The Under-Management Epidemic

  • 5 mins read

Are you part of the under management epidemic, or are you a truly engaged manager?
A recent survey reports 9 out of 10 managers are providing insufficient oversight – a problem that consultant Bruce Tulgan calls the “under-management epidemic.”
Ten years ago, research from Rainmaker Thinking, Inc., confirmed an epidemic of workplace under-management. The firm’s ongoing study reveals that under-managing remains rampant. A full 90% of all leaders and managers do not provide direct reports with sufficient guidance, support and coaching.
Under-managing occurs when leaders with supervisory authority fail to regularly and consistently provide employees with five vital management basics:

  1. Clear statements of broad performance requirements and specific expectations
  2. Support and guidance regarding resources necessary to meet requirements and expectations
  3. Accurate monitoring, measurement and documentation of individuals’ actual performance
  4. Regular candid feedback about actual performance
  5. Rewards and penalties distributed in proportion to actual performance

Managers report several reasons for failing to provide consistent management basics (in decreasing order):

  1. Lack of time (largely due to non-managerial responsibilities and increased spans of control)
  2. Lack of sufficient training in the best practices, tools and techniques of effective supervision, management and leadership
  3. Lack of sufficient resources and support – a function of increased productivity requirements and tight budgets
  4. Constantly changing priorities
  5. Logistical constraints (i.e., remote locations, different schedules, language or cultural barriers)

Energy and Time Drains
Here’s how most managers spend their time:

  1. Attending Too Many Mediocre Meetings. If you’re like most managers, your No. 1 time suck is meetings.
    • o People fill seats without any purpose. Then they sit there, waiting for something to come up that falls within their domain. They’d rather be productively working.
    • o Meetings seldom foster accountability. It’s too easy to hide in a meeting, shirk responsibility, blame others and divert attention.
    • o Poor meeting preparation and agenda planning encourage mediocre meetings.
  2. Dealing with a Tidal Wave of Email. So much of our email is unnecessary, duplicative and sloppy.
    • Train your people to spot the messages on which you should be copied.
    • Make sure they address an email to you directly when critical information is in play.
    • Until you give them guidelines, people will automatically copy you on every message and generate a ton of useless emails. Never forget that a 15-minute, high-substance personal conversation trumps a barrage of emails.
  3. Touching Base, Checking in and Chit-Chatting.Limit face-to-face conversations to high-substance content. Stay on topic with questions like:
    • What are you doing? How are you doing it? What steps are you taking?
    • Let me see what you’ve got so far.
    • What’s next?
    • How long will that take?
  4. Interrupting and Being Interrupted.When something pops into your head, write it down and save it for your next scheduled conversation. You don’t like interruptions; the same applies to your staff.5. Reviewing Dashboard Metrics with Employees and Conducting Formal Reviews. While most reviews are highly structured, they often focus on outcomes – not on what people can actually control. Provide immediate feedback, whenever possible.

“High Structure”/”Substance”
Tulgan advises managers to set aside an hour a day to hold conversations with three to four employees (about 15 minutes per person). Be sure to have a well-organized agenda. Additionally:

    • Prepare in advance. Make sure your direct reports prepare, as well.
    • Follow a regular, yet personalized, format for each employee.
    • Start with top priorities, open questions and any work in progress.
    • Consider holding these conversations while standing or walking, as appropriate. Use a clipboard to make notes and maintain your focus.
    • Don’t do all the talking. Recognize the value of listening.
    • Don’t let anyone go more than two weeks without meeting.

Make sure content is immediately relevant and specific to each person/situation. This is where many managers miss the boat. As stated earlier, pre-planning is key. Follow these guidelines:

    • Regularly remind each person of broad performance standards.
    • Turn best practices into standard operating procedures; teach them to everyone.
    • Use plans and step-by-step checklists, whenever possible.
    • Focus on concrete actions within each employee’s control.
    • Monitor, measure and document in writing each individual’s performance.
    • Follow up. Provide regular, candid, coaching-style feedback.
    • Follow through with real consequences and rewards based on how performance relates to expectations.

High-structure/-substance conversations provide a clear window into employee problems before they become crises. Engaged managers use this tool to learn what’s really going on. Doing so each day, starting with a minimum of 1 hour, will prevent potential challenges from exploding into fires.
Use these conversations to identify and memorialize any negative behaviors. Be sure to:

  1. Pinpoint problem language, tones and gestures.
  2. Connect behaviors to tangible work outcomes.
  3. Reference performance requirements or best practices from which negative behaviors deviate.
  4. Suggest replacement behaviors, and have the employee commit to trying them.
  5. Continue to follow up in future conversations.

If any of your people complain during your meetings, ask them to provide solutions to the problems they see. Have them prepare an executive summary that covers key points:

    • Here’s the issue.
    • These are the options.
    • This is the option I propose.
    • This is why my option is best for the business.
    • Here’s what it would cost (money, time, people, other resources).
    • This is where we could get the resources.
    • This is what the plan would look like.
    • Here’s the role I propose for myself in executing that plan.

Productivity and quality improve almost immediately when leaders, managers, and supervisors begin spending time daily in one-on-one conversations to provide vital management basics.

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