Check your usage of the word “just.” It could mean you’re managing from a deficit
Many managers want things to just get done. Or they want their employees to just resolve the issue. Or they want their employees to just answer the question. Or they want their employees to just stop doing something they don’t like.
However, this could be more of a symptom of the manager’s poor behaviors and less a symptom of the employees’ inability to perform. In all of these examples, the usage of the word “just” implies a need to take a short-cut to better performance. It’s also an indicator that the manager is “managing from a deficit.”
It’s a great marker – the word “just.” Check yourself each time you use it. Let’s look at some sample situations:
–The manager receives a report and says, “Just give me the high level summary.”
–The manager sees people unable to come to a recommendation and says, “Just figure it out and get back to me.”
–The manager sees in the metrics that errors are up and says, “Just do what it takes to stop making these errors.”
In these examples, the manager is making a request to get something resolved – without making any effort to resolve it. What great management! Wouldn’t it be great to have this skill?
Usage of the word “just” automatically implies that the manager believes that there indeed is a simple solution that the employees need to employ – but is unwilling to provide that solution himself.
This puts the employees in an untenable situation: They need to change their behaviors to something simpler, better and smarter – but without any guidance as to what those new behaviors are. This requires them to guess as to what those behaviors are – and when they attempt the new behaviors, it is unknown whether they are correct or incorrect. They’ll keep guessing. It is an inefficient method for improving performance.
Not only that, but this method also implies that improved performance is “just” one step away.
In all of these situations, the manager actually needs to move beyond making requests to “just” do something differently. The manager, should she employ this request, should check herself and at least make an attempt to articulate what the improved behavior is.
For example, when asking for “just” the high level summary, the manager needs to look at the (so called) wordy report and set an example of what an improved high-level summary is. Ah, but this is more work for the manager, isn’t it? Yes it is. This “more work” is also known as “managing,” and asking people to change their behaviors without guidance or samples for improved behaviors should also be called “not managing.”
Over-usage of the word “just” is a great example of “Managing from a deficit.” When you hear your manager use the word “just”, you know that the manager is trying to make short cuts, and is not helping the team improve. Instead, the manager is expecting the team to magically change for the better without any idea for what that better behavior is. This gets the manager into a further hole, since the team now has to scramble to figure out what that new behavior is. The new, correct behavior isn’t just one step away, but a series of increasingly frustrating attempts to figure out what the better performance looks like.
The alternative path – managing from a surplus – is a manager who identifies that something isn’t right, and that she wants something different than what it is that is provided. The impulse to use the word “just” should be an indicator of this need for something different. The manager should, instead of saying, “just. . .” say something like the following:
“This isn’t working for me. I need to identify what it is that does work for me. Let’s take some time to figure this out and identify the right format for this report.”
It takes extra time, but if you do this early and often, you will get future outputs from your team without having the impulse to create short cuts to performance. It’s the path to a higher performing team.
Do you have a habit of asking your employees to “just” do something? Does it work? Have you ever had a manager admonish you and the team to “just” do something? Have you had a manager who takes the alternate path and avoids using “just” to gets issues resolved?