Don’t specialise in Much Ado about Nothing. This means viewing every situation, regardless, as a major drama, every encounter a dramatic scene and every participant an actor on the stage. It involves majoring in Minors, blowing small things out of proportion, losing the ‘big picture’ and spending enormous amounts of time in analysis, contemplation and yet more analysis (a.k.a. pontification in extremis) on issues that don’t warrant much attention. The solution? Do take your thespian skills and need for drama out of the workplace and focus instead on the majors – the things that, left unattended, will damage your business and stop you delivering the outcomes you are paid to produce.
Don’t try making a Silk Purse out of Polyester Cotton. This means spending an unlimited amount of time, effort and money trying to make individuals perform in roles, that despite clever training, illuminating workshops, endless coaching, and continual mentoring and numerous other interventions, its clear the person hasn’t ‘got it’, and never will get it. It is dishonest practice to keep people in roles they are not equipped for and if you hear yourself saying ‘we’ll add some other staff to do what he/she can’t do’ or ‘there’s no solution so we’ll wait until they retire’, you’ll know you are avoiding the issue. The solution? Do establish a cut off point for training and coaching. Directly tackle the issues, head on, even though you may be dealing with a historical problem. Focus on organisational need and honest practice – and use legal, appropriate and respectful processes. Then act decisively on the outcome.
Don’t let your lips leak! Remember the WW2 propaganda about ‘loose talk sinks ships’? Well, the 1990’s equivalent is saying ‘this is confidential, but…’ or ‘don’t let on I told you, but…..’ or ‘don’t tell a soul, but…..’ If you do talk inappropriately, it will encourage discerning people to question your professionalism and integrity and wonder in what other areas of your practice you may be sloppy. The solution? If you are tempted, DON’T. When you find yourself tempted, ask yourself ‘is this information strictly confidential?’ and pause to consider the reasons why the information may be classified. If you know the answer is yes, then file it away in your head, not your mouth!
Don’t develop your Parenting Skills in the Workplace. This means working at making the workplace a cosy home and in doing so, can fill a personal void. You can then beam with pride and say ‘we’re just like a family’. Once you have created a family you can enjoy the intense togetherness. Familiar behaviours can develop, such as tears, the silent treatment, dagger looks, tattling, scolding, bribing, whining and the occasional tantrum. And lets not forget sibling rivalry….’they always get everything’, ‘she’s always picking on me’. The solution? As a manager, do stop acting like a parent and your employees will stop acting like children. Even with the best of intentions, your employees are not your family and the office is not your home.
Don’t Assume Omnipotence and a Culture of Arrogance. This means you yell, pound tables, scream at staff, arrive late for meetings, withhold information, play favourites amongst staff, change your mind frequently and without logic after making decisions, not doing what you say you’ll do, be consistently inconsistent, keep staff ‘on the hop’ to get enjoyment from their discomfort and stress and, for good measure, lie and vehemently deny doing so. The solution? Arrogance has no place in professional relationships and must not be tolerated. It is preventable. You do not want the expense and destruction that arrogance brings about. Place checks and balances around you. Then seriously consider whether a career change might be in order.
Don’t use a Deep Squeeze Technique to Get More than Bruises. This means squeezing people out of roles or positions, instead of doing it directly. It involves taking vastly circuitous routes around a difficult issue by taking work away from people, or by creating an excessively demanding work load and wishing they would leave, rather than deal to the fact they can’t perform; getting others to take on someone’s work, saying it would be quicker or better if other did it; or, talking about people’s incompetencies behind their backs, so everyone in the workplace knows, except the person concerned. The ultimate aim of squeezing someone out is to avoid the hard stuff – but this technique creates major workplace problems, is fundamentally cruel and disrespectful to the individual being squeezed, and also shows that the manager lacks courage and skills. The solution? Do face the problem directly. Have the courage to look people in the eye and tell them the truth – they may even feel relieved. Get professional management support and industrial relations advice, and use legal, appropriate and respectful processes to solve the problem.
Don’t personalise everything, regardless. This means focusing on the personal needs and feelings of staff to the exclusion of the organisational realities. It means ignoring difficult, unpleasant issues in the hope they will go away, and not wishing to upset someone else’s emotions. Its about soliciting too much private information about individuals and being soft on the person and soft on the issue. The solution? Do try categorising the issues that come to you and write them down. With each one, extract the work-related, organisational content (probably the ones related to your job description) and then extract the personal content. That done, work firstly on the work-related stuff. Then assign the personal content list to the rubbish bin. React to situations, not feelings. Don’t solicit too much private information and be soft on the person and hard on the issue. Bracket off personal issues that impact on employees and support them in dealing with them outside the workplace.
First Published in NZBusiness November 1998