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7/28/2012

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.

Conclusion

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."