace cultures and organization systems.