Managing People is Counter-Intuitive

I was sitting down last week, thinking about how much difference it makes when you have a good boss. I realized, though, that much of good management is counter-intuitive. So I thought I'd take a few minutes to record a few observations while they were top of mind.

Before I do, though, remember the survey on the last email? It asked whether you were better or worse than average as a manager. A full 68% of you said better! You can interpret that one.

Here are the things I've learned interviewing nearly 14,000 people for the book I reference at the end:

  • Any non-evil person can be a manager.
  • Management does not make you special.
  • Managers shouldn't always make more money than those they manage.
  • There should be two career paths so that we don't saddle technicians (craft people) w/ management.
  • Nearly all important information should come from an employee's direct manager.
  • Why you were promoted, or why you promoted a certain person, tells a huge story.
  • The biggest danger to your company is a very skilled employee who doesn't fit the culture.
  • Employees are pretty much the same everywhere. You are the difference, whether that's in hiring, onboarding, managing, training, etc. Your management environment is a reflection of you, not them.
  • Tell a new employee how many weeks/months you plan to give them to get up to speed.
  • By the time you fire that employee, all the others knew you should two months ago.
  • How you treat an employee on the first day sets the stage: desk and related items fully prepared, organized onboarding, gift at home, etc.
  • Someone does not need to be more skilled at something than someone s/he is managing.
  • If you don't give someone a personality profile before you hire them, and give them a copy of yours, you're getting very close to the "stupid" line.
  • You don't have to "make a way" for a good manager. They pave their own way.
  • If you promote someone internally, no one should be surprised at who you chose.
  • Employees want much more structure than you think they want. You made all these promises to yourself (like about timesheets) when YOU owned the firm, and then you slowly discover why they were in place.
  • Employees are not entrepreneurs or they wouldn't be working for you. Don't be resentful if they leave on time, take vacations, etc. Why the heck shouldn't they? Don't let your entrepreneurial loneliness create a false sense of dependence on the commitment of an employee, measured by how late they stay.
  • If you aren't willing to fire someone, eventually, after lots of other steps, for not following your timekeeping policy, you'll never accomplish the goal except demonstrating that you are a wuss.
  • There are official managers with the title, and then there are unofficial leaders without any external distinction. They are both as important to your company's health.
  • There are not two groups of managers: bad ones and good ones. Instead, there are three groups: evil ones; average people without the courage or sense of priority to manage; and then there are the average people who are willing to make digital decisions in an analog world. Remember: managers aren't special.
  • Sometimes your job as a manager is nothing more than to protect them from your boss.
  • Most entrepreneurial types are control freaks, not in the name of quality but in the name of control. Their head begins to explode when the firm gets beyond 5-6 people.
  • Tell folks what culture you want, but don't put it on a wall on some silly plaque. There is an inverse relationship between the number of plaques and the real truth. Instead, reinforce it with your actions at least 50 times per day.
  • When you delay a decision about someone, it's seldom from lack of clarity but rather from lack of courage.
  • These are your employees and not your friends. The contract is that you pay them and they get things done. You owe them nothing beyond that and they owe you nothing beyond that. There are cheaper ways to make friends, and if you use your business to do this you'll soon be running an orphanage.
  • Annual performance reviews are one of the silliest inventions of mankind. Do you keep track of when your dog pees in the right place and then settle up with treats once a year? Do a 10-15 minute walk every month, unscheduled, where you both go over your monthly notes and set goals. The yearly meeting is a celebration and big picture thinking.
  • Annual bonuses are in the same category. The first year you're Santa Claus himself. After that the bonus is just an entitlement that gets compared to last year's.
  • Quit trying to motivate employees--it cannot be done. Motivation is an internal force. You can, however, demotivate them. If you're doing that, stop it or up your meds.
  • Everyone should have one supervisor. Period. No exceptions.
  • Just because you want to get something off your plate so that you don't have to think about it does not mean that it's automatically a good time to interrupt an employee. Save those interruptions up and limit them.
  • As a whole, principals don't celebrate successes enough. Do it more. Act silly, even.
  • Either do open book management or don't, but don't start it just when things suck.
  • Be honest and transparent with employees. They would much rather know the truth than invent something in their minds that's likely to be much worse.
  • If you have to dismiss several employees around the same time, rip the Band-Aid off and do it all at one time. Otherwise employees wonder how many more layoffs are coming.
  • If you made a mistake in hiring someone, which happens to the best of you, don't make a second mistake by keeping them around.
  • Don't hire family members. There are too many reasons to even begin a list here.
  • Trust people. They aren't out to get you (unless you are evil or just a jerk). They want to please you, make you look good, and do excellent work.
  • Your reaction to bad news should be predictable (and good).
  • At some point (2-4 years from the beginning) you are going to need to move from hiring from affordability to hiring for need (heck with the cost).
  • The first high profile, highly paid person you hire, though, never lasts. Your expectations are too high.
  • If you are solving the same problems every day, you need to quit watching "Ground Hog Day" or implement more process. Or read "The E-Myth Revisited" by my friend Michael Gerber. The first half is good--just skip the last half.
  • If all new employees are not trained in your special "process," it's a lie and should be taken off your website. In other words, until that training is a part of the orientation process, is just marketing blah blah.
  • If you wake up several mornings in a row and your first thought is, "Damn--I've got to get up and feed the machine yet one more day," then you need to have a smaller firm.
  • Don't let growth happen to you. Be intentional about your size or your clients will make the decision for you. Not good, especially if you are a poor manager.
  • Always have more opportunity than capacity so that you don't try to keep employees busy with lousy paying work. You can do that by getting more good work or laying people off.
  • Employee morale goes down when they don't have enough work to do or have too much work to do. And the drop in morale is just as severe.
  • Some of the best employees you'll hire didn't do well in school and they probably interview very poorly. Heck, they might be so nervous that they stumble all over themselves. Listen to the human inside that body.
  • But all employees must write well enough to not embarrass you.
  • Except when hiring for business development or account service, group interviews are cruel.
  • The best training for management you'll ever get is a) having kids and b) having a great role model boss in your past.

Final Thought

Sometimes it's okay to give up on the dream of having that huge platform from which you change the world. Even your best clients won't remember you or your firm 20 years from now. Do you want to make a difference in the world? Manage your employees well. There is no opportunity on the planet (besides parenthood) to do good.

Did this interest you? A lot of it comes from my second book: "Managing Right the First Time," available on Amazon. In fact, Inc. Magazine just included it in the Top Ten Books Entrepreneurs Should Read." I agree with them.

  • Secret Tradecraft of Elite Advisors

    Secret Tradecraft of Elite Advisors

    Covert Techniques For A Remarkable Practice

    Buy Now