One of the most common—and most harmful—fault of managers and supervisors is avoidance. In today’s Advisor, a business author explains how this is comparable to skiing while leaning back instead of forward and what this metaphor means for training your managers.
Jathan Janove is an employment lawyer whose book, Managing to Stay out of Court (Berrett-Koehler/Society for Human Resource Management), explains the concept of skiing with your weight forward.
In his introduction, Janove evokes the image of a beginning skier. Frightened of going too fast, he or she likely obeys the instinct to lean back on the skis. The truth is, however, that keeping the weight forward steadies the skier and offers better control over speed and direction.
That’s his theme: When feeling strong urges to avoid, delay, tell white lies, withhold information, etc., every manager should do the opposite of what those urges dictate. Gen X guru Bruce Tulgan calls this type of avoidance “the undermanagement epidemic,” which Tulgan believes can be improved only by training managers. Janove’s book could be a useful guide to such training.
Convinced that only angry employees take employers to court, Janove focuses on preventing lawsuits. But the techniques he recommends would also help any manager increase productivity and retention.
Here are two stories he tells.
- An engineering manager consistently found the performance of a particular subordinate inadequate and her interactions with others offensive. In counseling her, he would say, “Your engineering work is not as good as the others,” “I’m not sure your engineering skills are up to par,” and “I think you have a bad attitude.” She denied that her work or interactions were at fault. As one of the few female engineers in the company, she charged gender discrimination.
The manager needed to stop making generalizations (which almost any employee can find hard to interpret). Instead, the situation called for specific explanations of the gap between her work and his expectations, potential corrective measures, and recommended training. Regarding her interactions, he needed to point out phrases and tones she used, offensive e-mail messages, and other details.
- A large food distributor had ignored major attendance problems at one site until the resulting mistakes and delays became untenable. So the site manager called a meeting to say that things needed to change: All past sins would be forgiven, but future attendance problems would be treated with a “three strikes and you’re out” approach. Even though the first employee to be fired for poor attendance was an African American whose attendance before the change had been better than average, the company avoided liability. This illustrates the first lesson, and others follow.
In tomorrow’s Advisor, we’ll get concrete tips for being a proactive manager.