The Seven Millstones of Management – They’ll Definitely Bring You Down

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A few weeks ago I received a call from a client wanting to know if we do “Cultural Sensitivity Training”. My curiosity piqued, I made an appointment to go and see them so that I could gain more clarity as to this “Cultural Sensitivity Training”.

Turns out that they have a particular person that just gets up everyone’s noses. He is obnoxious and makes racist, sexist and homophobic comments with impunity. He also tells distasteful and offensive jokes about peoples’ religions. However, they don’t want him to feel as if he is being singled out, so they want us to train a group of people, which will include this person, in this subject called “Cultural Sensitivity.”

I asked whose request this was to do this training, and was told that it was the CEO’s. So I asked if we could see him. When we were sitting in his office, I asked him the same question, “why do you want Cultural Sensitivity Training in your company?” He gave me the same answer about this person.

Now here’s where this gets interesting. I asked him what had happened to good old discipline. Where was the Code of Conduct for their company and why is it not enforced through discipline? Training is going to do nothing for this chap, but discipline according to a code of conduct, will! The CEO looked at me in amazement and wondered why he hadn’t thought of that himself!

So this conversation set me to thinking about the mistakes that we as managers make in our companies. And these mistakes all cost money at the end of the day. I call them The Seven Millstones of Management.

1) We give the most expensive and strategically important job in the company to the least competent person: Recruiting is a complex job that requires in-depth understanding of the overall business strategy, insight, maturity and experience on the part of the recruiter, as a misplaced person is an immediate, large and damaging cost! And yet we give this strategically important and cost sensitive job to a person with a diploma in HR and one year work experience!

2) We need a performance management system: There is no performance management system in the world that can get people to perform. Why? Because managers manage performance. The “performance management systems” that exist today are performance measurement systems. And yes, they are necessary to collate the results of the performance management being carried out by the managers so that we can work out increases, bonuses and so on. But when a performance measurement system is used as a performance management system, all that it achieves is an awareness of performance among personnel for about two weeks prior to the performance appraisal and about one week thereafter. But very little, if any sustainable change is achieved. Ongoing performance is achieved by managers managing performance on a daily basis. That is after all why we have managers!

3) The great fixer – training: As a trainer of people in business, I am acutely aware of the fact that out of all the people that are trained, 20% (if you’re lucky) will buy into the material taught and use it. The other 80% will tell everyone how much they enjoyed the course and then go back to doing things the way they always have been done. If the training does not have clear and objectively measurable outcomes, and people are not held responsible for performing to those outcomes, then your training intervention has been a waste of time and money. People don’t change because of training. They change because there are tangible consequences to not using the skills and behaviours that they have been taught.

4) We use a promotion to management as a reward for good performance: This is probably the single biggest mistake that is made in businesses today. We take the best performer in the department and then promote them to a supervisory or management role. Or even better – we recruit someone that has just qualified in something, and immediately make them a manager! WRONG! Management is not a promotion, IT IS A CHANGE IN CAREER. Management should be a career choice and be offered to people because they exhibit the following characteristics: 1) They have the ability to influence people, 2) people want to willingly produce results for them, 3) They have the respect of their peers and management and 4) They have the courage to impose control and discipline. Making people managers because they are good at their operational function, simply creates people that are not nearly as good at their operational function as what they were before they were made into managers. It also creates “managers” that are disempowering because they would rather do the work themselves instead of letting others do it. Managers get things done. Managers are not doers!

5) The staff will like me if I’m nice to them: All well and good yes. We have to be nice to people. The problem with this is, in order to get people to like us, we become permissive. All this approach does is foster a climate of low productivity and disrespect for the manager. Oh they will like you, but they won’t respect you. What is more important is that managers are able to impose and maintain discipline, yet still be respectful and treat their people with dignity. This will go a lot further in creating a productive environment than just being “nice”.

6) We focus our staff on tasks, yet expect them to make money for us: Two years ago I was one of a number of speakers at a company conference in Europe. The speaker that spoke before me is the founder and owner of the company. He stood up in front of all the staff and said the following. “In 2008 I gave a fund manager €22 million to look after for me. At the end of 2008 he gave me back €20 million. So I fired him. At the beginning of 2008 this company was worth €4.3 billion. At the end of 2008 it was worth €4.2 billion. Why don’t I fire you? Every one of you working for this company is the manager of my funds. Your job is to grow those funds!” Pretty tough yet self-explanatory words. If we want people to perform tasks, focus them on tasks. But if we want to make money, focus your people on increasing the value of the fund and in so doing increase their own value. Toyota never had the goal of becoming the biggest car maker in the world. They got there by default through every member of staff being committed to a process of continuous improvement.

7) Give them time: When you as a manager recruit someone or accept them being transferred to you, you are making a financial investment in that person on behalf of your company. Your job at that point, is to get them profitable as quickly as you possibly can. If this person turns out to be a problem person, you have 3 months to either fix or fire that person, otherwise you are the problem! As money devalues throughout the course of time, you don’t have the luxury of unlimited time in order to “give him a chance”. If you have appointed someone with the understanding that they will learn the job and then perform to the level of a competent person, put a time limit on that “learning”. At a particular agreed time, the individual should be able to demonstrate acceptable competence otherwise they need to be replaced. You don’t have the luxury of time because time costs money.

You can probably think of a whole lot more mistakes that we in business make. The bottom line is that we are in business to make money. Let me put it another way – people are employed in order to increase the wealth of the shareholders. This will only happen when that goal is understood and uncompromisingly driven at all levels of management.