The 10 Worst Management Practices, And How To Turn Them Around

Summary of a session by Laurens Bonnema at the Stoos Stampede 2012 (Mary posted about this session here)

At the Stoos Stampede 2012, Laurens Bonnema facilitated a session about bad management practices. Not only was the content of the session quite interesting. The way Laurens facilitated it was very informative, too. The first thing, he did was gathering bad management practices from real life from all participants. He used silent brainstorming for this which was extremely productive.

Result of silent brainstorming management worst practices
After the brainstorming results were clustered and ranked by participants. We tried to assign a reason and a possible cure for the negative behaviours.

Here we go. The ten worst management practices drawn from real life in descending order:

1. Failing to act on impediments

You will probably not have to dig very deep in your memory to find your personal example of some manager confronted with a serious problem, finding many reasons (often financial ones) to do nothing about it. Since - at least in my understanding - removing impediments and optimizing the working environment are core responsibilities for every manager, this is a sad situation.
What could you possibly do to work with such a problem? One suggested approach is to make the problem as visible and transparent as possible. The responsible person will then have much lower chances to succeed with hiding the problem.

2. Spreadsheet terrorism

Several participants reported the habit of some managers to cover their subordinates with reporting stuff. Someone called this "spreadsheet terrorism". The problem is, that all those numbers do not really help you to focus on your work and will probably even slow you down. In some cases the only reason for this kind of management is that the respective person has no clue, what to do in her job and cannot cope with people problems. Thus she tries to reduce those problems to numbers giving her the feeling of beeing able to control something. The most common reason for this behaviour is probably uncertainty and a mean understanding of people and their problems.
It looks like there is no simple hint, how to solve this problem. You could eventually try to sensibilize him for the problems of management by objectives (numbers) and suggest, to focus more on the customer and the employees than on costs and numbers. Try to talk openly to her and discuss how to improve her skills in realizing and working with people problems.

3. Saying != Doing

There is not much to say about this. Can you do anything worse than talking left and walking right? It will not a take long time and nobody will trust you anymore. And trust is the base, really good relationships are built upon. Even in business!
The most effective thing you can do about this problem is making the gap between talking and doing and the consequences as transparent as possible to her (and eventually everybody else) so that she will have the chance to realize it the reception of her doing by the rest of the world.

4. Management by fear

Have you ever been in the following situation? Your manager calls you into her office and has a short but firm conversation monologue with you about some recent or current problem and makes very clear that a repetition of this problem will have serious consequences.
It is almost tragic that strategies of punishment and fear are still widely used to manage and lead people. Especially since it is broadly accepted that the negative consequences of punishement and fear - even if this works in hindsight of changing unwanted behaviour - far outweigh the advantages of this fast way of learning (see e.g. the research of B.F. Skinner). If your manager uses this type of learning for her subordinates one reason might be, that she is overloaded with work and does not see alternative ways to enforce the desired behaviours fast enough (punishment is a very fast way of changing behaviour). In this case you should try to find ways how to reduce the workload of the respective manager.
Another reason might be, that the manager does not know any alternatives to punishment. In this case she is definitely in the wrong place and one should urgently consider to educate him with basic leadership skills or - if this is not possible - replace her.

5. Divide & Conquer

A manager has fear that a team has such a momentum that she will not be able to control its behaviour in the near future anymore. Her solution is to break up the team and accept the dropping performance only to be able to have full controll again.
If a manager indeed acts in such a way, I personally cannot see any way to turn this behaviour around. There must be a lot of things going completely wrong.

6. Failing to really listen

A manager talks to you, but she does not really hear what you say. There might be several reasons for this problem. Classical communication problems could be one of them. In this case it is probably a good idea to involve a third person as facilitator who is able to reflect your communication problems to both of you.
Another reason might be that the manager is just to busy and her head is filled up with stuff of all sort but not with your problems and thoughts. In this case you should on one hand tell him the problem you sense in your communication and talk openly and constructively to her about how to reduce her amount of work or creating room for focused communication in other ways.

7. Avoiding conflicts

This is not only a classical management problem. Be honest: Who of us is always jumping on conflicts as soon as she discovers them? Nevertheless, this is a problem. The solution might be simple. Directly address the conflict you see and make it visible. Do this steadily and insist on a resolution of the conflict using any opportunity.

8. Management by numbers

Very similar if not equal to "spreadsheet terrorism".

9. Featurism over Quality

Mostly a problem of project managers who promised a fixed set of functionality for a fixed price working against a not negotiable deadline. The only dimension where speedup is possible is in quality (since nobody spoke about this initially).
I think, Agile folks know the solution ;) In short: assume quality to be fixed and not negotiable and prioritize your requirements!

10. Blaming Culture over Finding Solutions

I have seen this to often: A problem is at hand and the first (and often last) reaction is "yep - we know - that's a cultural problem in this company". The process of discovering possible solutions is thereby terminated. Nobody wants to talk about your problem any longer.
You can try to work on this problem, by understanding the perspectives of the people giving you this answer (be on the same boat) and suggesting small steps to move to a better world. One participant of the session suggested to let those people read the book "My life is a failure" by Jim Johnson.


It is really depressing, how many awful management practices are in use out there. The huge pile of practices backed by some real world stories underline boldly the bottom line of Stoos: "There has to be a better way."


Does Stoos Need a Manifesto?

Summary of a Stoos Stampede session, jointly facilitated by Steffen Lentz and my humble self.

Since Stoos was kicked off in January I had several discussions on this topic with different people. A question, that always arose was, why the initial Stoos21 did not come up with a manifestiish kind of document to make a bold statement on the mission of Stoos.

Now you cannot say, that the Stoos21 did not come up with anything. There is at least a description of the targeted problem and a vague idea how a different szenario could look like on the main page of the Stoos network. Additionally there is the clear message, that Stoos' intention is to change the world:
We are trying to change the world
Given the fact, that 21 people (mostly strangers) had only two days to come together, introduce each other, set up an atmosphere of trust and respect, this result is not bad! Still, to me - and most of the people I discussed with - there was a very central questions left open:

What exactly is the mission and vision of the Stoos network?

To address this question, I proposed the session "Does Stoos Need a Manifesto?" at the Stoos Stampede 2012. At the Stampede Steffen and I decided to join his session "Pitches and Propositions" and mine, since we seemed to have similar targets.

What happened at this session?

The somewhat provocative title of the session worked out nicely and some interested people came together. Steffen already described his view on the session and the participants at the StoosXChange-Wiki.

The discussion was really interesting and very clarifying! Initially some of the participants wanted to agree on a common set of values for the Stoos network, which was kind of obvious since there were certain values mentioned in nearly every session. But the attending Stoos21 participants resisted this move by explaining, that Stoos is not about values, but about "finding different ways" and that those ways can be different for every single organization. It became clear fastly, that this was a point accepted by all participants and that a manifesto would definitely not be the right way to express this.

But after approximately 30 minutes of discussion everybody in the room felt, that there was something missing. That the mission of Stoos could be made more concrete without commiting on certain values. The key common elements were: "finding a better way", "we believe in people and bring them together", "we want to create epiphany/enlightment moments and learning opportunities", and this should happen by "self-organization", which needs a certain container.
Result of the "Manifesto"-session
I will try to summarize my current understanding of the Stoos mission in short:

We believe in people and their potential! We bring them together to create epiphany moments and learning opportunities. Together we will find different and better ways to manage our organizations.

Does not fit into one tweet, thus there will probably still be a lot of work to do ;-). I am curious if there will pop up other views besides this and this (nice video!) in the next days and if a clear mission will be articulated.

Staying tuned :-)

Thanks to all participants! This was clearly one of the epiphany moments at the Stoos Stampede for me!

Update: Peter blogged about this session at his blog.

Update 2: Steffen blogged about the topic here.


Indicators for Corporate Culture (and How to Change)

Summary of a session I facilitated at the Stoos Stampede 2012

In my work I am almost every day confronted with the topics culture and change. Since the Stoos mission (I will eventually blog on this later) is to bring people together to provide learning opportunities, and I had the great chance to participate in the Stoos Stampede, I proposed a session on exactly this topics.

The main outline of the session was as follows:
  1. Gathering different models for describing culture
  2. Collecting indicators (with respect to this models) of non-Stoosian and Stoosian cultures
  3. Discussing how to take steps from the non-Stoosian to the Stoosian culture
Sadly, the session ended before we could even start to discuss item 3. In the remainder I will summarize the results of steps 1 and 2.

Step 1 was intended to reveal models to describe corporate culture find an appropriate model for describing non-Stoosian and Stoosian cultures in Step 2.
Models to describe corporate culture found in Step 1
We came up with with three different models:
  • One model described corporate cultures on two axes: One axis represents the focus on persons (impersonal vs. person-focused) the other axis represents the focus on time (future-focused vs. present-focused). The model then distinguished four cultureal quadrants.
  • Another mentioned model was Spiral Dynamics - a model of human development, which can be adapted to organizations as well. Spiral Dynamics distinguishes multiple levels of development. Every level is associated with a color. Mentioned stages were blue, orange, green and yellow. Someone claimed that Non-Stoosian organizations would be on stages blue or orange, whereas Stoosian organizations should be on stages green or yellow.
  • The third model was proposed and complemented in several forms. One could say that the basic model is the one, Edgar H. Schein proposes in his book "The Corporate Culture Survival Guide" (amongst others). This model divides culture in three stages:

    - Artifacts:
    Visible organizational structures and processes
    - Espoused Values:
    Strategies, goals, philosophies
    - Underlying Assumptions:
    Unconscious, taken for granted beliefs, perceptions, thoughts, and feelings
    - One participant added the dimension Purpose to this list

    Other participants pointed out, that Chris Argyris established the espoused theory and theory-in-use, with a similar distinction like the aspects mentioned by Schein.
    One of the attendees pointed out, that the Artifacts layer of culture is only 10% of what really drives corporate culture and the remaining 90% are the unvisible believes and assumptions.
Step 2 was devoted to collecting indicators for non-Stoosian and Stoosian cultures. We decided to use the culture model of Schein supplemented with the Purpose dimension as a basis for collecting those indicators.

Indicators for Non-Stoosian cultures where
  • There are many secrets around - very intransparent
  • Strong hierarchies and strict top-down control
  • The company is led by ROI only (very money focused)
  • The attitude "We know better than your customer" is custom
  • The company is very focused on individuals (heroes)
  • There are lots of reports distributed (e.g. plans, timesheets, evaluations of performance, KPIs)
  • There are many defined processes set up
  • The company is cost-driven
  • There is much talk about efficiency
  • Work is not fun for the employees
  • In Spiral Dynamics: blue or orange
Indicators for a Non-Stoosian corporate culture

Indicators for Stoosian cultures where
  • Transparency of management and decisions
  • Company has a longterm vision
  • Sustainability is a topic in the company
  • There is a focus on employees
  • The company is knowledge driven
  • There are cross-functional teams at work
  • Openness is a value and assumptions are visible
  • Dawna Jones pointed out, that many of the artifacts depicted in the organic model here (http://www.lampindex.com) are indicators for Stoosian cultures
  • In Spiral Dynamics: green or yellow (or above)
Indicators for a Stoosian corporate culture

As you can easily see all of the above listed indicators are very visible things and thus clearly on the Artifact stage of the cultural model. As Schein points out, there is not an immediate direct link from the artifacts of a company to its actual culture (you are missing 90% if you only know the Artifacts!). Therefore many questions remain open after this session. Maybe the next Stampede will shed some more light on this topic :-)

Ángel Medinilla used the last five minutes of the session to summarize and propose an interesting model. He hypothesized that on all stages of Schein's model the difference between Stoosian and non-Stoosian organizations is that Stoosian organizations are headed for the many while non-Stoosian organizations are headed for the few. To be more concrete:
  • Stoosian organizations tend to work in teams (many) vs. Non-Stoosian organizations working as many individuals (Artifact stage)
  • In Stoosian organizations you will encounter an atmosphere of humility (many) vs. in Non-Stoosian organizations you will encounter an atmosphere of arrogance (few)
  • Stoosian organizations are thinking in long terms (many), while Non-Stoosian organizations tend to think in quarters (few).
This final words finished nicely a session which was - at least to me - full of interesting things and diverse views on the topic. I learned a lot and want to thank all the participants for the great input!

Update 1: Just found another short summary of the session by Joost Jonker: http://alustforchange.wordpress.com/2012/07/09/indicators-for-companies-culture-and-how-to-change-stoos-stampede/

Update 2: If you want to learn more about the 3rd planned point of the session (taking steps from non-Stoosian to Stoosian culture), you might have a look at the results of the "Culture Hacking"-Session here or here. And maybe here: #culturehacking

Update 3: Another thought on culture: It's not the Culture, Stupid!