Management Mistakes are inevitable. It’s a shame we continue repeating them, given the evidence.
Your biggest mistake is not asking what mistake you’re making
John C. Maxwell, Leadership Gold
My days as a consultant at McKinsey and New York Consulting Partners spoiled me. The teams I was working with were hand picked and of consistently high capacity, even on the client side. They worked hard, had high energy and enthusiasm for “changing the world”, were intellectually endowed and excelled at constructive dissent. The world moved at a breakneck pace and we got things done!
In those days, I learned about the skill/will matrix which helps managers select the proper way to move an employee towards success. It is task and context specific and based on evaluating the employees’ skill to perform a given task, and their willingness to.
Management Mistakes – Applying the wrong management style for a given task
The framework focuses managers on task specific performance and the root cause of shortcomings. Choosing the incorrect style leads to a disaster for the manager and the managed.
Your team members that have both high skills and high willingness are your advocates. These are your stars, they are skilled workers looking for more opportunities to grow and develop. They should be delegated to and given room to grow.
Team members with high skills but unwilling to do a specific task are blockers. These are skilled and experienced team members who may have hit a plateau and need a new challenge. Or, maybe they are being affected by another factor. You need to figure out the source of their unwillingness. It could be your management style is wrong. They need to be excited.
High willingness, but low skills for a specific task are your willing disciples. This may be an enthusiastic team member new to this task. Their only issue is learning the skill. They need guidance. Use a combination of telling them what to do and guiding or coaching using socratic method to build their skill.
Those that are unwilling and have low skills are resisters. This could be a beginner to a task, project or role, or they may have lower confidence because they’ve already tried and failed, and are unwilling to try again. In this case, you must reduce their perceived risk. They must be directed towards success. In some cases, they will need to be replaced.
In my early halcyon days, most performance shortfalls I experienced were driven when specific skills needed improvement. Rarely was willingness to work, engage or learn, ever an issue. And as a result, the most common fix in my management toolbox required applied teaching, coaching, mentoring and guidance towards skill development.
These conditions played to my natural strengths and interests. I had always fancied myself as a teacher. Gaps closed quickly.
Imagine my shock when I took my first corporate role and began working with “real world” teams with variable quality and performance. Now, for the first time I considered individuals who not only lacked skills, but were also not motivated to improve. They lacked both skill and will. My teaching instincts kicked in, believing everyone had the potential to improve and would. I found myself spending too much time with under-performers who just could not get out of the rut. I had overrated my ability to rehabilitate.
Management Mistakes – Believing all employee performance can be improved through better management
Up till then, I assumed if someone in my care was not improving, it was my fault for not providing the right lessons or finding the right motivational incentives. It was a hard lesson for me to accept. There are under-performers who would not reach my expectations. Not because they did not have the potential, or that the expectations were too high, but because they were not interested in changing. They liked the way they were!
Over the years, I’ve observed many managers spending more and more of their time trying to fix the under-performers, working on the people problems, and ignoring their best performers. I think this approach is wrong.
The opposite is true as well. Some managers go the other extreme and avoid under-performers. Wrong again. They need to consider whether they have used the right style in getting the task accomplished. I have seen fantastic employees who were delegated a task beyond their skills, only to be considered under-performers even though no skill development for the specific task was provided. Of course, they became stars when they were reassigned back to a task in which they were skilled.
Management Mistakes – Applying your scarce management time unwisely
Your most valuable resource as a manager is your time. And, your goal has got to be to maximize the return on your time investment! That means allocating the time and other resources in the places, and with the people, delivering the most benefit.
When it comes to spending time with your teams some of whom may be under-performers, you need to consider how best to use your precious time. I am not saying you should only spend time with high performers and not spend time with under-performers. I am saying that you need to understand their potential and be realistic about their ability and willingness for change.
Management Mistakes – Over-investing in under-performers or under-investing in high performers
Managers generally want to work with under-performers, and in my experience, I continue to find those who will excel when the right touch is applied to deal with their skill/will challenge. This is not where managers experience the most problems. I believe most managers over invest in under-performers and under invest in their high performers. From my observation, in many cases, it turns out that spending better time listening to, coaching, mentoring, supporting a top performer can deliver much more benefits than the equivalent time spent with their under-performers.
Management Mistakes – Developing your management approach around your under-performers
Your best performers don’t need to be managed the traditional way. They certainly don’t need the same interactions you put in place to drive improvements because of your under-performers. You will probably initiate detailed reports and reviews as you need to check up on everything an under-performer may be doing. Indeed, many of the processes designed for managing under-performers serve to undermine the value of your top performers.
If you are not getting the performance or the improvements you expect, you are not spending your time proportionate to the opportunities. You should examine your time allocation and consider spending more quality time with your high performers. And avoid managing everyone the same way. When it comes to skill, will and opportunity for improvement, your team are not all equal!
What has been your experience? What has worked for you?