In the last few articles, I’ve been discussing managers’ too-frequent negative reactions to problems. The “red” stuff on a scorecard, for example. They will act surprised and/or angry. As I pointed out, this is not the manager’s job to act surprised and angry when problems arise.
But let’s say that the problems aren’t the most important thing – maybe the more important thing has a status of “green” on a report or scorecard. If you ignore the stuff that is going well, you are missing opportunities to be a great manager.
The green stuff – things that are not problems – these should be reinforced positively. Rather than focus on the stuff needing improvement, talk about what is going well. Discuss specifically what it was that the employees did to earn that green status. Identify the actions taken, and call out why this is a good thing.
1. You’ll discover who is doing well and why
You may discover in this conversation that people on your team did many things that prevented problems in the first place. You may learn methods that could be used elsewhere on your team.
You may identify high performers who create “green status” without any drama. Many managers descend into a dynamic where they are close to only those who are reacting to problems – the firefighters – at the detriment of those who prevented the fires from starting in the first place.
Focusing on the green items on the status report is a chance surface the people on your team who get the work done right the first time. They are the ones who try to prevent drama rather than create drama.
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.