Three Common (But Faulty) Management Practices

By Heather Baldwin

There’s an old joke about a woman who cuts the ends off a ham before putting it in the oven because her mother had done it that way. The joke traces the reasoning through several generations until a great-grandmother finally explains, “I had to cut the ends off, because otherwise it wouldn’t fit in my pan!”

Unfortunately, many sales leaders use management techniques that are rooted in the same philosophy – that longstanding management practices are effective. But that’s not always true, warns Aubrey Daniels, an expert on management, leadership, and workplace issues and author of OOPS! 13 Management Practices That Waste Time and Money (and What to Do Instead). In his book, Daniels shoots down 13 common but faulty management practices, including the following:

FAULTY MANAGEMENT PRACTICE #1: Creating stretch goals

Stretch goals, by most organizational definitions, are attained less than 10 percent of the time, which means sales reps fail to reach them 90 percent of the time. This repeated failure causes performance to gradually dip. The result? A rep’s willingness to stick with difficult tasks disappears. Eliminate stretch goals and instead do these three things:

  1. Set lots of “minigoals.” When you set a lower goal initially, you increase the probability of success. “While small incremental goals appear to take longer to produce significant results, the opposite is true,” Daniels explains. “This is because positive reinforcement accelerates performance, and small goals provide more opportunities for acceleration.”
  2. Make progress visible. Display performance data on a graph so employees can see progress. An hourly basis is ideal, but daily or weekly will also work.
  3. Plan positive reinforcement for improvement. Researchers have found that attainable goals combined with positive feedback, social recognition, and monetary incentives improve task performance by 45 percent. “Improvement of two to three times baseline levels is not uncommon when graphic feedback and effective positive reinforcers have been used,” says Daniels.

FAULTY MANAGEMENT PRACTICE #2: Publicly ranking your sales reps

Another common but ineffective practice is the public ranking of sales teams. The thinking is that rankings will create healthy competition at the top while motivating people on the bottom. Often, however, rankings do little more than inhibit sharing and cooperation, not to mention demoralize weak performers without giving them any support to improve.

“Employees should be competing with their real competitors, not with each other,” says Daniels. Instead of internal rankings, use external benchmarking to motivate individuals and groups.

“Benchmarks allow you to compete with a real competitor or someone who is best in class for what you do,” he explains. “Beating the competition, closing the gap between you and the benchmark, and actually becoming the benchmark are all highly motivating.”

FAULTY MANAGEMENT PRACTICE #3: The compliment sandwich

Every manager knows “the sandwich method” of delivering performance feedback: take two positive statements, insert criticism in the middle, and serve. It’s nice, but effective? Not in the long run. Employees catch on to this game quickly and soon learn to doubt the sincerity of your compliments. Also, they learn that compliments are merely a prelude to criticism. So forget the sandwich. If you have corrective feedback, be straightforward. State the problem behavior, the desired behavior that should take its place, and the consequences of not making the change. It’s also helpful to have the employees track the behavior you want changed.

Albert Einstein once said that the world’s problems cannot be solved by the same kind of thinking that created them. So if things aren’t working for you, don’t keep doing the same things your predecessors and managers did. Instead, question everything you’re doing. Gather data to determine whether each of your management practices are effective, and jettison the practices that aren’t working.

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