The Worst Business Advice (you have probably received)
May 28, 2017
What do you think is the worst business advice you have ever received? If you are a senior player in your field, what do you think is the worst advice you have given to others?
Happy Thanksgiving 2015
I travel around the world training employees and managers and have given this topic plenty of thought. Often I find myself not just training; it would be easy to work only with open-minded people, each a blank slate of knowledge. Naturally, that is not a realistic expectation, life is messy and work-life is no different. People come to my sessions with a range of experience often with bad habits that need to be corrected. Add to that cultural differences, prejudices, and difficult living conditions – well, let’s just say I am kept busy.
This Thanksgiving Season, there are two trite, overused sayings I would like to offer for discussion today. Common business advice almost everyone is given by well-meaning mentors that I would be pleased to never hear again.
“Run the business like it is your own company.” While I understand the underlying meaning, this is horrible advice to give to almost everyone. Most people don’t have the faintest clue how to run their own business. If they did, they would if you catch my meaning. This advice is often given to new managers, encouraging them to walk around the company like a boss, but without any substance to back it up. Additionally, according to Forbes, 80% of companies fail in their first eighteen months. Is that really the best outcome we can hope for? I hope not. I for one have run my business for the past five years. My first company failed and I too learned many lessons the hard way. Occasionally, there are clients that I choose not to work with. I can make a decision to lose money and work with others instead. This is not an option that most people have when working for a corporation.
Instead try saying something like this, “Run the department like it is funded by SOMEONE ELSE’S money.” That is a truer statement that people can actually learn from. It should make the new manager remember that even though they might not like all of their clients, or even all the decisions that are forced upon them from senior managers (and there will be), it is the manager’s task to make the company successful on behalf of the people who are paying them.
“As a Manager; you should be on the (shop/service) floor all the time.” This one, archaic piece of advice causes many excellent managers to fail. Even worse, some senior managers give this directive for selfish reasons. They want their junior managers on the ‘floor’ to be the first line of defense from customer complaints. Fair enough, it is an important experience for managers to learn how to handle difficult situations.
Still, show me a manager that is always ‘out front’ and I will show you a mismanaged team.
Of course you need to have managerial presence when the business is busy, but if a manager is constantly needed to carry out the work of the employees, he/she is simply an overpaid
, bellman, sales clerk, or any other line staff position. Ever since the great recession this has become an epidemic in the business world. Here is what I see as a two-part problem:
Companies hire too few employees (saving money in the short run) and then are over work the junior managers, expecting them to both manage AND cover shifts.
Once the company misses their financial goals (which they do when they skimp on staff and service) they also let go of the middle managers, expecting the junior manager to step up in that role too!
Sound familiar? I see this everywhere, so it is no wonder there is a lack of seasoned, competent middle managers in the workforce now. This phenomenon forces the least experienced managers to handle the most responsibilities in the most nuanced situations imaginable. The results are predictably disastrous: clients do not know who the manager is after seeing them working alongside employees constantly. Managers lose confidence in leading a team, and instead become assistants to their own employees.
I suggest trying a different approach by saying, “As a manager you are expected to help the team when needed and set the example for them to follow. You are also expected to be strategic, objective, and creative. This means spending time each day and observing and evaluating what is working and what needs improvement. Leading a team is different from managing, but I am going to help you develop skills along the way.” Sounds like a lot of work? Trust me – teaching new managers to become leaders is an investment worth making.