The last days I listened to some episodes of a german management podcast. They discussed some common management problems or mistakes and how to avoid them. This got me thinking about my own experiences and this post is a combination of ideas from the podcast and my own thoughts. And it certainly is by no means complete or authoritative.
One of the most demotivating habits is not only to set a goal but also explicitly to define how to reach it. If you are at every stage of a project informed about every detail and progress of every task, if you always work on the important tasks yourself, if you think you know more than your coworkers and can do better, if you are able to jump in with any task at hand you probably are micromanaging your team. This is demotivating since you express a lack of trust. Try to delegate tasks. Have confidence in your coworkers because without they don’t have either. Sometimes the line between giving enough information to work on a task and giving too much information so the task can be done without thinking about is a fine one. Especially founders often never learned to delegate by specifying a task at hand as detailed as needed but not more. When the results don’t match their expectations they feel confirmed in their distrust.
Additionally don’t request status information each and every day. This holds true for management, but does certainly not apply to agile processes. So what is the difference between a manager requesting to be updated every day and a daily standup, you may ask. Well the standup is the spreading of information you as a reporting team member think is noteworthy for all (!) other team members. Reporting to your manager socio-dynamically is a totally different process. There is an imbalance in power right from the setting. The (im)balance of power in conversations in general is a topic worth its own post.
The undercover expert
This is a special type of micromanager. All by themselves they think that they can accomplish the technical problems better than anybody else because there is nothing they love as much as fiddling with details and technology. The result is that they work in their company not on their company. And since they are the A-Team, made of Chuck Norris and MacGyver in one person, their idea of management is to control everything. But they will think of this as support for their coworkers. Such a manager also will never give up control, even if they try. This is because stepping out of the way because they trusts someone else to do the job is not part of their worldview.
To pay too much is bad, but to pay poor is even worse. So don’t pay less than average. In fact if you like to get excellent work pay more than average. Money is not everything but money can be a form of appreciation. Or rather paying poor wages is a sign of lack of appreciation. If you now say that you cannot afford to pay competitive wages then you perhaps should not hire additional employees. This sounds sharp but if your revenue is so bad that you need to cut on the wages maybe your business model or way to manage is not optimal. The laws of economy say that you can not expect to buy an excess of any good by paying poor. If you pay poor for any deliverable you have to add for the risk to do so. If you take that into account you have a bit more margin to pay.
And while we’re at it: don’t work with a bonus system. Bonuses have shown to be counterproductive to create engagement with a company or job position. Most people will do anything to comply to the results defined in their agreement on objectives. This includes taking shortcuts that in the short term work to reach a goal but might harm your company if it is not the intended way to reach the goal.
Be authentic. Don’t try. Be it. If you commit to deliver something do so. If you give deadlines or goals, be specific. „Somewhere around March“ is not a date. “Monday, the 25 March at 10am“ is a date. If you define dates or deadlines, take a note and write a mail so everyone knows and can keep track. If you give positive feedback, do so in public, if you have to express criticism, do it in a one-on-one. Meetings with two or more managers and one employee are not feedback but a jury. Avoid this setting in any case. You remember my remark on imbalance of power from above?
While we are at one-on-ones: it’s typical german management style to have exactly one annual personnel talk. This meeting is thought to contain feedback, objectives, personal growth (if this is a topic at all) and salary. That’s a lot of stuff that should not be combined and once a year is too infrequent. There are two main reasons why managers avoid one-on-ones.
First they might think they have not enough time for every coworker to meet once a week or biweekly. This signals „you are not important to me“. And let’s just do some math. The typical management span in a tech company is somewhere up to 10 team members. 10 conversations of half an hour make 5 hours. Every two weeks which has 80 hours if your full time week has 40 hours. That’s not very much for one of your core tasks.
Or they are afraid of the talk. Being afraid to talk to colleagues may have one of two reasons. One is you might be afraid of what you will hear. The other is that you just don’t like to communicate so much at all. If one of those applies to you you might want to think about your job choice. There is a swabian proverb: „Not beaten is praised enough“. Don’t live by that. It never has been true.