What Managers Do Least Well
post # 304 — February 7, 2007 — a Managing post
Kathy Sierra, on the fabulous Creating Passionate Users blog, argues convincingly that managers should be getting people excited about the kind of work they do, not trying to get them to â€œdo it for the company.â€ Sheâ€™s right, but thereâ€™s a very telling (joke) picture she uses at the top of her blogpost.
One person is saying to another: â€œHey, isnâ€™t that Jim pulling out of the parking lot? He only worked ten hours today?â€ The other person responds: â€œWe have a client demo tomorrow and heâ€™s only working a half day? Iâ€™d fire his ass.â€
Itâ€™s meant as a joke, but thereâ€™s an incredibly important and serious lesson here.
For decades I have been involved in conducting upwards evaluations of managers by their subordinates. Consistently, over time, geography, profession or industry, and size of firm, the one aspect of managerial performance that is consistently rated as done most poorly is â€œtackling underperformance promptly.â€
Subordinates, it seems, are rarely satisfied with how well their superiors do this. Whatâ€™s fascinating is that the result is subject to interpretation. Is it that managers, everywhere, always, are relatively poor at this compared to other aspects of managerial performance?
Or is it that, no-matter how well they do it, this issue is particularly annoying to co-workers.
Naturally, I think the answer is a little of both.
Many of us, as managers, find confrontation emotionally difficult, so donâ€™t want to tackle issues until we â€œhave to.â€ If a subordinate is only â€œaverageâ€ not yet â€œfailing,â€ why bother making a fuss?
The reason is the effect that one personâ€™s underperformance has on the motivation, morale and energy of those around them. If management canâ€™t (or wonâ€™t) enforce the standards and help underperformers achieve competence, then why should the rest of us try for excellence? Itâ€™s hard to feel like part of an energizing, exciting team if there are passengers (or what are seen to be passengers.)
This is not about management being rapacious and trying to get the most out of everybody, but the simple recognition that a team cannot form if group norms are not clear and adhered to, and itâ€™s a manager’s job to ensure that that happens.
Your views? How well would you rate your manager at â€œtackling and dealing with underperformance in your group?â€ Do you have any theories about why itâ€™s often done so poorly?