In my previous article, I identified how a manager’s subtle actions can turn into not-so-subtle disasters. The subtle action is reacting negatively to “red” on a status report. The reaction is that employee will hide the “bad news” from you. Bad management and bad results ensue.
So let’s talk about how a manager can think through why seeing “red” on a status report (or receiving any other bad news) should not be responded to with anger, yelling or “just solve it.” We know that this creates a vicious cycle, so let’s identify some things that a manager should consider and say before sending marching orders to solve the problem.
1. It is entirely appropriate that there be items that are “red.”
Consider the following reasons:
The “red” item may be the de-prioritized item.
The “red” item is a new item and is being worked on to get to the point of “green.”
The “red” item, if it is on a scorecard, may be something with very low numbers, significance or sample size, and the “red” status isn’t as significant as others.
The “red” item may be the item that is calibrated to be in the worst shape of all the items, thus earning the status of red. That is, as the lowest scoring metric, it is by definition the worst, and is therefore red.
In other words, it is inevitable and desirable that there be “red” items.
Instead of getting mad, the appropriate response to these scenarios is to determine the significance and priority of the “red” items. Ask whether these “red” items are the high priority items.
In my previous article, I discussed how it is important that a manager not act surprised – even when the manager is surprised. In many ways, this is the essence of a good manager – someone who manages the situation, even when the situation presents surprising results.
So here’s another place where you don’t want act surprised: When you see the status of something (whatever it is) reported as “Red” or “down” or “Needs improvement.”
Perhaps you are familiar with what I’m talking about: Many organizations have a structure where they are required to present status or metrics to the management team. On the report there is an indicator as to whether something is “Green”, “Yellow” or “Red”, or whatever the scale is (On track/off track, perhaps).
It has been observed that many managers seem to bristle, panic, obsess, get angry at, or demand action when they see the dreaded “red” on the status report. Or you may have observed a manager saying, “I don’t like to see that red on the status report.” Have you ever experienced this?
This is an example of a manager managing from a deficit – and creating a deficit that is much deeper every day. It is an indicator that your manager is trying to take short cuts, and identify ways to solve problems without solving problems. This starts a vicious cycle.
Here are some consequences of this behavior of reacting surprised or negatively whenever there is something that is listed as “red”:
1. You train your employees not to show “red”, and they will cease to provide you any bad news
If a manager reacts negatively or acts surprised when there is any hint of “bad” news, the manager immediately and swiftly trains the employees never to share bad news. They may resist this training and continue to give the manager bad news. But should the manager repeat this training, the employees will successfully hide from you anything that could be bad. Problem solved! Everything will be green now.
A lot of things go wrong in business and at work. One thing that shouldn’t go wrong is the manager being the one who is surprised when things go bad. In fact, it is the specific job of the manager NOT to be the one who is surprised when things go wrong.
Have you ever had a manager who yells, “What happened?” “How could that have happened!” Then the manager gets mad at whoever could be responsible, or perhaps mad at the messenger, “I can’t believe you did this!” “What kind of incompetent crap is going on here?” “Go fix it and don’t come back until it is!” “How come this project line item has status of red?!!”
Ah, these are symptoms of a manager who acts surprised when something goes bad. So much to say on this topic! I’ll start with this: It’s the manager’s job NOT to be surprised.
The manager is supposedly the one with the greatest visibility of the work environment and output, who understands the best who is on the team, and what the team ought to be working on. The manager is the one who should know the approximate quality of the team output and what aspects of it can be better.
It is the manager’s role to know the risks of the work activity and where it could go bad. When a bad event from one of these risks manifests — whether it was a known risk or an unknown risk — it is still the manager’s job to know that this kind of stuff does happen.
When the manager is surprised by events, this is a clear indicator that the manager is managing from a deficit. In my discussion of managing from a deficit in previous articles, the manager attempts to take short cuts to managing, thereby announcing to the team that he is no manager. He is, instead, someone who was given the role of the manager, but is not performing the role of the manager.