By Bruce Tulgan
This is part 1 of a 3 part series.
This myth comes from the fact that there are only 168 hours in a week and you have zillions of demands on your time—you have your own tasks and responsibilities and projects besides your management obligations.
What is the reality? Since your time is so limited, you definitely don’t have time to not manage people. Managers who try desperately to avoid spending time managing people always spend lots of time managing people anyway. That’s because when a manager avoids spending time up front in advance making sure things go right, things always go wrong. Small problems pile up. Often, small problems fester unattended until they become so big that they cannot be ignored. By that point, the manager has no choice but to chase down the problems and solve them. In crisis, the manager is virtually guaranteed to be less efficient, a further waste of time. So these managers run around solving problems that never had to happen, getting big problems under control that should have been solved easily, recouping squandered resources, dealing with long-standing performance problems, feeling even more pressed for time. That means, in all likelihood, they will go right back to avoiding managing people, and the next time they’ll make time for management is the next time there is another big problem to chase down and solve.
No problem is so small that it should be left alone; small problems too often fester and grow into bigger problems. Sometimes managers are afraid to nitpick. “After all,” these managers say, “everybody makes mistakes. If a small problem occurs that is not likely to recur, doesn’t it do more harm than good sometimes to focus on it?” It only does more harm than good if you focus on small problems to the exclusion of other important details (including small successes.)
If you are talking with employees about the details of their work on a regular basis, then talking about small problems – whatever they may be – should be something you do as a matter of course. Solving small problems should be part of your ongoing dialogue with that employee. In this context, nitpicking is a good thing. It sends a message that high performance is the only option, that details matter, and that you are paying close attention. You are also doing the employee a favor by making her aware of the small problem so that she can fix it or avoid it in the future. Over time, you are doing the employee the added favor helping her become more detail-oriented.
This is not about perfectionism. Perfectionism is the disabling fear of completing a task, dressed up in the pursuit of an illusory quality standard. Zeroing in on small problems is about constant improvement. In the course of regular guidance and direction, addressing one small problem after another is what ongoing continuous performance improvement actually looks like. Constant evaluation and feedback help you revise and adjust your marching orders. In turn, the employee revises and adjusts her performance. Through this slow, steady progress, you help employees revise and adjust so they can keep practicing and fine-tuning.
Remember that the time you spend managing is “high leverage time.” By managing, you engage the productive capacity of the people you manage. For every, say, fifteen-minute management conversation you have with an employee, you should be engaging hours or maybe days of that employee’s productive capacity. If that fifteen-minute conversation is effective, that fifteen minutes of management should substantially improve the quality and output of the employee’s work for hours or days. That’s a good return on investment—that’s why I call it “high leverage time.”
If you put your management time where it belongs and attend to the basics every step of the way, the time you do spend managing will be so much more effective. You’ll start to see results right away. Very quickly, things will improve, and you’ll start to get a lot of that time back on the other end.
About the Author
Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Bruce is the best-selling author of numerous books including Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (Revised & Updated, 2016), Bridging the Soft Skills Gap (2015), The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014), and It’s Okay to be the Boss (Revised & Updated, 2014). He has written for the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training Magazine, and the Huffington Post. Bruce can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, you can follow him on Twitter @BruceTulgan, or visit his website www.rainmakerthinking.com.