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The amateur manager

Posted: August 31, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 31, 2014 2:00 a.m.

Taking my clients out of town for their annual planning retreat, a key asset comes into play: perspective.

Away from dealing with day to day issues, and involved in what are often once in a lifetime activities, in a resort setting in locations they have usually never visited, interesting thoughts surface.

In one twelve month period, I had the same client tell me, on two different retreats, how unhappy he was with two of his direct reports. Yet between the first retreat and the second, he had not had a discussion with either subordinate about his expectations or their under-performance.

This story isn’t unusual and has several common themes I frequently discuss with clients.

The first is that the people who were under-performing did not know that they were not doing what the owner wanted them to do.

The second is that the owner had not had a candid conversation with the under-performers to make clear what was expected of them.

The third is that if the owner had held a conversation or conversations with those deemed under-performing, there was no action taken to motivate the individuals in question to improve or to face the consequences.

No one was verbally warned; there was no coaching for performance improvement; no warnings in writing, no discussion of possible consequences, up to and including termination.

Who is at fault here? The owner is liable.

In this instance, those involved had long term relationships. But somewhere along the way, there were missed opportunities to change things for the betterment of the company.

I was told that job descriptions existed, but if they did they were likely out of date.

I realized that written performance evaluations were never performed, so the employees never really knew how they were doing versus what was expected.

I think it would be fair to say that absence of a written job description, clear goals and regular, written performance evaluations, employees believe they are doing a terrific job. When I was an employee, I certainly did.

What happens is that without being provided anything in writing related to performance, when an employee receives a pay increase of any size, lies are told, and they are believed.

The lies continue to build every time the employee receives a raise or false praise. This can go on for years, and the example cited, it did.

The owner should take the blame here as well. In many companies, employees are promoted to management positions without adequate education or coaching to successfully lead themselves, let alone a team.

The owner’s two direct reports were managers who led teams. Because they were not well managed, how do you think they managed their direct reports? In two words: they didn’t.

These amateur managers were supposed to provide direction and hold employees responsible for specific results. They didn’t.

These amateur managers were never trained and were not held accountable for conducting or writing performance evaluations. I doubt if they ever conducted a “difficult conversation” with an under-performing employee, and both had a few of these on their teams.

Why would they? Their owner never conducted a difficult conversation with them, and if it did take place, nothing changed. There was no follow up, no coaching; no accountability to change.

The worst part of this is that the owner did not want to be seen as the “bad guy” to any employee, so a blind eye was turned when performance fell short or when managers and employees behaved in a manner that is not appropriate.

That amateur manager you have working for you; the one that doesn’t measure up to your expectations; the one that gives you headaches?

It might be that he or she is simply following the example you are setting.

Ken Keller facilitates The Wise Owners Advisory Boards, bringing business owners together for education, sharing and on-going success. Contact him at Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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