Stupid Manager Tricks

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Author: Bill Catlette | Source: HCI | Published: March 7, 2016

For better than two decades, late night talk show host, David Letterman ran hilarious periodic segments, Stupid Pet Tricks, highlighting silly tricks that people had taught their pets to perform. In a somewhat similar fashion, most of us manager-types have, over the years and the course of our careers adopted or fallen into habits and thought processes that, when subjected to the harsh light of day, are equally silly, but with more serious consequence. An example…

Recently, a friend, Ann, a wife, mother to three girls, and healthcare professional joined our family for dinner. Owing to an acute interest in the current state of our healthcare delivery system, I took the opportunity to reroute the table conversation by peppering her with questions about her job – what’s working, and what’s not.

When I asked Ann, a pleasant, rational radiology technician at a 700-bed Level 1 hospital about the one thing that most keeps her from doing her best work, she quickly passed over the antiquated equipment (floppy disk drives were mentioned!), uncompetitive pay, and went straight to the fact that, by virtue of being fully matrixed to the hospital’s ER, she is treated as an orphan, both by the management of the ER and the Radiology departments.  She cited regular exclusion from staff meetings, celebrations, requests for decision input, and even routine communications as examples.

In other words, because Ann doesn’t fit neatly on the org chart, she is effectively off the grid. And not that it should matter, she’s not a contractor, but a real, regular, full-time, fourteen-year hospital employee. Ann is not alone. Specialists from the lab and other departments are similarly situated, and as a result, the hospital loses out on a great deal of discretionary effort from staff, due to myopic leaders with overly constricted views as to what their “tribe” consists of.

Ann’s hospital is far from alone in this regard. To one degree or another, many of us emulate this behavior in our own organizations, healthcare-related or otherwise. We see it regularly in our practice with organizations that employ large numbers of contractors who can be trusted daily with patients, clients, and valuable information, but we can’t quite bring ourselves to show them the secret handshake.

In an effort to ward off this type of sclerotic thinking, uber-successful retailer (Zappos) and workplace tinkerer Tony Hsieh is in the midst of adopting a holacractic (self-regulating, fully autonomous) operating system, with mixed results thus far.  For a host of reasons, I’m not ready to go there, but… and this is a big but, I readily concede that the last vestiges of our legacy siloed org structures and management thinking (the home of a lot of our stupid manager tricks) have got to leave the building, and the sooner the better. Rather than re-invent the whole operating system though, I would submit that, in a nutshell, what we need is better leadership… both thinking and behavior. Here’s a start, a really simple one that every one of us can act on without seeking permission, or needing forgiveness:

If You’re a Leader, Your Tribe is the Whole Locker Room!

With Ann’s hospital as a backdrop, one good place to start is for leaders, all of us, to stop drawing these neat little boxes that proscribe our operating and budget authority, peeing around its perimeter like a dog marking its territory, and proclaiming that as “our tribe.”  If it’s inside that circle, I worry about it. It it’s not, I don’t.

Look - if you work at Baptist Hospital or Marriott, or Ford, the “enemy” isn’t someone in another department, or a different shift. It’s Mayo, or Hilton, or GM. Those are the ones who are taking food out of the mouths of your babies! Your business outcomes, not to mention your own reputation as a leader of choice (aka talent magnet) will be measurably advanced by regularly demonstrating not just with words, but through your actions, that you value the contributions and ideas of others, and take an interest in them, regardless of whose cost center they get charged to.

Try it! Spend 15 minutes a day on a search and destroy mission to find and eradicate those things that are keeping your people – all of them, from doing their very best work. I think you’ll be pleased with the results, and so will the people around you.


Bill Catlette is an executive coach, business and workplace author, and advisor to management who is known for developing talent. His mission is to develop competent, confident leaders who people want to work for, and companies are willing to place big bets on.