Originally created 02/05/01

Brannen: Effective managers focus on goals

There are a number of common managerial mistakes that can prove to be injurious to an organization and perhaps fatal to a manager's career. Here are some, in no particular order, and some ideas on how to avoid them.

Busy managers frequently get too involved with the many small, daily problems and hence lose sight of their basic objective. This is the old problem of getting distracted by the trivial many, rather than focusing on the important few.

It can be difficult to think of the big picture on those days when you must put out one fire after another. However, if a ship's captain does not frequently check the compass and adjust the heading, the intended destination will be missed. Likewise, a manager can slowly drift from the basic mission.

A manager should question daily every action or idea to ensure it contributes to the basic mission. If managers cannot readily state the main mission in one sentence, they may have misplaced their compass.

Things get done in an organization by the following sequence: thinking leads to behavior or activity; activity leads to results. Some managers believe that if they can control the activities of their employees, they will produce results. Instead, the focus should be on getting the results by influencing an employee's thinking.

If a manager can instill a desire in the employees to produce results, it should matter little how something is done, as long as it gets done safely, legally and inexpensively. It is possible to produce results by controlling activity, but when the control is removed the desired activity is not necessarily self-sustaining.

Attempting to manage all employees in the same way is usually a mistake. Managers who do are usually lazy or unsophisticated and often claim their approach is predicated on equal treatment.

They often manage by group meetings and memos, rather than with one-on-one interaction tailored to a specific employee. It takes experimentation and patience to find the best approach to connect with a particular employee and enable them to be receptive. Poor managers give up prematurely and claim there is no key that will work with some employees. The key is there; it just needs to be found.

Other managers err in the opposite direction of connectivity with their employees by trying to be their buddy rather than their boss. Buddies and friends do not have to make difficult decisions about the other's employment, but managers do. Being a friend after hours and managing them the next morning is a hybrid that is neither a good friend nor a good boss. It takes far more maturity and objectivity from both than they usually possess for such a hybrid to thrive.

The company picnic or Christmas party may be social for the employee, it cannot be for the manager. Certainly, a manager can relax and enjoy the event, but when you are with the people you manage it is a professional business relationship, always.

Another managerial mistake is reliance on employee manipulation rather than building up the employee. The two tools of manipulation are fear and rewards. The fear of losing a job, raise, or promotion, or the reward of getting those things are simply bribing or forcing employees to perform. Manipulation with fear and reward are external motivators, but the best and most suitable motivation to perform comes from within.

Just as the Mona Lisa and Elvis on velvet are both paintings, one is more inspiring and enduring than the other. A good manager will manipulate when really necessary, but will continue to build the employee's inner strengths.

There are three strengths a manager should help employees build. One is a desire to do well simply for the pride of doing so. Another is to build a strong belief in the organization's basic purpose, that is, its products or services. Finally, a good manager attempts to build within the employee a sincere appreciation and belief in the organization itself.

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