Six Management Mistakes Business Keeps Making

Last Updated Aug 12, 2009 4:11 PM EDT

Dr Aubrey Daniels's latest book, "Oops! Management Practices That Waste Time and Money (and What to Do Instead)", takes aim at 13 commonly used, frequently useless management practices that businesses fall back on. Here are six clangers:
  1. Employee of the month Leaves everyone but one out -- and demotivates others by implying it's not enough to be 'just another employee'."Employee of the month violates every principle of effective reinforcement -- it's not personal, it's not immediate, it's not frequent," according to Daniels.
    Instead, work to find things in common -- Daniels suggests setting up a "company Facebook" or intranet so people can get to know each other.
  2. Ranking employees Rife in sales (think Glengarry Glen Ross), Daniels that ranking people according to ability argues that we are biased from the outset, and we look for things that confirm our bias. Instead of collaborating, people are pitted against each other.
    Better to get people competing with external competitors, not each other.
  3. Hard-nosed managers Tough people are often promoted to managerial roles. But why would someone who's not well liked help someone to produce the best performance? Negative reinforcement and punishment deliver an immediate response, but there are longer-term, damaging impacts. And you can be sure your team won't go that extra mile for you if you're always tough on them.
    But just being nice won't wash either -- Daniels argues for understanding the 'science of human behaviour', possibly a bit of a tall order, but being judicious is a good start.
  4. Stretching Goals Too often, goals are set too high and prove almost impossible to reach. Far from redoubling their efforts, the effect of stretching goals can be to demotivate people. If they continuously fall short of their goal, they eventually stop trying.
    Better to set smaller, more manageable goals that instil a culture of continuous improvement.
  5. Mergers The acquired company often feels punished and the people that are being merged don't particularly like it -- Yahoo! didn't want to lose its identity to Microsoft, says Daniels. One side is usually dominant and will impose its culture and processes on the other.
    An alternative approach is to engage both parties to help design the new organisation. People should be a part of it and get them together so that the cultures match and evolve into the best way, not 'our way'. Energise the acquisition target by asking people: 'what are the things you don't like doing?' Then get rid of them in the newly merged organisation.
  6. Star Talent Skills differ and some people show more aptitude than others. But everybody should feel they play a part and their contribution matters. If you play favourites with your top talent, what does it say about your commitment to teamwork? Businesses that focus on 'stars' may be unwilling to put in the hours to develop people's skills.
    Better to train individuals and bring up the general skill level than get stuck in a situation where you've got an 'emergency' skill gap that you cannot fill.
Daniels's own blog has a great post on the biggest mistakes made by TV's top bosses -- though he's softer on Simon Cowell than you might expect.

My only quibble is with the 'mistake' of performance reviews (the full list is here). Yes, they are flawed, they can fail to pick up on incremental achievements, the ranking systems are tricky ("Exceeds expectations"? Expectations rise with the quality of someone's work. It becomes self-defeating.)

Even so, performance reviews are still only recently won plenty of employees. That review might be the only opportunity to sit down with your boss and set down written objectives in a formal way. Daniels is right to argue for a more continuous processof appraisal -- "Wikinomics" author Don Tapscott favours instant feedback tool Rypple as the way forward.

But until that becomes more common, I'm not sure I'd put reviews in the sin bin.

What do you think?