“There is no problem so bad that you cannot make it worse.”
How often have you seen when all the great minds in the office get together to solve ‘the problem’ and … well … it only gets worse?
Or how about this.
There is no problem … someone comes in and says ‘here is how we can make it better’ and … well … it gets worse.
Now. To be fair.
There is an art & science to managing “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” I say that because we are often quite flippant with regard to suggesting ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.’ What I mean is that some things broken don’t look broken or even kind of broken. Which kind of means that particular thing’s version of ‘ain’t broke’ is actually a kind of slippery inefficient or some version of being slightly outdated or, well, pick a variety of reasons that if you leave it alone you are gonna be out of business in no time.
In other words … broken often is very good at hiding under a ‘not broken’ cape.
Anyway. I wasn’t sure if this was going to be about not being able to leave things alone or mis-managing an organization .
So I thought I would discuss both.
– Not leaving things alone.
To be clear as I begin, in general, I am a tweaker. I tweak things until they’re right. I never typically leave things alone. I have always believed businesses run along a 5 lane highway and you are always speeding up or slowing down or shifting lanes .
Ah. But always moving.
It could easily be argued I never knew how to leave things alone. Now. The advantage of never leaving things alone is that:
<1> you are always paying attention, and
<2> as soon as you recognize things are getting worse because of something you have done … you can course correct and
<3> because you are already moving you are simply shifting and not having to generate energy to get started.
Possibly this suggests that this style of ‘making it worse’ only occurs in lesser degrees. But. Not leaving things alone is only effective if it is not an ‘in & out’ trait. You have to balance tweaking and watching or waiting. You have to be, well, patiently impatient.
You tweak, leave things alone, always have to be prepared to step back in again.
Not leaving things alone is an art. It takes touch. What I mean by that is even though I never liked leaving things alone … I did leave them alone. And for some meaningful amount of time … at times.
Regardless. People who do not have the touch and simply change to put their own thumbprint on something or just to change for change sake … well … they make it worse . Number one on almost every list of management things that demotivates employees … is making things worse than they are. In other words, change just for change sake.
– Mismanaging problems
What to do and how to do it often go out the window during a crisis. In other words, plans always look awesome when they are … well … plans.
First. Plans rarely remain intact once in contact with the actual problem.
Second. It is easy to plan, it’s not so easy to manage and produce within ‘the problem zone.’
Think of this part of the discussion as a good practice player versus a good game player. It’s natural. This is because your emotion mind takes over and the emotions begin to control your thoughts and behaviors. Regardless of emotions or not … suffice it to say you make things worse for typically one of two reasons:
You suck at being a manager.
You suck at working with stress.
These two things come to life in the office in a number of ways as you make things worse :
– criticize everyone but yourself
Pointing out someone’s mistake in front of others rarely generates a good response. Some managers think publicly discussing mistakes creates a ‘teaching moment’ for everyone. Well. Not so much. It just makes everyone feel bad. By the way. Criticize everyone else version 1.5 is where you insincerely criticize yourself in front of others just as a prelude to criticizing others. This may be worse than criticize original. It makes making problem is on your worse go to a new level.
– no follow up
Whew. I could have made this ‘do what you say you are going to do.’ Regardless.
If you ask people to do shit, acknowledge it.
If you say you are going to do something, do it .
No follow up makes things worse. It is okay for things to go nowhere as long as you acknowledge its ‘nowhereness’ because then nowhere actually ends up being some version of ‘well, at least its somewhere.’ Suffice it to say no follow up makes nowhere truly nowhere. Nowhere always makes things worse.
– unachievable goals or deadlines
Problems or changing things inevitably seems to be an opportunity for a manager or leader to … well … motivate … maybe even attempt to inspire. Things like … ‘aim high!’
Once employees realize they won’t be able to get something done, they’ll think, “what’s the point? … I’m going to fail.” Even worse? They will be hesitant to believe you can actually set goals in the future. If you are going to break something that appears unbroken, this is not a motivational moment, this is a more pragmatic teaching moment. Get them to believe in what they are doing — not inspire them. Inspirational speeches in these type situations typically just makes things worse.
– not explaining
I don’t believe everyone needs to know everything all the time. Sometimes leaders need to carry a heavier burden so that the people will actually get the shit done are light enough to … well … get the shit done. But. If you are breaking something that doesn’t look broken just because you know all the reasons why you should be doing it doesn’t mean you should hide those reasons. Explaining management decisions will help employees understand your perspective, they’ll respect you for it and things won’t get worse. Employees ignorant of purpose or reasoning tend to make things worse. And worse? They don’t even do it on purpose.
– implied threats
Things like ‘we are fucked if you cannot get this done’ statements tend to not be very effective in keeping things from getting worse. At the next level of heightened ‘oh shitedness’ falls the infamous ’do this or else’ attitude often has the opposite effect when it comes to motivation. Suffice it to say threats, implied or … well … plied, makes things worse.
– not respecting others have to say
This isn’t just listening . This is more about … well … let’s call it ‘respectful listening.’ You just cannot ignore if an employee takes some initiative to improve something. You have to take a good hard look at the suggestion. Not only is it demotivating if you don’t you may also be missing an opportunity to fix something broken that doesn’t appear broken .
Shit. You are already attempting to convince people you are trying to fix something that is not broken … and now you start micromanaging? Well. You may as well do it yourself . Employees need to feel trusted and valued to succeed. Micromanaging does the opposite. Micromanaging makes things worse … not better.
Ok. Having shared all that let me say that sucking at being a manager is significantly easier than not sucking as a manager. Realistically you do your best simply to not make things worse as often as possible. Accept this fact . You will make things worse on occasion. Throughout your career you are just trying to limit those times and manage them as quickly and effectively as you can.
Lastly. Yes. We all seem to make things worse in business.
And while I know that from my experience in the business world I actually have research to support it:
Ever notice how a new employee’s enthusiasm eventually wears off? In 85% of companies, employees’ morale significantly drops off after their first six months on the job, according to a survey from Harvard Management Research.
How can this be ? For the most part, enthusiasm is determined by work environment, and it can be fostered or hindered by the manager or leader.
Employee motivation experts say the best way to keep employee enthusiasm moving forward is to “first, do no harm.”
Well. That is a motivating thought isn’t it? “Do no harm.” (not really)
Anyway. At a minimum just try and do your best to not do anything that demotivates employees. Or maybe better said … just do your best to not make things worse.
“Close some doors today. Not because of pride, incapacity or arrogance, but simply because they lead you nowhere.”
Oh. And if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
This last part is something I found online but wanted to share on this topic.
I did not write this.
But I found parts funny .
But it is a fun piece of writing which makes you think about business and why we change some of the shit we do.
How often do we wonder why some business changes something we already love.
Sneaker manufacturers are infamous for this kind of crap.
The moment you find a pair you like … they discontinue with next year’s model.
Microsoft MSFT +2.32% is talking about redoing Windows 8, addressing user complaints that it’s too confusing to use. Some analysts even speculate that the company may bring back the popular “Start” button. PC aficionados who don’t like the touch-screen layout have savaged Windows 8, which makes a PC look like a tablet. Much like Coca-Cola, KO -0.28% which had to bring back Classic Coke after an uproar surrounding New Coke, Microsoft has had to admit that it got things wrong. And it got things wrong because it never bothered to ask its customers, “Gee, what do you guys think?”
Bring back normal M&M’s.
It would be wonderful if other companies brought back beloved old features that have been retired or massively altered. My wife recently started shopping for a car with a stick shift but found that such vehicles now come with a “continuous variable transmission” system, which makes a car run more like an automatic. It also reduces fuel efficiency by 10%. To her, CVT defeats the whole purpose of owning a stick. The solution is simple: Put things back the way they were. I don’t mean going back to eight-track players, rotary phones or pop-up toasters. But corporations have often cavalierly altered popular products without bothering to ask the public if it would welcome such modifications. These companies should follow Microsoft’s example and consider restoring the features that the public sorely misses. Here are a few examples:
I used to really enjoy 32-ounce bottles of orange juice. Thirty-two ounces of orange juice is exactly enough fluid to get a family of four through breakfast. But 25.8 ounces will not do it. Neither will 23.8 ounces. Two-thirds of the way through breakfast, you always end up being forced to crack open another bottle of juice. It’s unbelievably annoying. It would serve the public well if citrus-fruit bottlers brought back the quart bottle.
I would also love to see blue M&M’s summarily removed from bags of peanut M&M’s. I know they’ve been there since the ’90s, but these parvenu sweets are the confectionary equivalent of a touch screen on a PC. They don’t look right, and they don’t feel right.
I used to love buying tickets for the theater when you could pay the price listed on the ticket. I didn’t even mind when theaters started adding a $4 service charge per ticket, even though I was buying them online and there was no actual service involved. But I hate paying a $2.50 per ticket “facility fee.” A play has to be performed in a facility, so the facility fee should be part of the ticket price. Being asked to pay a facility fee is like being asked to pay $2.50 for a hot dog and then being charged a 50-cent “bun maintenance fee.” Bring back simple pricing.
Airplanes used to have room for your legs. They did, really, and you can even see old photos proving it. And they used to have employees who didn’t snarl at you when you asked for a second bag of stale peanuts. Restore those deleted features, please. Banks used to pay 8.5% on six-month certificates of deposit. Now they pay 1%. Could we have the old rates back? We really liked them.
Hollywood used to make movies starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in which they actually emoted, instead of engaging in coarse, over-the-top shtick. Could you bring back films like “Heat” and “The Deer Hunter” and “Godfather II”? And ask Messrs. De Niro and Pacino to stop phoning it in? We’d be beholden to you.
There are many other examples. Remember toilets that flushed not by magic but with a handle? Faucets you could turn on without having to wave your hands spasmodically in front of a kryptonite-powered motion detector? Paper-towel dispensers that could be used without knowing a secret set of rituals handed down by the Knights Templar?
I would also like to go back to a time when cars did not automatically lock their doors. If I want to lock my door, I will lock it; if I want to keep it open, I will do so. I have always had a deep fear of being trapped in a car with two pit bulls, and finding that the doors have capriciously decided to lock me in forever. Give me back the power to control my own environment.
Ask before you change things. And if it ain’t broke, do not fix it.
Originally published May 2014
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This post was previously published on Enlightened Conflict and is used with permission of the author.
Photo courtesy Pixabay.