From The One Minute Manager to Who Moved My Cheese?, new and revived leadership concepts have shaped the way employers organise, evaluate, inspire, and reward employees, crews, actors or team members. With so many competing management theories out there, some ill-conceived practices were bound to take hold—and indeed, many have. This article by Liz Ryan explains what to do about the bad ones.
Here is a list of the 10 most brainless and possibly injurious:
1. Forced Ranking
The idea behind forced ranking is that when you evaluate your employees against one another, you'll see who's most critical on the team and who's most expendable. This theory rests on the notion that we can push our reports to work together for the sake of the team 364 days a year and then, when it really counts, pit them against one another in a zero-sum competitive exercise. That's a decent strategy for TV shows such as Survivor or Big Brother but disastrous for organisations that intend to stay in business for the long term.
What to do instead: Evaluate employees against written goals and move quickly to remove poor performers all the time (not just once a year).
2. Front-Loaded Recruiting Systems
Admired in the big corporate hiring arena, the so-called front-loaded hiring processes require candidates to surmount the Seven Trials of Hercules before earning so much as a telephone call from your HR staff. These trials can include credit checks, taking references, online honesty tests, questionnaires, sample work assignments, and other mandatory drills that signal "We'll just need you to crawl over a few more bits of broken glass, and you may get that interview." Don't be fooled by job-market reports—talented, creative employees are as hard to hire as they ever were. Insulting and demeaning hiring practices are a big reason for them not to join you.
What to do instead?: Dismantle your Stalinist recruiting system and give hiring power back to your managers. They'll thank you for it, and the quality and speed of your recruitment will benefit.
3. Overdone Policy Manuals
You know which employees are making money for you right now? Workers who are selling, building, or inventing things. You also know who's spending the business's money right now? Other employees (most easily found in HR, IT, and Finance) who've been commanded to write, administer, and enforce the 10,001 policies that make up your company's employee handbook. Overblown policy efforts stifle creativity, bake fear into your culture, and make busywork for countless office administrators, on top of wasting paper, time, and brain cells.
What to do instead?: Kill-off one unnecessary or outdated policy every week and require the CEO's signature to add any new ones.
4. Social Media Thought Police
It's reasonable to block YouTube, Facebook or Bebo in the office because of the bandwidth it consumes. But for workers who've just been informed of their employer's "no LinkedIn profiles permitted" policy it sets a new low for organisational paranoia. Memo to self: Human beings work in your business, not robots. People have lives, brands, and connections beyond your walls, and those human entanglements are more likely to help your business than to hurt it.
What to do instead?: Treat people like babies only if you want them to act like babies. Let the rest of them update their LinkedIn, Facebook, Bebo and Twitter accounts appropriately, and if they're not getting their work done, deal with that problem on its own.
5. Rules That Force Employees To Lie
You won't be shocked to hear that a majority of working people believe their employers don't trust them. Employers only throw fuel on the fire when they install rules that encourage our employees to lie. A great example is the time-honoured policy that says "Congratulations on the upcoming birth or adoption of your baby. We'll pay your insurance premiums while you're on maternity leave if you're planning to return to work afterward. If not, you'll be terminated when your leave starts, and pay your own premiums." Which Einstein dreamed up that brain-dead policy?
What to do instead?: Pay the same percentage of insurance premiums for all employees in a category (e.g. new mothers) without requiring pointless declarations of their intentions. Don't allow any new rules (sick-time policies are a prime offender) that reward employees for withholding information.
6. Theft of Miles
What to do instead?: Tell your travel agent to book one-stop flights in place of non-stop ones, saving a few pounds.
7. Jack-Booted Layoffs
It's no shame to have to reduce your workforce, but why treat departing employees like convicted felons?. One-on-one P45 discussions and dignified, non-immediate departures are the new norm for ethical organisations. If you have to march your loyal, redundant co-workers out the door, it says lots about the kind of workplace you've built.
What to do instead?: Deal with performance problems independently of staff reductions. Treat those employees you're forced to let go like the mature professionals they are.
8. 360-Degree Feedback Programs
I have a primary school child, and if my child has something to say to his little friend, I encourage him to say it directly. I don't tell him, "Fill out this form, and we'll have the other kids fill out forms, too, and then we'll tell your friend what all the kids think of him, anonymously." Apart from the fact that my kid doesn't know what "anonymously" means, this is very bad coaching for a budding communicator. The 360-degree feedback system is a crutch for poor managers. We need more forthright discussion among our teams, not sneaky group feedback mechanisms masquerading as career development tools.
What to do instead?: Ditch the 360 system and teach your employees how to give one another constructive criticism. (Teach your managers how to do it, too.)
9. Mandatory Performance-Review Bell Curves
The evil twin to forced ranking systems is the annual review protocol that commands managers to assign their employees in equal numbers into groups of Poor, Fair, Good, Above Average, and Excellent employees. If a CEO has so little faith in his or her managers that she'd plan for, much less settle for, a workforce where 50% of the people range from so-so to dismal, that CEO requires too little from the management team. Forcing performance-review (and salary-increase) distributions into a bell curve exalts and institutionalises mediocrity.
What to do instead?: Set high standards for employee reviews and raise them every year. Counsel or remove managers who can't move past the easy Grade status, and trust the rest of your managers to review their employees fairly. If you can't trust your leadership team members to assess their employees, how can you trust them to manage at all?
10. Timekeeping Courtesy of Henry Ford
As you employ white-collar "knowledge workers" in your legal organisation, you're better off giving them challenging assignments and standing back than managing them like assembly-line workers. An obsession with arrival and departure times is not the way to signal to your employees, "We're expecting great things from you," and neither are picky payroll practices that require salaried employees to use fractions of sick and personal days to attend to pressing life situations. Nothing spells "you're a cog in the machine" like a policy that happily allows you to work until midnight on a client project, then docks your pay when you're half an hour late arriving to work the next day.
What to do instead?: Set goals with your salaried employees, see that they meet them, and leave the how-and-where issues to your brilliant team members to manage for themselves.