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Nine Reasons You Don’t Know What’s Going On in Your Organization – and How To Correct Them

2012 June 21
tags: Development, Disappointment, Effectiveness, Ethics, Leadership, Management, Overwhelmed at work, Productivity, Rogues, Zenger Folkman
by Andrew   

Are you a manager or executive who feels like you’re missing essential information about your organization?  Ever feel like you have no idea what in the world is going on?  Things spiraling out of control?  If the answer to any of these is yes and you can’t find people to help you get answers, consider that one or more of the following conditions may exist – or be perceived to exist – in your management style.

The Problem

  1. You already know what you want every answer to be. And you might be right about the answer. But, the people who work for you – you know, the ones without whom you can’t get mission accomplished – will rapidly learn that if your knowledge and insight into exactly how things should be done also results in you ignoring their advice and expertise, then they’ll also learn to work around you, in spite of you, or against you. And then where will you be?
  2. You don’t listen. Ever. Or rarely. And you’ve developed a reputation for it. This goes beyond simply believing you always have the answer in your back pocket. This one shows up as ignoring the advice of your functional experts, your assistants, your peers, and possibly even your own sense. It doesn’t matter what advice you’re given, or offered, you simply don’t even listen to the inputs. Or you try to look like you’re listening while the rest of your body language reflects that you’ve already checked out.
  3. Your functional experts are tired of banging their their heads against the wall. Often an outgrowth of the first two situations, this one is even more toxic to your organization. If you have subject matter experts, you likely have them for a few reasons:  1) you can’t do everything yourself, 2) they’ve spent time learning one or more subjects to a level far beyond general practice, and 3) you theoretically value their expertise. So, why ignore them? Why devalue their contributions and impinge on their quality of work life by disregarding their sound, well-reasoned recommendations?  More often than not, such things occur because their recommendations don’t match the direction desired by managers with preconceived notions, or there are considerations beyond those given to the subject matter experts in question. It is not their job to read your mind; it is your job to give them the resources they need to be successful. If that’s information you already possess, it’s both free and the most valuable resource you could provide.
  4. You insist on insulating yourself. And you’re never available. Many people are familiar with the senior manager who is never available without an appointment, and even worse, who can’t make a decision unless the issue is raised by a manager between them and the less senior person who needs to meet with them. If this is you, your calendar is always full, or you schedule a series of meetings for all day for weeks, knowing full well that the rest of business isn’t going to stop for your all-day meetings. You’ve guaranteed other things won’t get done because you’re insulated by schedulers, assistant managers, and an abominable scheduling practice.
  5. You don’t think strategically. You’re supposed to be leading, managing, being some level of executive. But instead, you run around virtually all of every day dealing with operational concerns better (and more appropriately) handled by managers or staff at another level. Instead of delegating so you can manage, and instead of fostering an environment of responsibility, accountability, and authority, what you do instead is hold decision making and problem solving at too high a level and leave no time to focus on high-level, long-term concerns and solutions critical to ongoing success.
  6. You encourage rogues. I’m not talking about the energetic, dashing, universally lovable rogues that always seem to get things done without angering too many people. I’m talking about underhanded, power-grabbing, access-craving, deal-brokering individuals who earn you a bad reputation…especially when you don’t – or won’t – see the damage they cause. Why would you ever encourage such a person?  Good question. On the many occasions I’ve seen it happen, it’s usually because the five previous conditions exist and you need the rogue to help you keep your head above water. Often, the rogue outlasts the manager, cementing his or her usefulness by being in a position to help the incoming manager know where everything is and how things work.
  7. You encourage unethical behavior. See rogues above. Consider expedience over integrity. Take the short view of results over the longer view of good stewardship. Yield to pressure…financial, peer, or office politics. Once the trades begin to be made, it’s very difficult to stop. Unethical people tend to attract additional unethical people, as well as those on the edge. Very few managers who end up being considered unethical set out with that as a goal or even a predisposition in their character. It just happens over time if proper boundaries aren’t maintained.
  8. You have an agenda. I don’t mean meeting agendas. I mean you have gone rogue yourself, or come close. You know better than the rest of your organization how to fix things…get things done…be successful. And you’ll do them regardless of organizational culture, rules, ethics, morality, or the angel on your shoulder. You make decisions based on the agenda and people begin to recognize it. They either get on board with the agenda, learn to live with it, or they begin to suffer in myriad ways. And they stop telling you things you need to know if they perceive risk.
  9. You have no business being in charge. If one or more of the preceding conditions describe you, then you very probably have no real idea of what’s going on in your organization. You may also be managerially incompetent, but it doesn’t matter which comes first. Any of the first eight will lead to incompetence over time, and incompetence that exists on its own will often begin to manifest the other behaviors as coping mechanisms.

When one or two managers or executives in an organization exhibit the behaviors I’ve described, they can be dealt with by a proactive executive, or executive team, as necessary. But, when an organization culture allows multiple managers to exhibit one or more of these negative behaviors – intentionally or by neglect of a culture of excellence – the problem becomes pervasive and the organization begins to fail, usually rapidly. But the consequences may take time to accumulate to a noticeable level.  And by then, it’s usually too late to turn things around without drastic changes in management personnel…personnel whose careers, reputations, and contributions could have been saved with timely help.


The Solution

For many of the foregoing challenges to effective management, the solutions are easy and I’ll offer ways to address them.  For others, or if the behaviors have continued too long, the solutions are much more challenging, often to the point of having to replace one or more managers or begin a campaign of culture change throughout an organization.  Such changes are beyond the scope of this article, so I’ll focus on things you can do to correct the behaviors listed above, especially if they’re your behaviors.

  1. You already know what you want every answer to be.  You don’t listen. Well, this one’s easy out of the gate, and it’s two-for-one.  Start listening.  I know…it sounds trite and easy, but it isn’t.  In order to listen, you must begin the decision process with an open mind, or at least open enough that you’re willing to give up your position in favor of well-reasoned positions from your staff and peers.  Make time to listen, and then demonstrate that you’re listening by asking relevant questions.  If you don’t know what questions are important for a given topic, then have private meetings with your subject matter experts in given areas to gain more insight.  Failing to ask good questions ensures you won’t learn anything.  Ask, and people will respect your willingness to learn and to accept their expertise.  That’s why you have them.
  2. Your functional experts are tired of banging their heads against the wall. Give them room to maneuver.  Allow them the time to do what they do best:  formulate expertise-driven solutions to problems, or the identification of approaches to achieve solutions.  Treat them like they’re valued members of your team, and ensure they’re involved in decisionmaking.  If anyone shows up in your office seeking your approval to do something that ought to have been run by one of your functional experts first, find out why they didn’t do it.  And if the answer is they did do it, but didn’t like the answer they got, don’t undermine your experts by overriding their decisions without talking to them!
  3. You insist on insulating yourself. There’s no good reason to do this unless you’re so busy you don’t have time to meet with people, in which case you shouldn’t be managing them anyway (get a deputy with authority to make decisions, or delegate properly), or you have yet to identify effective scheduling techniques for your time.  The latter isn’t really a good reason, but neither is it inherently bad.  It’s just unproductive.  You can find techniques I’ve written about effective scheduling at Schedule Mercilessly and at The Door Can’t Always Be Open.
  4. You don’t think strategically. There’s no value in an executive who can’t, or won’t, think strategically.  An executive who spends all of his or her time focused on daily operational concerns isn’t being an executive, they’re managing at a line level.  And line level managers are essential in larger organizations as long as the management layers are sparse enough to allow fast, effective maneuvering.  Start thinking strategically.  Focus on longer-term concerns, goals, and objectives.  Identify where you want your part of the organization to be in a month, six months, and a year.  Five-year plans went out the window a long time ago.  Focus on now until your head is above water. Take a look at What Gets Measured Gets Attention for some techniques on how to effectively measure what you want to accomplish and motivate behavior toward it, and look at Eight Habits of Highly Ineffective Organizations (And How To Correct Them) for additional tips on redirecting ineffective organizational behaviors. As an executive, I’m making an assumption that you know how to think strategically and simply don’t have the time right now.  If you want some pointers to some great folks who can help with the how, please contact me.  I’ll be happy to point you in the right direction with no strings attached. You might also want to take a look at the article on becoming more centered by forming better habits.
  5. You encourage rogues. Stop it.  Just stop it.  They’ll ruin your reputation if they haven’t already.  I’ve observed some organizations suffering from rogues many years after they’ve retired, moved on to greener pastures, gotten promoted, etc.  Often, it isn’t easy to eliminate rogues if you’ve inherited one or more, or if you’ve been encouraging them for a while.  Unfortunately, it still has to be done if you want to stop the spread of the problems.  Often, such people need to be reassigned to other jobs away from the type of influence they currently have, or they need to be moved a layer or two to ensure there is a reasonable amount of insulation between you and them.  Be sure to check with your personnel folks before doing this…depending on where you work, there are myriad pitfalls that will need to be addressed.
  6. You encourage unethical behavior. Again, just stop it.  Yes…the people who have grown accustomed to it will be very annoyed.  Some of them may even have leverage.  Doing the right thing sometimes is accompanied with pain for a while.  But the benefits of putting a stop to unethical behavior outweigh the convenience of continuing it.  Be clear in your support of organizational, professional, and personal codes of ethics.  Make decisions in the light of day so people understand you’re going to support ethical decisionmaking, and become a voice for ethics over expedience.
  7. You have an agenda. This one is difficult.  Oftentimes, agendas from people in positions of power are important to effect positive change.  However, you must ensure your agenda is not perceived as self-serving. Most (many) people admire, respect, and can line up to support an executive champion who is willing to incur risk or censure to speak with a voice of reason, ethics, and respect, even if the objective seems unobtainable.  Many “impossible” successes have come from stalwart championship of one or two people with organizational capital.  One of the biggest challenges to an agenda that’s good for an organization but bad for some of the powerful people who get listened to is this:  those people are good at spreading information, whether it’s true or not.  People with an interest in seeing things improve and adhere to ethical considerations are not always as equally skilled at spreading messages.  Encourage questions, polish your 30-second elevator speech on the subject, advocate for the change wherever and whenever possible as long as it’s an appropriate message.  Anchor the need and benefits for the change in the minds of people who matter.  And remember, everyone matters because anyone can start a rumor that you’re up to something.
  8. You have no business being in charge. Well…if it has come to this, then you need to ask yourself a couple of questions:  1) do I want to be in charge?  and 2) how do I maximize the benefits of my strengths while addressing any fatal weaknesses?  If you decide you don’t really want to be in charge and want to do something else, there are myriad career transition services you can turn to, but it may not need to be that drastic.  Perhaps you’ve simply had enough and want to move out of a management position or to a lower-level one.  Go talk to the executive for whom you work or a trusted intermediary.  Make it clear that you’ve come to a decision about the quality of work life and some changes are important.  If you do want to remain in a management position, the very nice folks at Zenger Folkman are peerless when it comes to strength-based leadership, and I know a few executive and life coaches to whom I can point you.  It is also entirely possible that you’ve known for a while you don’t want to be in charge and you have no idea what to do about it, or you’re struggling with this decision.  If you find yourself in this position, I recommend Examining Your Expectations After the Worst Disappointment in Your Life.


Take care, and enjoy life,





Photo Credit:  Flickr (Victor1558) dddddddd

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