Is Your Company Dysfunctional? How to Right the Wrongs:
Companies are hard to run. In fact, they can be quite dysfunctional. Take it from someone who knows. Especially hard to run are bootstrapped companies. Again, take it from someone who knows. Trying to manage people to scale can go very wrong very quickly if you’re not careful. Here are a few examples of how things can go bad:
1. You Put Your Top Performers in Management
This is a classic first-time CEO mistake, one that I’ve made time and again. Look, someone who consistently bats 1000 won’t necessarily want to take the coaching job right away. Instead, they may want to continue on to see how high they can go as an individual contributor.
Placing the wrong people in management roles is an easy mistake to make, especially because many employees confuse responsibility with power. They think they want to manage when, in fact, they are nowhere near ready. According to Harvard Business Review, more than 70 percent of employees who are considered “high performers” lack the attributes essential for success in future roles.
How to right this wrong: Don’t put people in management until you’ve given them various projects and teams to lead in the short term. If they loathe these assignments, you know they’re not right for management. If, on the other hand, they love these assignments, then you can start to shape them into a healthy leader.
2. You Avoid Confrontation
This issue usually starts at the top. A SHRM survey found that 72 percent of employees see respectful treatment of workers as a top factor in job satisfaction. If you’re afraid to call people out for unacceptable — or even substandard — behavior, no one else will call them out, either.
A true leader will have the uncomfortable conversation. A true leader will honestly critique their teams when necessary. A true leader will do it because bullies cannot be tolerated at work, because gossip is getting out of hand, or because someone fell asleep in the middle of a meeting (which, to be fair, is usually a sign of a bigger issue). If you don’t have the tough conversations, you’ll never know that your employees are struggling — that someone’s mother is seriously ill or another is having trouble sleeping because they’re facing financial ruin.
How to right this wrong: Start practicing same-day confrontation. You can do this via email or any other channel you feel comfortable with. (We use our intranet, email, and our feedback platform.) You may be surprised to see just how many problems can be solved easily and effectively when you confront them right away.
3. You Confuse ‘Leadership’ With ‘Enabling’
Yet another mistake I’ve made. “Leadership” means serving people and empowering them to do their best work. “Enabling” means doing that work for them. Leadership is giving people the feedback they need to make great decisions in their roles. Enabling is turning yourself into a bottleneck in order to feed your own ego. Leadership is graciously giving people credit for a job well done, even if you feel you were pivotal to the job. Enabling is making sure everyone knows you were the hardest worker.
See the difference? Enabling keeps your people scared. It keeps them from growing. Leadership, on the other hand, creates a culture where people swing for the fences and are accountable for their work. According to 50 percent of millennials, leadership is “empowering others to succeed.”
How to right this wrong: Recognize when you’re enabling and/or micromanaging. When you are, address it in very plain terms — e.g., “I know that, in the past, I’ve simply taken this over from you. That was not the right way to handle it. It may take a little longer to get this right, but I would like you to fix this problem with guidance from me, input from the team, your own experience, and independent research, if need be.” If you feel a deadline is warranted so you can check in on progress, assign one, but do so with a loose hand.
4. You Think ‘Productivity’ = ‘Impact’
You can stay late every day of the week, feel like you are giving your all, and still be a mediocre employee. If you are not reaching your peak impact, simple productivity is sort of a moot point. This realization helped spur the rise of results-only work environments (ROWE) and the unlimited vacation and flexible work opportunities that come with them.
You need both productivity and impact for a lot of reasons, including:
- Sometimes, you have to send out five proposals to get one “yes.”
- Sometimes, you need to write six articles to see one go viral.
- Sometimes, you have to manage your time better to complete your assignments.
You get the point. Celebrating impact when productivity gets the job done sends the wrong message, but in a strange twist, the opposite is also true. Recognizing productivity without impact can also create a culture of “phoning it in.” For leaders, it’s a tough tightrope to walk. People usually fall on one side or the other and need to be constantly coached to the center.
How to right this wrong: Write it out. Show your people the difference between productivity and impact, and then ask them to rate themselves. Since no one has the same level of productivity and impact all the time, ask employees where they fall for each project or task. Work with them to see how much they can impact the company while remaining productive.
5. You Don’t Give People Clear Paths
Just because 96 percent of leaders are reportedly extroverts does not mean that everyone else is, too. Shocking, I know. One of the hardest things I ever had to learn as a leader, manager, and individual contributor is that, sometimes, people will give you 110 percent week after week until they just give up. It is my personality to drive people as far as they can go, thinking I am training them for excellence, when in fact I may be driving them crazy. We all have to work extra hard sometimes, or do a job or two we’d rather not, but it can be exhausting to keep plugging away in the same job once you’ve mastered every aspect of it.
How to right this wrong: We ask people in every single performance review what they’d rather be doing professionally. We can’t promise we’ll give them that position today, but we can help them work toward it.
Building a company will always involve some dysfunctional periods. Your task is to work through them in order to create a culture and a company that can last and scale for years to come.
A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.
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