Study finds the lack of feedback is, uh, lacking...

A recent study by Leadership IQ found that 66% of employees feel they have too little interaction with their boss. A whopping 78% of employees surveyed did not have a clear idea of whether their boss feels their job performance is where it should be. That's right -- a majority of employees want to be managed more, not less.

The feedback employees do get is often lacking. Employees want to hear more than just 'good work' or 'you need to do better'.  When receiving positive feedback, 53% reported it wasn't specific enough to help them repeat the good performance. Sixty-five percent of employees receiving criticism felt their bosses didn't provide enough direct feedback to help them improve.

Managers are often too busy, afraid to give direct feedback, or are worried about being viewed as a micromanager by their employees. Unfortunately, this study indicates the hands-off approach can lead to real performance problems.

What can be done?

The first step is coming to terms with reality. In my own travels I hear too many leaders dismissing the art of feedback as 'too elementry' or 'common sense' and not something that deserves attention, but reality clearly doesn't match this perception. You can never get better at something if you don't think you need to.

The next step is learning how to give specific, actionable feedback. Many leaders struggle because they never receive formal training in this area, but there are plenty of resources available, including our High Performance Management workshop.

The final step is developing the habit of giving frequent constructive feedback. As the numbers in this study show, Corporate America has a long way to go.

Undercover Boss is cringe-worthy (and I like it!)

CBS has a new reality show called Undercover Boss, where the head of a major corporation goes undercover as a frontline employee to get a ground-level view of the organization.  If the first episode is any indication, the executives featured in this show will be incredibly detached from their organizations, use their undercover stint as an excuse to create chaos, and highlight enough dirty laundry on national television to make you cringe.  And, because it’s television, we’re sure to see a lot of happy endings.

Spoiler alert – watch the first episode before reading further if you don’t want anything revealed before you’ve seen it.


Episode 1: Waste Management's Larry O’Donnell
Waste Management’s President and COO, Larry O’Donnell, is the featured executive in episode one.  He tries out five different frontline jobs and the employees assigned to show him the ropes apparently have no idea he’s really an executive with the company.  I admire him for putting himself out there and letting a television show get such an intimate look at his organization.  He seems to have his heart in the right place and wants to do right for his employees, but his ego and apparent detachment from reality are a bit stunning.

Oh so detached
At the beginning of the program, Larry is enthusiastic about the opportunity to visit some of Waste Management’s operations.  He tells the audience, “I may be able to revolutionize some of our processes.”  Attention executives: You don’t need to be on a reality show to go visit your operations and see what’s really happening!  Go ahead and spend some time out in the field.  Feel free to revolutionize processes that need revolutionizing even before the cameras start rolling.

The good news is Larry had his eyes opened by what he saw throughout the show.  It was particularly interesting to see his reaction to the human toll of the cost cutting measures he had spearheaded at Waste Management.  Like many executives, Larry has a super hero alter-ego.  When he saw how budget cuts were affecting real people, he undoubtedly said to himself, “This looks like a job for Captain Meddler!”

Captain Meddler
Ugh, Larry.  Ugh.

Jeff Richardson manages one of the locations where Larry goes undercover.  He has made the best of Larry’s cost-cutting measures and runs an efficient operation with a motivated team.  One of Jeff’s employees, Jaclyn, appears to be an incredibly committed employee who is capably handling multiple responsibilities due to the cut-backs.  Jeff should be praised for keeping his team motivated through lean times.

Enter Captain Meddler.  Larry spends a day with Jaclyn and is taken aback by her work ethic and dedication.  He’s amazed when she invites him to have dinner with her family, and is surprised to learn that Jaclyn is supporting her extended family and has trouble making ends meet on her salary.  The next day, Larry meets with Jeff and tells him he’d like to see Jaclyn get promoted and make more money.

On one hand, it’s great to see the big boss recognize an employee’s contributions and want to reward her for them.  It certainly seems well-deserved on Jaclyn’s part.  On the other hand, you never see Larry give Jeff any credit for making the most out of the meager resources that Larry himself had provided.  It’s great that Larry has a new perspective once he’s glimpsed the people behind the numbers, but it’s ridiculous to see him march in to Jeff’s operations and try to come off as some sort of savior.

It’s a bit sad that it’s not an uncommon tale in corporate America.  The middle manager gets squeezed.

Cringe TV
There were some outstanding moments in this show that I hope is a sign of more things to come.  My top three:

3. The boss can’t cut it.
One of the jobs Larry tries out is picking up trash.  At the start of the day, Larry asks his supervisor, Walter, for some tips.  Walter’s response was pure gold: “What kind of technique do you want?  You’re just picking up paper!”  By the end of the day, Walter informs Larry that he’s just not cut out for picking up trash.

2. Pay docking scheme.
On another job in a recycling center, Larry and his supervisor for the day are sitting in the lunch room when she suddenly jumps up and runs to the time clock.  She clocks in from lunch and then walks back to the lunch room and continues eating.  Apparently, the site manager has a scheme where he docks workers two minutes of pay for every minute they are late.  This whole scene is wrong on many levels, which is precisely why I like it.

1. The pee can.
The best of them all was Larry’s stint on a trash collection route.  Janice, the driver working with Larry, tells him she isn’t given the opportunity to take bathroom breaks along her route, so she keeps a coffee can in the truck.  She hands it to Larry and says, “That’s our little pee pot!”  Yup.  I'm so glad the editors and the lawyers let that gem through!

OK, so there's still a happy ending and Larry's definitely not an ogre.  By the end of the show, he tries to do right by his employees and tells the team he has a new perspective. I just hope the next episode is just as good! 

Gallup finds more reasons to micromanage

A new study from the Gallup Management Journal has discovered that igorning your employees may be even more harmful than focusing on their weaknesses. Not unexpectedly, focusing on employee strengths yields the best results of all.  You may know that I'm an unabashed fan of micromanaging, and this data provides more fuel for my micromanagement fire!

Micromanagement yields the best results.
I define micromanagement as actively managing employees' performance, helping them become successful, and gradually providing them with more and more autonomy as they demonstrate competency and earn trust. This definition is very consistent with a "strengths-based" management philosophy.

In Gallup's study, managers that focus on employee strengths have the most engaged employees (61%) and the fewest actively disengaged employees (1%).

Micro-meddling yields worse results.
Often confused with micromanagement, micro-meddling is a management approach that focuses on employee weaknesses. Micro-meddlers don't set clear expectations and spend their time correcting performance rather than encouraging growth. Unlike micromanagers who loosen the reins over time, micro-meddlers make it impossible for employees to earn trust and autonomy.

In Gallup's study, managers that focus on employee weaknesses engage (on average) 45% of their employees while an average of 22% of their employees are actively disengaged.

Not managing is worst of all.
The hands-off approach is even worse than micro-meddling. Gallup found that only 2% of employees who felt ignored by their managers were engaged compared to 40% who were actively disengaged. Managers who fail to provide clear and consistent direction or any feedback often choose this style because they want to avoid conflict, want to achieve a positive reputation with their employees, or are simply overwhelmed with other responsibilities.  Whatever the cause, this is clearly the worst way to go.

Check out an article on Gallup's study here.

Read my post, "Long Live the Micromanager" for more info.

Many employees needlessly resisting micromanagement

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article hailing micromanagement as an often necessary and effective management style.  Micromanagement, not to be confused with micro-meddling, is a leadership style that sweats the small stuff and requires employees to demonstrate capability and earn trust before being left alone.  A good micromanager will gradually loosen the reigns as employees perform at an appropriate level, but employees can invite continued oversight by actively resisting their boss.

Many employees I've spoken to want to be left alone regardless of their performance. They yearn for the freedom to pursue their own agenda, even if it isn't their supervisor's agenda or in their organization's best interests.  I have spoken with countless people who make comments similar to the ones below:

"What my boss needs to do is..."

"I wish my boss would leave me alone so I can do it my way."

"It's not what my boss wants, but..."

Yes, there are plenty of bosses out there that don't have a clue. There are plenty of clueless employees too. My advice is "don't knock it 'til you've tried it."  In other words, get on the bus until you have proof that bus is heading nowhere.