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October 19, 2009

Zombie in Business Suit - Source: Halloween Express Deep down, managers are a form of administrative zombie. What other explanation could possibly explain the apparently brain dead things that so many of them do repeatedly during the course of carrying out their duties on the job?

Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh, but let's face some hard facts. A manager is supposed to coordinate the work of a group of people with that of other groups within an organization for the purpose of maximizing their output. As part of that responsibility, managers seek to boost the performance of the employees of the organization in their charge, since this has a direct impact upon the overall effectiveness of the organization.

But managers do a lot of things that neither boost an individual employee's performance nor do they maximize the output of the group they lead. Worse, many of these things waste both time and money, which benefits nobody. What makes that situation even more worse is that they often know it and continue to do those things anyway.

If we assume, just for a moment, that managers are not administrative zombies and are just as human as their employees, what accounts for their seeming brain-deadness?

Your Manager?The stunning answer is that it is because they are trained to do it. And like trained monkeys, they're rewarded when they follow through and perform those practices as desired and are disciplined when they try to deviate from them.

So what are these brain dead management practices that our well-trained monkey managers are using to keep their staffs and organizations from reaching their full potential?

Management and behavioral researcher Aubrey C. Daniels outlines thirteen of them in book OOPS! 13 Management Practices That Waste Time & Money (and what to do instead), which we've excerpted from Ray B. Williams' Psychology Today blog post reviewing the book:


  1. Employee of the Month [and most other forms of recognition and reward].

    What's wrong with it: It focuses attention on one employee, but most work is a team effort.
    What to do about it: Acknowledge achievement for everyone the moment it happens.

  2. Stretch Goals.

    What's wrong with it: Employees end up overwhelmed and frustrated if they fail to reach aggressive goals.
    What to do about it: Set achievable short term goals and chart employee progress month by month.

  3. Performance Appraisal.

    What's wrong with it: It's hated by both managers and employees; it's done once a year and then appraisal is ignored for the rest of the year; it's not motivational.
    What to do about it: Give immediate management feedback to employees for success or failure.

  4. Ranking employees.

    What's wrong with it: Even if the gap between employees is small some end up at the top and others at the bottom. The ones at the bottom feel like failures.

  5. Rewarding Things a Dead Man Can Do (rewarding negatives).

    What's wrong with it: If you reward employees for zero defects, the sure way to meet that target is to try nothing that has a chance of failing, or falling short.
    What to do about it: reward every success, not matter how small.

  6. Salary and Hourly Pay (merit pay, automatic bonuses).

    What's wrong with it: Once a raise is given, it is permanent, but it's unlikely to continue to motivate and bonuses are viewed as entitlements, even if performance is less than satisfactory.
    What to do about it: Pay for performance or revenue sharing that must be earned each year.

  7. You did a good job, but.... (good news-bad news feedback).

    What's wrong with it: "Yes, but," is not a motivator, but a punisher, and seen by employees as management "nagging."
    What to do about it: praise and criticism should come in two separate conversations.

  8. The Sandwich [Criticism sandwiched between two positive statements].

    What's wrong with it: People naturally place more focus on negative messages than positive, so the focus on the positive is lost.
    What to do about it: If management needs to confront an employee about an issue, do so in a straight forward manner, with no sugar-coating.

  9. Overvaluing Smart, Talented People (you don't buy people's brains, you buy their behavior).

    What's wrong with it: Management focuses on resumes and IQ not performance. Provide growth opportunities for all employees and give them opportunities to shine.

  10. The Budget Process.

    What's wrong with it: Tedious, time-consuming divvying up of resources creates an expectation for everyone to want more.
    What to do about it: Budge according to what each part of the organization can prove they need to get results.

  11. Promoting People No One Likes.

    What's wrong with it: employees perform out of fear rather than commitment and loyalty.
    What to do about it: Promote people who are liked and have superior interpersonal and emotional intelligence abilities.

  12. Downsizing.

    What's wrong with it: Many things including the stress placed on those employees that remain, and the costs of new hires after the recovery.
    What to do about it: Find more creative ways of costs savings, done by many companies.

  13. Mergers, Acquisitions, And Other Forms of Reorganizing.

    What's wrong with it: Decisions are made mostly on financial terms, with little focus on integrating corporate cultures and declining performance.
    What to do about it: Get teams of people together to manage the integration over time, rather than by management edict.

If you were to randomly select a company in the Fortune 500, chances are that you would find these very performance-destroying practices in action. The question is why.

Somewhere, someone got the idea that these management practices promote individual performance and maximize the output of groups of people. As a result, thanks to the modern managerial industrial complex, many of these practices have become widespread and instituted in many workplaces, complete with mechanisms for evaluating the ability of managers to perform these practices and to correct them if they deviate from them.

But that happened without any real understanding of what those practices actually do to individual and organizational performance when implemented on a grand scale.

That situation can be fixed, but our best guess is that the repair process is unlikely to occur anytime soon. After all, the first step would be for our most senior level of zombie monkey managers to admit they have a problem. Call us cynical, but we just don't see that happening anytime soon....

Zombie Image Credit: Halloween Express

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