Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Miss Management Pageant

One of the guys I used to work with would annually conduct what he called the Miss Management Pageant, an annual ceremony in which employees honored the company's worst managers and their accomplishments. I don't recall all the award titles, but one example is the Forgotten, But Not Gone award.

One day, while talking with my dad about the Miss Management Pageant, he mentioned that he'd always found bad managers to be really great teachers. For some reason, when someone is an excellent manager and leader, it can be quite difficult to see what exactly they're doing that is making them great. On the other hand, bad managers are easy to spot and their dubious methods easy to articulate. My dad would also add, "Only fools learn from their own mistakes."

So, in honor of the Miss Management Pageant and in recognition that we can often learn more from what doesn't work than from what does work, I decided to write down a top-ten list of bad management techniques.
  1. Micro-manage
    The most common way to let people know you're in the running for the Miss Management crown is to micro manage. Micromanagement is easy, fun and a great way to distract yourself from all those nasty, difficult challenges that you never had to deal with before you were a manager.

    If broader management responsibilities start to interfere with your micromanagement activities, hire an assistant! If he's any good at all, he'll start to make "important" decisions for you. If they work out, you can take all the credit; if not, you can blame him.

  2. Aspire to nano-management
    Nowadays, micromanagement skills are just table stakes in the highly competitive Miss Management Pageant. To be a real contender, you'll need to expertly hone those micromanagement skills and become a nano-manager.

    Unlike micro-managers who merely obsess on irrelevant and meaningless details, nano-managers develop such strong commitment to form over function that they often completely discard the function part.

    For example, if an employee walks into your office really hot-under-the-collar and begins telling you about a pressing problem, make sure that you focus exclusively on the her inappropriate attitude and manner. A great nano-manager will segue from these to other topics such as her attire or her manner in other meetings. With any luck, she'll never get to her point. If it turns out that there had been actual substance to her complaint, you can always say that no one ever told you about it.

  3. Never hire people whose skills and capacity exceed your own
    The easiest way to create an organization that is completely out of control is to hire people who are smarter and more talented than you are. If you really want to put a cap on your organization and keep things in check, make sure that you're always the smartest person in the room.

  4. Let poor performers make hiring decisions
    If you sometimes find it difficult to pass on really smart and talented people, then let your worst performers start to do the interviewing and hiring. Surely their personal insecurities and biases will cause them to completely overlook the strongest candidates. And even if they don't, what powerful, talented dynamo would accept a job working with such weak people.

    An additional benefit of having your worst people do the hiring is that it keeps them from screwing up other more important tasks.

  5. Offer strong performers raises, promotions and better assignment only when they threaten to quit
    Strong contenders for Miss Management awards know that paying people at different rates based solely on their skills, talents and contributions is a slippery slope. If you start paying your really good people more money or giving them special treatment, before you know it, everyone will want the same.

    Only resort to these extreme measures when your best people finally get fed-up and threaten to quit. If you find someone whose disparity between compensation and contribution is so great that you feel compelled to give them a bump in salary, control yourself and hold out until they've at least asked for it.

  6. Don't fire anyone, ever
    When you have an employee who simply isn't delivering, don't fire him. Firing people can be traumatic and can lead to all sorts of HR issues. Instead, transfer him to another organization. If no other organization will take him, give him a meaningless and irrelevant job where he can't hurt anything. If he refuses the meaningless and unimportant job, promote him.

    If you must fire him, put him on a "performance improvement plan" with benchmarks that you know he'll never make. To the best of your ability, never indicate your intentions.

  7. Blame your employees for things that go wrong
    If you're in a situation where you're called on the carpet for something that went wrong, blame someone on your team. Explain to your boss how the employee in question has really been a problem and how she has made this kind of mistake before. Nothing highlights mismanagement better than refusing to take responsibility for your own organization.

  8. Dismiss employees who criticize management decisions as being antagonists and not team players
    Nothing can ruin your morning coffee break quicker than an employee walking into the break room with an issue over a management decision. If you find it impossible to avoid one of these naysayers, then join him in his lament and blame "the company" or the "big wigs" at the top.

  9. Go with the advice of people you like
    When you think about it, who really wants to work with a bunch of smart, articulate, strongly opinionated people who seem to always win arguments. Before you know it, it becomes nearly impossible to defend or support your own ideas and plans. In some godawful instances, you might actually find yourself implementing a business plan that you don't agree with simply because these people are "good arguers!"

    The easiest way to avoid this kind of debacle is to hire, listen to and promote people like you, people with the same ideas and thought processes, people you enjoy being around.

  10. Rely on management reports to run your business
    The greats know that their most important tool is the management report. With management reports, you don't need to waste time talking to your employees in order to see what's going on.

    To make it into the big leagues, you'll need to isolate yourself and other managers from your employees (the troops). If you're a second or third level manager, consider creating a management wing or management floor far removed from the day-to-day activities of your staff. Insist that all your other managers move their offices to the management wing.
Ahh... I could go on and on an on... I hate to leave out such wonderful techniques such as:
- confusing personal aesthetics with quality
- assigning staff people to line jobs
- dismissing strong people because they're difficult to deal with
- avoiding conflict by never stepping in to resolve employee disputes
- demanding that employees respect the corporate hierarchy when communicating
- taking criticism and feedback personally
- allowing meetings to go wherever they will
- prioritizing internal meetings over customer meetings

The wonderful thing is that you don't even need to have a job to be in the running for Miss Management! You can apply these techniques or some variant in numerous situations from working with volunteer organizations to leading the church choir to dealing with your kids.

If you really, really want to win the Miss Management Pageant, start with just one or two of these techniques and you'll find that the rest come easily.

Don't be dismayed! If you consider what I've outlined above, you may find that you're already skilled in any number of these methods of mismanagement.

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