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You’re doing it wrong: Four tasks that managers frequently misunderstand

Meetings? Get rid of them. Performance reviews? Twaddle. Manager pep talks aiming at building enthusiasm? Don’t waste your time.

Managing Performing Living book summary
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Meetings? Get rid of them. Performance reviews? Twaddle. Manager pep talks aiming at building enthusiasm? Don’t waste your time. In his classic tome, Managing Performing Living, management guru Fredmund Malik rips into all manner of standard corporate practices.

By gleefully poking holes in the conventional wisdom, Malik sounds like he’s impersonating the office crank who can’t stop griping about incompetent bosses all day long. Unlike that chronic complainer, though, Malik offers common-sense alternatives.

His contrarian take on four corporate practices:

1. Ditch the meetings

In many organizations, meetings have turned into colossal time sucks. Managers at all levels spend more than half their time in meetings, and far too much of this time is wasted. “Meetings make organizations sluggish and slow, and the problem gets bigger with each new work group and each additional participant,” Malik writes. Companies should strive to hold fewer meetings and to invite fewer people to the meetings that remain. What’s more, these sessions should start promptly, end on time and stick to a strict agenda.

2. Rethink the performance review

Everyone in large organizations pays lip service to accountability and achievement. Companies charge human resources departments with the task of measuring workers’ productivity, and the performance evaluation is the tool most often used to judge workers’ value. However well-intentioned performance reviews are, they’re essentially “meaningless,” Malik argues. In an unfortunate reality, managers tend not to be overly critical (after a bad review, a worker could get fired or take a pay cut) or espousal (the praised worker is likely to demand a raise or a promotion). The end result is that performance reviews do little to prod poor performers, or to reward star producers. A wiser approach is the “blank sheet.” The manager sits down with a blank sheet of paper and writes an assessment of the person being reviewed.

3. Skip the pep talks

For some fuzzy reason, many managers seem to have decided that it’s their mission to inspire workers to tackle even the most mundane tasks with enthusiasm. Why bother? A manager’s job is to make sure employees accomplish their tasks. Whether they do so with great cheer and boundless energy is immaterial. Many daily tasks — writing invoices, completing tax returns, compiling reports, debugging software, running lab tests – are mundane tasks, and it’s more than a little ridiculous to demand that they be completed with enthusiasm. “The demand for enthusiasm and the ability to generate enthusiasm is based on a totally unproven, untested assertion,” Malik writes.

4. Skip the praise

Managers are too quick to praise, and therefore they lose credibility with their workers, Malik argues. He compares the praise-prone manager to that soft-hearted teacher you had in elementary school, the one who always had kind words for everyone. Her praise was worthless precisely because it was so effusive. “Contrary to popular opinion, we should be sparing with praise if we want to develop people,” Malik writes.

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