Some mistakes are almost unavoidable, but there are others that you can avoid entirely. I am sure you have your own list of things you don’t want to do again. Here’s mine.
- 1. Tinkering when things are running smoothly. If your team is working well, leave them alone. If objectives are defined and mutual (everyone knows what they are and agrees to pursue them), and if roles are productive (everyone knows who does what and are comfortable with where they fit in the process), let the machine work.
- Waiting too long to intervene when things go wrong. It’s a fine line, but there is a point when you simply cannot wait things out and must intervene. This is usually a time of crisis, but most often it comes from neglect. Just because things have been going well (See #1) does not imply you can just ignore them. You do need to be monitoring the process for signs of fatigue or failure. Remember this principle – To get what you expect you must be faithful and diligent to inspect.
- Spinning the facts – the people who work with you and for you are not stupid. A major home improvement retailer suddenly and without warning eliminated the spiffs and commissions they had been paying to their sales force. They did so in order to retain those spiffs and commissions and thus enhance the company’s bottom line. A problem appeared when they tried to spin the action. They told the sales force that the reason the company did this is because the company understands how hard it is to budget and plan finances when one’s paycheck is different each time. So, in order to make things easier for the employee the company would calculate each one’s total spiffs and commission for the past 12 months, divide that sum in half, then divide the result by 26 and add that amount as an allowance to each employee’s paycheck. It was a remarkably insensitive and demeaning effort to cover a self-serving decision on the part of the company. The employees are not stupid and are quite capable of managing their own finances from paycheck to paycheck. Nor are they enthusiastic about being given an allowance from a “parent” company. It was BS from start to finish and the sales force could smell it a mile away.
- You must make decisions and pursue courses of action that are in the best interest of the company, but make a mistake when you fail to consider their impact on the people who do the work that make your company the success it is. Everyone who works for the company expects it to make a profit. They do not respond well to exploitation. A corporation is, in legal terms, a persona non grata, a person without a body. But that is just a legal description. A company or corporation is made up of people who do the work that produces the revenues that makes the company viable and profitable. Screw around with them and there will be consequences.
- Failure to honestly and accurately consider the consequences of decisions on the company itself. This is slightly different than mistake #4 in that it focuses on the impact made upon the company. Referring back to the incident in #2, the company projected that the spiffs and commissions they had been paying their sales force could be retained by the company and thus add to their bottom line. This is true for commissions which were paid for by the company itself. But this was not true for the spiffs. Spiffs are bonuses paid by the vendor to the company who then added them to the salesperson’s paycheck. It was a pass-thru payment. So, when the vendors discovered that the company had summarily ceased payment of the pass-thru, the vendor did what any revenue-pursuing company would do. They kept them. So the company, which was projecting added revenues from retention of spiffs, found they did not get those revenues. What’s more, the company completely misinterpreted the effects and energy provided to the sales force by spiffs and commissions. Suddenly, the on-fire and productive salesmen simply lost energy. It became inconsequential whether sales goals were met or not. Why? Because the personal gain afforded by spiffs and commissions had been taken away. The company failed to comprehend what would happen. When the dismal sales numbers came in for the quarter following their actions, the numbers were way off. Curiously, the managers were perplexed, could not understand what had happened. Intelligent people do not always make prudent decisions.
- Gathering too much information before making a decision and taking action. I call this the McLellan Syndrome and discuss it and addressed it more thoroughly in “Power of decisive action” on this blog. Followers respond best to decisive action. Not impulsive, decisive. Impulsiveness is a knee-jerk reaction to events, decisiveness is a measured response to events. Also take a look at “6 Action traits of effective leaders.”
- Violating the chain of command. No, I am not talking about the chain of command upwards, I am talking about the chain of command downward. It went like this. In a large retail outlet, there are 5 departments that offer installation along with product sales. The salesmen in each department work up product and contract documents which are stored within the department. Once a year, those files need to be purged as part of the store’s auditing standards. Instead of asking each department manager to purge the files, the store manager arbitrarily selected one department manager and sent him into each department to purge the files. The store manager did so without notifying each department manager that he was coming. He just showed up there. Now, was the store manager within his rights to do that? Yes. Was it the most effective way to do that? No. It was the most efficient way, but in so doing the store manager demonstrated disrespect for the department managers and cluttered up the lines of authority and communication. If you have people working as subordinates, show respect for them and their position.
I want to hear your ideas. What mistakes have your seen others make that could be easily avoided? What mistakes have you made that you can share with us? How would you do things differently?