By John Cona '87
How to spot poor management and understand its supporting, perpetuating cultures. A checklist of warning signs for the wary as observed at one man's real life clients...
Healthy job seekers beware! Poorly-run corporations make their presence known through easily recognizable symptoms. In this essay, I present the etiology of ineffectual company management; in a follow-on piece, I will prescribe some simple home remedies. Hopefully, this knowledge will empower those new to the white-collar workforce to be agents of change. New workers do not have to sit powerless against the abject silliness and non-common-sensical goings-on at most corporations. There is hope.
As a Stony Brook alum (1987) and long-time independent Management Advisor and consultant, I was asked to write a series of blog-essays giving career development advice to new graduates.
- Ready acceptance of excuses to go off-plan
- A dearth of management skill to begin with
- Plain old incompetent, silly or unsettling behavior
- Accedence to a superior's own causes
- Surrender to short term thinking, or lack of its recognition and ramifications
And running like a bright vein of fool's gold through all of these sources is a lack of common sense.
- Email Inboxes Containing Thousands Of (Usually Unread) Messages
- Consultant Dependency (which is just silly)
- PowerPoint Heck (which is just unsettling)
- Reliance (Even a Little Bit!) On Instant Messaging and Texting
- New Directions Every Day or Week. Hour?
- Requiring Face-to-Face Time Every Day. Hour?
- "Hallway Management"
- Crowds of People in a "Working Meeting"
- Addressing Actionable Emails to More than One Person
- Giving Multiple Resources the Same Job To Do.
- Lack of Quality, Lack of Productivity, and Heroic Efforts
- Operating Continually in Reactive Mode
- ~60% Cancellation Rate on Scheduled Meetings - Or Anything Over 10%
- People Late or Absent From Meetings
Those instantly recognizable:
- Lack of ability - or lack of willingness - to delegate. A manager who is involved in every conversation that his subordinates undertake does not trust them, or is not aware that he/she can/should trust them.
- A management style that does not scale. Simply put: once a person's plate is full, there is no more that they can do.
- Poor performance. Being spread too thin brings about a lack of quality output in anyone.
- Lack of an organizational model that matches the workload. If a single person is receiving too many emails, this means that too many recipients are addressed to, or copied on, emails inappropriately.
This sign indicates that management is not, on its own, producing good ideas. At many large companies, there is a tendency to forego an important decision until a consulting firm says it is OK. The approach is not completely wrongheaded; consultants can supply valuable insight where expertise is lacking. At some point, though a firm needs to recognize its own strengths and back its people when they make decisions that they should be counted on to make.
3. PowerPoint Heck
In recent years, operational and organizational management have changed so that, in many instances, they communicate solely in slide-speak. The displacement of more suitable forms of documentation and communication by PowerPoint is a sign of dependence and inefficiency.
Those Noticeable Within a Normal Work Week:
1. Reliance (Even a Little Bit!) On Instant Messaging and Texting.
This is a sign that communications have "backed up"; as mountains of unread emails accumulate, the need for attention-getting moves toward instant messaging. This replaces the managed, directed, purposeful and productive communications of email with tools marketed mostly to teenagers. To rely on texting or IM is to rely on happenstance - what if the recipient is not available at the time of the message?
2. New directions every day/week/hour
This is a clear sign that there is no proper planning. ‘What happened to yesterday’s direction? Is it on maternity leave?’ is an appropriate, common sense response (though perhaps should not be spoken aloud; leave it to me to express this).
3. Requiring face-to-face time every day/hour
4. “Hallway Management”
1. Lack of Quality, Lack of Productivity, and Heroic Efforts
Longer-term lack of quality deliverables is a more difficult symptom to recognize immediately. More easily observed are the heroic efforts required when deliverables are finally met – one person, or a team, working extra hours as a tightly-knit group, cheerlead by management to act “as one” , with redundant efforts and inefficient grunts and groans until the project is completed, forced over the goal line in a muddy scrum. A shortcut to recognizing this symptom is to look for braggadocio or corporate pride in individuals who regularly perform 50+ hour work weeks just to keep the status quo.
Simple Steps Toward: The Right Way
In a follow-on piece, I will present some guidelines on the right way to organize and communicate in an organization - simple enough that an individual can put them into place.