Management tips, traps and trends: How to stay current

Are you up-to-date on how you manage your employees or hopelessly stuck in yesteryear’s outdated approaches?

Old habits die hard, but amid morale problems, pay freezes and anti-government rhetoric, Bruce Tulgan has a suggestion for government managers: Skip the chitchat already. 

“Have an ongoing dialog, spend time with your employees but don’t just shoot the breeze,” said Tulgan, a management and workplace expert who’s written several best-selling books on leadership and management. “You don’t have to be their best friend or therapist, but what you have to do is provide them support, guidance and direction and set them up for success.

Like any other trend, ideas around management change frequently, but Tulgan said the foundation always remain the same. The basics of leadership, management, and supervision are as old as the hills: Spending time one on one with your employees, talking about the work that needs to be done, making expectations clear, following up regularly, monitoring, measuring, documenting, providing feedback and tying rewards directly to performance, he said.

Tulgan took some time between his speaking engagements to discuss some of the emerging management trends – and fads best forgotten.

Trends to take up:

Boundaryless work: Flexibility in time and place -- when and where people work – has emerged as a key trend, driven by technology that facilitates employees in doing their work outside traditional workspaces. It’s also a win-win situation for employers: The more they can tailor work schedules and work locations, the better positioned they are to recruit, motivate and retain the top talent.. But allowing this flexibility to all employees is impossible. “You cannot do everything for everyone,” he pointed out. So what is a manager to do? Tulgan said managers need to do more for some employees and less for others based on what the employee deserves based on the market value of his/her work and based on ability and willingness to perform consistently at a high level. “Above and beyond flexibility should be earned with above and beyond performance,” he said.

Pay for performance. “I applaud the notion of differential rewards based on differential performance,” Tulgan said. “I think you get what you pay for and you should deliver for what you get paid.” However, pay for performance works only when managers communicate exactly what an employee needs to do to get paid more. The system also relies on managers to monitor, measure and document each employee's performance continuously, and failure to do so leads to differential rewards being given out, but the connection between reward and individual performance is not clearly made. “Over and over again, I have seen pay-for-performance initiatives result in disastrous morale because managers failed to do the necessary work,” Tulgan said.

Forced ranking: Many managers are so reluctant to make distinctions between and among employees and single out individuals for blame or reward, most leading organizations are moving to some form of "forced ranking,” Tulgan said. This practice require managers to make candid evaluations of every employee according to a tight distribution of grades such as A, B, and C. “Sadly, while evaluation and differentiation are key, this is an exercise in annual guesswork unless managers are monitoring, measuring and documenting every employee's performance on an ongoing basis, ” Tulgan said. “Once a year doesn't do the trick.”

Approaches to abandon:

Hierarchical, long-term relationships: People shouldn’t be expected to make short-term sacrifices one after the other in exchange for promises of the distant future, Tulgan said. “Seniority has an important role in the business world, but I prefer to look at it in terms of skills, knowledge, institutional memory, relationships and the old-fashioned work ethic,” he explained. Seniority or time served per se and rewarding longevity itself also don’t go over well with younger individuals who are just entering the workforce, he said. “Managing people by promising them long-term rewards just doesn’t work anymore,” Tulgan stressed.

Sink-or-swim mentality: Throwing young people into a sink-or-swim situation and expect that the best will rise to top is another outdated management method, according to Tulgan. “Nowadays, if you do that, the best people get out of the pool and go work somewhere else,” he said. “Some people will drown and some will swim in the wrong direction. Others will go to the shallow end and play.” Tulgan said many managers think, “well, nobody held my hand; I paid my dues and climbed the ladder with a bunch of people, and the best survived.’ But that sort of approach in which young employees are systematically weeded out shouldn’t be how managers manage a modern workforce, he added.  

False empowerment: Some managers believe the best approach to management is to leave employees alone and let them manage themselves. Wrong, says Tulgan, who calls this approach the Myth of Empowerment or False Empowerment. This hands-off, nice-guy approach promotes the idea that employees should do only work they love, and managers should generously dole out praise. The problem arises when no one wants to do the grunt work because it’s not fun or satisfying. False empowerment also dismisses the fact that not everyone in an organization is a superstar. “This idea of false fairness that somehow the way to treat everybody the same -- I don’t think that works anymore,” he said.
 

NEXT STORY: Federal 100: Natalie M. Givans

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