Have you ever had a manager who has a last minute request, “I need this now!” The more extreme version of this is, “I need this yesterday.” Usually, this is a new last-minute request, and this can be very disruptive and annoying to employees, and a sure sign that the manager is “managing from a deficit.”
Now, I’m not talking about jobs where there is a last-minute nature to the job. A firefighter’s job, is, by definition, a “last-minute” kind of job. The firefighter’s boss will no doubt say, “We need to do this right away!” But there is a lot of preparation that firefighters engage in – with the aid and coordination of their bosses — that goes into meeting the demands of that “last minute” request known as a fire.
I’m talking about a boss who interrupts your job to request something new, and it is needed soon. And this request is made with urgency, perhaps with some yelling involved. These are requests that are metaphoric fires, not actual fires.
So if you are someone on a team that seems to have a lot of “fires”, then read on.
Let’s take a look at some of the sources of these last minute requests (a.k.a., fires):
1. Is the request primarily to assure the manager looks better to his manager?
A common source of this kind of last minute request is to provide assistance to the manager in helping him report up to his manager what is going on, most likely the request of the manager above her. So, ironically, the request keeps rolling downhill. If you have an organization with more than three levels, you have at least three “sources” for needs for updates. If the upper management team does this consistently, such last-minute requests can start to appear to be the norm. For example, let’s say that the upper management decides to schedule an “all team meeting” and wants all of managers in the group need to present to the team. And it’s going to happen next week. Last minute request spawned!
So the team needs to stop what they are doing and instead create a report on what they are doing. When this happens, the manager is asking the team to take the “hit” and not the manager. The manager should have the option to say to his manager, “This would disrupt my team in achieving its goals, which have already been prioritized” and provide the level of reporting already agreed upon. The request can be made to add it to future reports, as part of the core team deliverables. The manager can choose to make an exception and start the “metaphorical” fire, but should also note this as an opportunity to renegotiate what reporting –and the timing of it– the upper management needs. Read more
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.
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?
A common management practice is to make a meeting mandatory. I’ve seen regular team meetings that are called “mandatory”, “all hands” meetings that are called mandatory, special presentations with the group leadership that are mandatory. Lots of mandatory stuff going around! The problem is that if you feel compelled to call a meeting mandatory, it probably isn’t a very good meeting. In fact, if the tag “mandatory” has been added, then it is a sign that it’s going to be a low quality meeting.
When calling a meeting, the goal ought to be that you don’t feel compelled to call it mandatory. If you do feel compelled to get attendance by invoking the mandatory card, you should consider not having the meeting at all. Lack of employee interest a leading indicator that the meeting is going to be a bad meeting for all parties. Read more
In my previous post, I described what I call the “ineffective-you-doing-OK-swing-by.” It is ineffective in that it indicates that the manager is hoping to take a short cut in solving a problem, and it doesn’t solve the problem. Additionally, it trains your employees to set up dramas to get your attention. It’s a leading indicator that you are managing from a deficit.
In today’s post, I’ll discuss five ways to reduce and avoid having to rely on such swing-bys.
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.”
Many managers yell at their employees. Some managers feel the need to shout at the employees to get them to start working work or work harder. Perhaps you’ve heard managers repeat, “Just get it done!” Here are some similar behaviors: Managers getting angry, barking, being impatient, and announcing their worry or panic over a situation.
This means that the manager is losing (or has lost) effectiveness at being a manager. It is a reflection that the team isn’t behind the manager, and that the manager keeps returning to the same, ineffective methods for getting the team to perform (yelling, admonition).
If you are a manager doing this, you are “managing from a deficit.” You are behind the game, and you are losing. What you are doing isn’t working, and you are not getting the results or performance you need from your team. You need to turn this around, but there are no shortcuts. In fact, that’s what got you into this hole in the first place. Read more