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Management Failure, And How To Avoid It

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The concept of “management” as a systematic approach to coordinating resources, optimizing processes, and achieving organizational goals has undergone significant development over the past century. 

Starting with Frederick Taylor’s late 19th-century “scientific management”, the early 20th-century administrative prescriptions to plan, lead, organize and control gave rise to the human relations movement characterized by Mayo’s Hawthorne Studies in the 1930s and ‘40s. Thanks in part, to the advent of business schools and influential thinkers like Peter Drucker, management has evolved to encompass diverse areas such as organizational behavior, strategic management, operations management, and leadership. 

Modern management practices emphasize flexibility, innovation, and adaptation to changing environments. Small wonder, then, that newly-appointed managers thrown into the deep end with little training and less support, often fail.

The Peter Principle

Written in a tongue-in-cheek style, Laurence J Peter’s book “The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong” (1969) criticizes hierarchical organizations and the effect that typical managerial promotion practices have on them. In essence, Peter postulated that in a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to their level of incompetence. 

This gives rise to the following problems:

  1. Promotion based on Performance: According to the Peter Principle, employees in hierarchical organizations are often promoted based on their performance in their current role. If an employee performs well they are typically considered for promotion to the next level.
  2. Competence in Current Role vs. Requirements of New Role: The problem arises when the skills, abilities, or competencies required for success in the new role differ from those that led to success in the current role. In many cases, employees excel in their current positions because they possess certain skills or traits relevant to that role. As employees continue to be promoted, they may eventually reach a position where they lack the necessary skills, abilities, or aptitude to perform effectively. 
  3. Implications for Management: The Peter Principle underscores the importance of thoughtful and strategic promotion decisions. It suggests that organizations should not solely base promotions on past performance but should assess an individual’s potential for success in the new role and provide necessary training and development.

While it is certainly true, as Peter claimed, that “good followers do not (necessarily) become good leaders”, the notion of the corporate hierarchy and “climbing the corporate ladder” may no longer be universally true of the way companies operate. 

Modern structures are much flatter, teamwork and inter-departmental collaboration are more widely practiced, and the promotion of soft skills and emotional intelligence (EQ) in management training has tended to make modern managers more self-aware. Nevertheless, the fact that someone is good at sales, marketing, or programming doesn’t make them good at management.

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So, Why Do Managers Fail?

Here are managers’ most common mistakes: 

  1. Micromanaging: Constantly monitoring every detail of tasks and not giving team members autonomy can stifle creativity, demotivate employees, and create unnecessary bottlenecks. Micromanaging a competent, highly-skilled team is a killer of motivation and creativity.
  2. Lack of Communication: Failing to communicate clearly and consistently with team members about goals, expectations, and feedback can lead to misunderstandings, lowered morale, and decreased productivity.
  3. Not Providing Feedback or Recognition: Neglecting to give timely and constructive feedback, or failing to recognize and appreciate good work, can leave employees feeling undervalued and unmotivated.
  4. Avoiding Difficult Conversations: Managers sometimes shy away from addressing conflicts or performance issues, which can lead to unresolved tensions, decreased team cohesion, and ultimately, bigger problems down the line.
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  1. Ignoring Development Opportunities: Failing to invest in the growth and development of team members by providing training, mentorship, or career advancement opportunities can lead to stagnation and disengagement.
  2. Setting Unrealistic Expectations: Expecting too much from team members in terms of workload or deadlines without considering their capacity or resources can lead to stress, burnout, and reduced quality of work.
  3. Not Delegating Effectively: Holding onto tasks that should be delegated to others can prevent team members from growing and developing their skills, and can lead to inefficiencies in task allocation.
  4. Favoritism or Lack of Fairness: Showing favoritism or being perceived as unfair in decision-making can erode trust within the team and negatively impact morale and teamwork.
  5. Failure to Adapt or Innovate: Managers who resist change or fail to embrace new ideas and technologies can hinder the team’s ability to adapt to evolving challenges and opportunities.
  6. Neglecting Self-Reflection and Improvement: Managers who do not take the time to reflect on their own performance, seek feedback, or invest in their development may miss valuable opportunities for growth and improvement.
  7. Not Leading by Example: Managers who do not exemplify the values and behaviors they expect from their team can undermine their credibility and authority.
  8. Overlooking Work-Life Balance: Ignoring the importance of work-life balance for team members can lead to increased stress, reduced job satisfaction, and ultimately, decreased productivity.

Final Thoughts

The four skills that every new manager must master to be effective are self-awareness, communication, influence, and agility. Learn how to lead successfully with EU Business School’s range of programs. For more information click here.

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