The Seven Deadly Sins of Management

Volume 10 Letter 9

A large mineral processing company was receiving endless complaints about the quality of its products. After numerous apologies to customers and much berating of the offending managers there was still no change in the situation. Process meetings were convened, discussion groups started and numerous promises made yet still there was no discernible improvement in the product quality. Was the problem really unsolvable?

In an HBR article titled ‘How to Overcome Deep-Seated Obstacles to Change” the author argues that many problems in business could be solved by overcoming behaviors that executives and managers display to save egos and avoid anxiety but destroy corrective action. Here are the seven deadly sins of poor management:

  • Failure to set proper goals: Without clear goals people can easily hide behind a facade of achievement. If you want things to change set measurable goals.
  • No plan to achieve goals:Sometimes managers set goals (reduce inventory, increase sales etc.) but don’t have a plan to achieve them. Setting a plan to achieve goals is tough work – good managers do the tough work!
  • Looking for outside help to solve inside problems: Consultants are great at identifying problems and getting management to buy into some solution that will save billions. If the results don’t come, management can say, “Even the experts can’t solve this.” Good managers take responsibility for solving problems.
  • Not assigning responsibility: When no one is assigned responsibility for delivering a result no one is going to take it. Change may involve several business divisions but in the end one person needs to take responsibility. Good managers follow the advice of Jack Walsh – “One throat to choke.” Assign responsibility.
  • Waiting for systems or processes to kick in: Often managers will say, “Just wait for the new xxxx system to kick in first” and things will improve. Markets and customers don’t wait. Start small if you must but fix the problem now.
  • Setting people up for failure: A recent research study (2009) shows that companies that invest in developing their people experience clear and measurable business benefits. Train your managers – help them succeed!
  • Tracking problems rather than solving problems: Many businesses track errors rather than fixing the problem. Solve the problem!

Eventually the mineral processing company set in place clear objectives. Team leaders were held accountable for achieving measurable results even though projects were often outside of the bounds of their own job. Projects were done in small chunks and were designed in such a way that if successful they could be rolled out to the rest of the company. Within 3 months quality improved significantly and in six months the problems were totally solved.

When problems arise look inward to see if you are guilty of any or all of these seven sins. And fix them!

Robert Schaffer in an HBR article titled ‘How to Overcome Deep-Seated Obstacles to Change

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