What it really means when a manager swings by and asks, “You doing OK?”
In my previous post, I introduced the concept of “managing from a deficit.” In today’s post, I discuss a common scenario of when a manager “manages from a deficit”, and tries a short cut to get out of it. This I call the “ineffective-you-doing-OK-swing-by.”
If you are a manager, you want to be able to take the temperature of how the members of your team are doing. Knowing who is doing well and who needs support is an important skill. The basic premise that many managers operate under is that they don’t pay attention to the ones who are doing well, and the ones who are struggling need some “moral support.”
To address those times when someone is need of support or it is suspected that something is wrong, it is frequently observed that managers perform what I call the “ineffective-you-doing-OK-swing-by.”
You know the scene: The manager, while running to a meeting, runs into the employee at their desk, in the hallway or break room, and notices something is up. Perhaps the manager was even tipped off that there’s a problem. The manager quickly asks, “You doing OK?”
A peculiar off-shoot I’ve experienced is, “You feelin’ the love?” I think that this was some sort of rapid-fire moral support.
The intent is that the manager, by checking in with the employee, gives some quick attention, and the employee feels better.
The flaw of the “swing-by” is that it gives the impression that the person who is struggling should just answer, “Yes.” Then, the manager can keep “swinging by” and continue moving along. Problem solved? No.
First, know that if you are concerned about how someone on your team is doing, then you can’t rely on the swing-by to address it. Your body language should be in full commitment to meeting with the person and addressing the issue. If you give the impression that you want to keep moving, then you are giving the impression that, well, you want to keep moving, and you really aren’t concerned with addressing the problem. That is, you are no help at all. So if you, the manager, obtain information that you need to check in with someone, there is no formula for doing it quickly, unless you also want to do it ineffectively or in a damaging manner.
If you want to check in, expect to have a full discussion with what is bothering your employee, or what the issues may be. You can do a “swing by” to set up some time on the topic, and that shows full commitment. So instead of “You doing OK?”, how about, “Hey, let’s catch up later. I have some time at 4:30pm. Can we meet up then?” That shows full commitment to a dialog. Of course, if you are a “barking manager” who creates fear and yelling at people, then this is going to make things worse. So don’t be that kind of manager, because for you, even an effective swing-by is ineffective. Oh, the woes of managing from a deficit.
There is another pernicious side-effect of the swing-by. In doing this, you are essentially training your employees to set up dramas so that you feel compelled to do the swing-by and take care of it. So even if you somehow do the swing-by well, you are essentially making your job more difficult via the creation of more drama, and rewarding those on your team who lean towards creating drama. And those who don’t create drama? They’ll get mad at you in silence—they won’t even get the swing-by!
The reason the swing-by is essentially a lose-lose situation (hence the compulsion to make it brief), is that it is essentially a reactive stance. If you find yourself having the urge to do the swing by, then this is a clear indicator that you are “managing at a deficit”. That is, you are playing from behind and are trying to catch up. I have a friend who enjoys spotting when athletes use the cliché, “We try to put as many points on the board early.” It is an obvious strategy in sports, but one that doesn’t happen enough with managers. Managers spend too much time reacting to issues and need to spend more time preventing the issues before they occur.
In my next post, I’ll discuss some ways to avoid this dynamic of relying on and rewarding drama to identify when you need to step in.
Have you ever given or received the “You doing OK?” swing-by? How did it go?