BEWARE OF THE BLACK HOLE. Refocus your Management Energies where they Matter.

New Year’s Eve dinner with close friends was full of fun, laughter and discussions of work.  Each of us has been in management for some time.  Although in substantially different industries (environmental clean up, health care, building products, and business performance consultation) our management stories gathered from over a decade were bound by some stark similarities.

Not only have we experienced employees from all walks of life, but we also consistently struggle with how to manage them in a way that fits us, the culture, and of course gets results.  I’ve managed teams across various industries myself and the landscape of people doesn’t vary as much as one would think.

My management roles consistently entail providing high-level direction and barrier removal to obtain results. I’ve remained steadfast in my stance that you attract and breed top people by rewarding their performance with the basics of respect, freedom and trust to start.  A win-win situation.  Basic workplace expectations entail do your best in all situations, work until your work is done, apply a careful blend of balance, and if the work is not up-to-snuff then you’ve earned a not so comfortable spot under the microscope.

Our late night discussion rounding out 2010, led to uncovering a strong commonality in teams.  A simple representative of this was a team of three I once managed early in my career.  All knew the standards I stated above and claimed to uphold them.  Yet, the results were anything but standard.  One employee blossomed, another just was, and the latter, although failing, seemed all too comfortable with their micro-managed circumstances.

Star: For the “A” player, his work was stellar.  His hours were steadfast but ranged in flexibility due to his workload and were determined on his own recognizance.  There was mutual respect and trust deriving “a walk in the park” work relationship that was fulfilling and valuable to us both.

Orbiter: In the middle lay the “B” player pulling her weight.  She wanted to do her job then go home, nothing more nothing less—an 8-to-5er.  Performance met average expectations.  And that was that.

Black hole: On the flip side was a seemingly hard worker.  He held late office hours.  Kept me up-to-date on all the potential projects he was attempting, yet the rest of the team would end up completing it for him.  He profusely apologized for his failings, asking for more training, coaching and resources—as his manager I felt obliged to provide.  He was difficult to identify as the “C” player for some time with all his premeditated distractions. Smoke and mirrors.

What an energy suck…for me as a manager…for my team…and for the company.  Our desired state was being undermined by an individual who was a master at falsifying perceptions and shielding himself by passing blame elsewhere.  Don’t fall for it.

Outcome

My “A” player thrived beyond expectation.  The one who could benefit the most from focused support was the “B” player, yet they remained in stasis.  Ensuring this state was the fact that my energies were drawn and eaten up by the constant demands of the “C” player.  Typical.

Refocus

The standards supported the culture.  A genuine framework administered to all employees equally was maintained. The lesson learned was that the application of one’s management style must change to meet the specific type of individual you’re dealing with.  To identify your players properly, set your clarifying performance initiatives/metrics immediately and manage them every day. Take action.

At the end of the day, as a leader, each of us must stay true to course.  You can actively rank your team and focus your energies accordingly or watch it unfold, and ultimately, unfurl before your eyes.  Apply your management consistently, but also with the flexibility to move fluidly between your various employees and events.  Don’t waver in your standards; just find the right way to live them bringing the business at hand, and in the future, to the place you envision.

Hold true to your efforts, but never stop looking for the insights you can use to evolve your purpose and attain the unattainable rewards.  Don’t let the black holes hold you back.

 

Shiloh Kelly, Vice President Marketing and Business Development, Red Book Solutions

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