Lack of managerial oversight

Leads to underperforming employees.

Management attention

"Management attention is the ultimate constraint." ~ Eli Goldratt
"The abundance of one resource causes a scarcity of another. What is scarce when information is plentiful? I think we all know the answer… when information is plentiful, time to attend to it is scarce. Attention is the scarce factor in an information-rich society." ~ Herbert Simon

Everyone agrees that management attention is a critical resource. When we call a resource critical we mean two things:

  1. we believe this resource is essential in order to achieve the organization goal
  2. we always feel we don't have enough of it that we need more of this resource in order to achieve the organization goal

Here are just several a dynamics in our organizations around the world that consume management attention:

  • consolidation of management layers has reduced middle management capacity
  • balance pressure to achieve higher margins and higher revenues while maintaining existing operations
  • high variability of cost and demand
  • demand of running multiple programs
  • serve many stakeholders

Consolidation of management layers has reduced middle management capacity. We feel we are responsible to do so many things and we don't have enough capacity to achieve it.

We need to constantly balance pressure to achieve higher margins and higher revenues while maintaining existing operations which have its cost and its investments. This is a growing challenge we always feel. Our life as managers or it is like a balancing act balancing the need for a short term for stability to balance cost and investment and on the other hand the need to secure the company's growth margins profits and revenue.

High variability of cost and demand. The world out there is not so certain as we all know there is high variability of costs and definitely high variability of demand for our services and products which we need to manage.

There is a demand of running multiple programs all of which have unique goals, unique missions, unique purposes that we need to sacrifice that we need to achieve.

We serve many stakeholders - our shareholders, our customers, employees, suppliers,the government and they constantly introduce new requirements and new ideas. They change the budget, they change the scope and we are there in the middle the poor manager that needs to address all these challenges and get results.

The ultimate constraint is the ability to achieve results dealing with all the dynamics that consume management attention.

Yes, reality has high complexity, uncertainty and conflicts but that's why they hired managers right? So we're really utilizing our management attention in the right way?

Managers essentially want to achieve their organization goals, they want to improve. Whenever we look we can find how things can be done better wherever we focus our management attention we can always see how we can improve things but should we improve it? We have the tendency to improve everything that can be improved.

To obtain focus is to have the courage to decide what to stop doing,

There are three prevalent dynamics that greatly consume management attention:

  • Dealing with symptoms instead of addressing the core problem. If you feel that you are constantly trying to put up the fire to deal with the symptoms but the problem only grows. This is a clear indication that there is a vicious cycle that works against you and you haven't figured out yet or reality doesn't allow you to solve this vicious cycle. Instead you're dealing with the same symptoms that come out of it.
  • Keep optimizing on a fundamental conflict rather than solving it in a win-win manner. Having a core conflict in the organization and instead of solving this conflict we live in a compromise, we keep optimizing between the extreme sides of the conflict suffering from all the fires they create instead of solving this conflict. An unacceptable compromise is not a solution. A real solution satisfies both sides' needs without a compromise.
  • Focusing on targets (outputs) rather than on the enablers (inputs). Being under pressure to achieve certain target numbers and instead of building the enablers to achieve these targets we start taking distorted actions we're more looking at fishing for numbers and getting the targets rather than building the enablers to achieve them.

Capability management

"The role of the leader is to create the environment in which all members of an organization have the opportunity to realize their own potential." ~ Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

The success of any organization depends on the managerial oversight. It requires the managers clearly identifying and articulating the standards of performance[1]. And, of course, it requires the managers to monitor the work to ensure the work is being done to the standard. The real problem, of course, is that managers often struggle with both of those things. The reason might be that the manager has no idea what a standard performance for certain jobs should be. Or the manager has no technical competence but supervises technical roles. Then the manager has no idea how long it takes developers to finish their tasks.

Once you determine a high yet achievable performance bar, hold your people to that high standard even if you have no idea how they might achieve it. Trust them — that's why they were in the first place. It's not your job to think on their behalf. People can do wonderful things if given the opportunity. But you can also set people up to fail by relying on them to succeed but not giving them the proper tools to succeed. The next training that is needed is how to successfully experiment to improve the results achieved by the organization.

People are the most important asset. Organizations place a great deal of emphasis on recruiting, hiring, and integration in order to build their talent base. Too often the investment in people stops there. The most important question is never asked: How many fully productive employees have they added? The first thing to understand is that just because somebody interviewed well, that does not mean she will perform equally well in your organization. If they measured capability, they might be horrified to find that all those investments in recruiting, hiring, and integration were going to waste. How can we know if our efforts are successful? By using all the reporting functionality KEDEHub provides us with. We can check the results on a daily basis if needed. The best is to check on a weekly basis and report every Monday.

Using KEDEHub you can objectively measure capability to find out if your investments paid off.

Lazy managers don't want to know who the poor performers are

In today's knowledge based economy, the performance of a single employee matters now more than ever. That's the only competitive advantage most companies really have[7].

From a company's perspective, it is a good practice to try to help a weak developer to get better, and just fire them in case they don't get better some months later after beginning this process. What could happen is managers doing absolutely nothing to help the weak developer, and at the same time they never fire these people.

The most often cited reason for not dealing with underperformers is that the organization just makes it too hard for us to discipline or fire a developer. There can be a number of steps required in dealing with poor attendance, poor performance or poor attitude of a developer. For example, the standard way to address serious individual performance shortfalls in the United States is to use a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). These are a huge pain to even create (much less monitor) because, to avoid an employee lawsuit, they typically require the involvement of HR and multiple layers of management. When the employee is on a PIP, the manager has to have weekly conversations with the employee about the objective criteria in the PIP. One of them usually is to show up at work at 9am. If the employee repeatedly failed to do so then the manager has to listen to explanations "why" over and over again. The manager then has to document this, etc. A huge, huge pain.

Another reason could be the tendency for managers to blame low performance and turnover on developers, rather than on oneself or on the organization. Psychologists have long recognized that people often overestimate the role of personality and underestimate the power of the situation in shaping human behavior. Managers tend to believe that people act the way they do because of who they are. By blaming developers for performance problems or retention issues, managers free themselves from doing the hard work of considering how their own management style affects developers satisfaction, performance, and turnover[2].

Yet another reason cited, especially underperforming managers, is that they leave poor performers in place because they want the company to be seen as humane. Managers could remove all the difficult parts of an underachiever's job and delegate them; in a vain attempt to help the poor performer cope. Why don't companies act? Some fear it would lower morale, which is nonsense. Debra Dunn, a senior executive at Hewlett-Packard, puts it like this[3]: "I feel there is no greater disrespect you can do to a person than to let them hang out in a job where they are not respected by their peers, not viewed as successful, and probably losing their self-esteem. To do that under the guise of respect for people is, to me, ridiculous."

The real reason is that some managers are lazy. Lazy managers do not want to know who their poor performers are because that requires taking action and the action requires a lot of unwanted, unpleasant work on their part.

You can use KEDEHub to check if your managers work with the poor performers.

Works Cited

1. McGrath, R. G. (2001). Exploratory learning, innovative capacity, and managerial oversight. Academy of Management Journal, 44(1), 116–131.

2. Don’t Let Lazy Managers Drive Away Your Top Performers

3. Make Sure You Chop The Dead Wood

Getting started