302: Curing the Under-Management Epidemic with Bruce Tulgan

By May 30, 2018Podcasts

 

 

Bruce Tulgan makes the case for why it’s good to be the boss and the massive business costs of under-management. He also reveals the true definition of micromanagement and empowerment.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why and how to avoid ‘managing on autopilot’
  2. The central importance of regular one-on-one meetings
  3. How to use the ‘Manager’s Landscape’ tool

About Bruce

Bruce Tulgan is internationally recognized as the leading expert on young people in the workplace and one of the leading experts on leadership and management. Bruce is a best-selling author, an adviser to business leaders all over the world, and a sought-after keynote speaker and management trainer.

Bruce has spent decades working with tens of thousands of leaders and managers in hundreds of organizations ranging from Aetna to Wal-Mart to the U.S. Army.

Bruce has received Toastmasters International’s most prestigious honor, the Golden Gavel. He’s written numerous books and his writing has also appeared in dozens of magazines and newspapers such as the Harvard Business Review, BusinessWeek, HR Magazine, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and USA Today.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Items mentioned in the show:

Bruce Tulgan Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Bruce, thanks so much for joining us here on the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Bruce Tulgan
Thanks so much for including me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, first I want to hear all about… You have a 6th degree black belt in Uechi-ryu, if I said that right.

Bruce Tulgan
Yup.

Pete Mockaitis
A karate style. And I’m so intrigued by this on a couple of dimensions. First of all, the degrees. More degrees is harder and takes longer, right?

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah. I’ve been studying karate for 44 years, since I was 7 years old. And in our style 6th degree is a master. And so I had to go to Okinawa to be promoted to that level, but I’ve studied since I was a little boy. And in fact, my lifelong teacher since I was a young child – he now has come here to live with us. So, next door to my home is my office and my dojo, and my lifelong teacher lives with us now.

Pete Mockaitis
That is really cool, that’s really cool. And so, I’m intrigued then, with Uechi-ryu, is that distinctive from other karate styles, and in what way?

Bruce Tulgan
Well, all karate comes from Okinawa, which was the Ruykyu Kingdom and was annexed by Japan in 1879. And it’s kind of a nexus of Japanese and Chinese influence in Okinawa. But our style is a very hard style; it’s half hard, half soft, is what it comes from originally. And it’s based on conditioning the body and practicing kata, which are prearranged series of techniques, and fighting. And that’s true of all classical karate practice. So our style is a very effective style; it’s upright and it mixes the movements of the tiger, the dragon, and the crane. And it’s a lifelong passion of mine.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool, that’s cool. And so, is there any overlap between your interest in… I’m going to try to pronounce it the way you pronounced it – karate. Did I say that right? I always say “karate”. I feel so American.

Bruce Tulgan
American say “karate”. But “kara” means “empty” or “Chinese”; it means both things. And “te” means “hand”, and “do” means “way”. So “karate-do” means “the way of the Chinese hand” or “the way of the empty hand”.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I’m with you. Well, so, is there some overlap there from that, I guess, mindset or way, and your company RainmakerThinking?

Bruce Tulgan
Well, karate influences everything in my life, because I’ve been doing it since I was 7 years old. So, it’s an art of the mind and the body and the spirit, and certainly it influences everything I do. I mean I’ve learned from karate that the fundamentals are the most important, no matter what you’re doing. The fundamentals are what it’s all about. I’ve learned that simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy, but simple is often what you need and simple can be pretty darn hard. And I’ve learned that practice, practice, practice is the way you get good at anything. And I think half hard, half soft, which is what our style comes from – those principles work in everything. It’s yin-yang. It’s also much of what we teach in our management seminars, is accountability and flexibility go hand-in-hand. So that’s kind of a nice analog to hard and soft – accountability and flexibility.

Pete Mockaitis
And so your company has done a number of interesting studies long term, over many years. Not quite as many years as you’ve been doing karate, but since the ‘90s, right?

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, we started doing this research in 1993. I was a young, unhappy lawyer at the time, and I began interviewing young people, people my age, about their experiences in the workplace. And those first interviews turned into my first book, which was Managing Generation X, which finally came out in 1995. And we’ve been continuing the research ever since. So now more than a half a million people have participated in our longitudinal interviews, and from 400 different organizations. And tens of thousands of those interviews lasted 10 years or longer. So we’ve been tracking these issues – generational change in the workplace, human capital management, and leadership and management best practices – we’ve been tracking these issues since 1993.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love it if you could share sort of a key insight that has high applicability from some of these studies.

Bruce Tulgan
Well, our generational shift research is where we’re tracking generational change in the workplace. And of course demographers have been talking about this great generational shift that’s going to happen for a long time. Now it’s actually happening. The age bubble on one end of the spectrum is growing, as the Baby Boomers continue to age, every single day in North America alone 8,000 to 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65, and they’re filling up the age bubble on one end of the spectrum.

On the other end of the spectrum, the fastest growing segment of the workforce is made up of those born 1990 and later. By 2020 those born 1990 and later will be 28% of the workforce, and by 2020 the Baby Boomers will be well under 20% of the workforce. So this has implications for staffing strategy, attraction, selection, onboarding, up to speed training, performance management, rewards, incentives, retention, knowledge transfer, succession planning, leadership development. All of these issues are affected by the shift in the demographics.

And of course it’s not just numbers that are changing, but also the mindset of the workforce is changing. Everyone’s talking about the Millennials, especially the second wave Millennials – the youngest, least experienced people in the workplace – those born 1990 and later, and what our research shows is that they are like the canaries in the coal mine. The young emerging workforce, they think short-term and transactional, they want to know, “What do you want from me today, tomorrow and this week? What do you have to offer me today, tomorrow and this week?” They do not want everything on a silver platter – that’s a lie, or a misunderstanding. They don’t want to be humored at work – that’s nonsense. They want to be taken seriously and they want to know, “What do I need to do every day to earn the rewards and flexibility that I need?” And so, I think that’s where we’re all headed. What we learned from our generational shift research is as the numbers shift, we’re all headed in that same direction. People of all ages… We’re all Millennials now.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, when you say “the canary in the coal mine”, I get that metaphor suggests a warning of danger and changes that need to be made. Can you expand upon that a little bit?

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah. Any organization that’s still trying to recruit people by, “Hey, welcome to the family. Pay your dues, climb the ladder, and in the long run the system will take care of you.” So, “We expect you to make lots of short-term sacrifices in exchange for vague promises about long-term rewards that may or may not vest in the deep, distant future” – that’s from the workplace of the past. That doesn’t work anymore.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s so funny, as you describe that, I was immediately like, “No, no way, don’t believe you”, because downsizing, layoffs, it happens all the time. And I don’t know where it got baked into me, but I remember even in college I thought I cannot depend on any employer long-term for anything, therefore I’m going to assemble an unbeatable, indispensable set of skills that make me valuable anywhere and everywhere. And that’s one of the main reasons I chose to start a career in strategy consulting. And so, it seems like I’m not the only one who figured that out; this is pretty widespread, that these vague promises of future rewards ain’t cutting it for folks.

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, look. So that’s a big part of it, and I think that employers, they know on one level that job security is dead, that people have to take responsibility for their own success, but then they can’t figure out how to drive performance and retain the best people. A lot of organizations are having a hard time figuring that out, and the reason is because even though everything’s changing, they’re still operating on the same assumptions. So, organizations need to adapt. They need to realize that in a highly uncertain environment people are going to think short-term and transactional.

That doesn’t mean you can’t retain people for the long term, but it does mean you’re going to have to do that in a much more granular, high maintenance way. And so I think when people point to the youngest, least experienced people – the second wave Millennials – and talk about, “They’re so high maintenance”, I think that’s true. But I think people of all ages are becoming more high maintenance, because if you can’t trust the system to take care of you in the long term, you look to your immediate boss to take care of you in the short term, and that’s high maintenance.

And so it’s not that people are not willing to do a lot of grunt work very well, very fast, all day long. They just want to know, “Okay, how are you going to make the quid pro quo explicit every step of the way? How do I score enough points around here today, tomorrow, this week, this month, this year, to earn more of what I need and want to take care of myself and my family?”

And as you say, career security no longer lies in an organization chart, but it lies in the marketable skills you’re able to build up in yourself, your ability to add value, your ability to collect proof of your ability to add value, the relationships you build with decision-makers who know you can add value. That’s where career security lies nowadays, I think more and more. And we see this in greatest relief among the youngest people, because they’ve never known it any other way. So older, more experienced people maybe are having to adapt to this free agent mindset, but the youngest, least experienced people have never known it any other way.

Pete Mockaitis
You’ve got to be like Liam Neeson, with a particular set of skills.

Bruce Tulgan
[laugh] Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Whether you’re going to take down a bunch of kidnappers or have career security. So, I’m right with you there. And so, I got turned on to your work through Chris Deferio on the show earlier, and he was raving about your book It’s Okay to Be the Boss. And I too became quite intrigued as I dug into it a little bit. And so, could you share a little bit with us there, what’s the main idea behind this book and why do you think it’s really just connecting with folks and striking a chord here?

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah. Well, that book, It’s Okay to Be the Boss, comes out of another line of our research – our research on leadership and management best practices, and the experiences that leaders and managers are having every day. And we’ve been tracking “under-management” is what we call it – it’s the opposite of micromanagement. We’ve been tracking what we call the “under-management epidemic” that so many leaders, managers and supervisors in the real world, they’re just not doing enough leading, managing and supervising.

And there are a lot of reasons for that, but when leaders are not highly engaged with their direct reports in today’s environment, things go wrong. And so the book It’s Okay to Be the Boss, what I tried to do was share the research we’ve been doing on under-management. What is under-management? What is the state of practice when it comes to most leaders and managers? What does it look like? What’s going right, what’s going wrong? And when leaders and managers are not leading and managing in a sufficiently engaged way, why is that? Why is it that leaders have such a hard time on the front lines, spending time in high-structure, high-substance dialogues, guiding, directing, supporting and coaching people? Why is it that managers have a hard time doing that? What’s going wrong? What are the costs? And then, what are the most effective managers doing differently? And that’s what the book is about.

It’s eight steps back to the fundamentals of leadership, it’s get in the habit of managing people every day; take it one person at a time; learn to talk like a teacher or a coach; make accountability a process, not a slogan; spell out expectations every step of the way; track performance every step of the way; solve small problems before they turn into big problems; and reward people extra when they go the extra mile.

That’s the basic thrust of the book, and I think it’s hitting a chord because I think a lot of leaders and managers feel like it’s getting harder and harder and harder to manage people, and they start looking out in the world of management experts and leadership books. And a lot of those leadership books and management books are telling them a lot of formulas that don’t really work. And my book has the virtue of, it’s not the flavor of the month; it’s just the old fashioned basics.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So then let’s talk a little bit about this under-management crisis that’s there. So, can you paint a little bit of a picture in terms of what does that look, sound and feel like in practice, in terms of the state of management, leadership, supervision, and employees that is all too common and problematic right now?

Bruce Tulgan
Well, I think what most leaders and manager feel like they don’t have enough time to provide high structure, high substance, coaching-style guidance, direction, support every day. They feel like they don’t have enough time. And if you really talk with managers as we do every day, what they’ll tell you is, “Oh, I talk to my people every day”, but what that looks like almost always is they touch base: “How’s everything going? is everything on track? Any problems I should know about?”

And then the problem is those questions tell you nothing. And they interrupt each other all day long. So, when something pops into somebody’s head, they text their manager, they email their manager, they go look for their manager, they call the manager. When something pops into the manager’s head, they go look for the person or they text them or they email them or they call them. We call that “management by interruption”. The problem is nobody’s at their best when they’re interrupted. And then we see each other on email, we see each other in meetings.

And if you take those four elements – touching base, interrupting, email and meetings – that is what makes managers think they’re managing, because they’re spending a lot of time communicating. It’s just that it’s not very effective communication. It’s not time effective and it’s not effective in terms of getting into the details. So what happens is managers feel like they’re managing, and we call that “managing on autopilot” – touching base, interrupting, email, monitoring, and meetings.

And what happens is, problems hide below the radar, and then every so often a problem blows up and everyone jumps into firefighting mode. And then it’s roll up your sleeves, all hands on deck, and boy, is that time-consuming. It’s a whole lot harder to put out a fire and salvage the wreckage than it is to prevent a fire. So this is what we call the “vicious cycle of under-management” and it’s why so many leaders say, “Well, I’m already talking to my people”, but what they’re not doing is creating a structured dialogue where they spell out expectations, where they make sure people know exactly what’s expected of them, what are you doing, how are you doing it, what steps are you going to follow, show me your plan, they track performance in writing, and troubleshoot, problem-solve, resource-plan, hold people accountable, and provide recognition when people go the extra mile.

That’s what’s not happening in nine out of 10 management relationships. Nine out of 10 managers are not providing a regular structured dialogue, where they make expectations clear, track performance, problem-solve, troubleshoot, resource-plan, and hold people accountable and provide recognition and reward when people go the extra mile. Nine out of 10 management relationships that’s not happening, and that’s what we call “under-management”.

And there are eight business costs – problems occur that never had to occur, problems get out of control that could have been solved easily, resources are squandered, people go in the wrong direction for days, weeks or months without realizing it, low performers hide out and collect paychecks, mediocre performers mistake themselves for high performers, high performers get frustrated and think about leaving, and managers end up doing tasks, responsibilities and projects that should have been delegated to someone else, or sometimes were delegated to someone else; they just come back to the manager. So this is what under-management looks like.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright.

Bruce Tulgan
And it’s the elephant in the room in most workplaces. It’s a problem that hides in plain sight.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that is quite a picture, thank you. And it’s spooky, and it resonates, and it’s real. And so, well, I guess I’m wondering then, it sounds like you are asserting that if you spent some time upfront engaging in these structured dialogues and having less of the interruption stuff, you would in fact come out ahead, in terms of time turning into great output.

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, that’s exactly right. So, it’s not that managers don’t spend a lot of time managing already, they just don’t put their management time in the right place, and they don’t use it in a sufficiently effective way. So one way to think about it is think about all the time that people spend firefighting. Remember Smokey the Bear?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Bruce Tulgan
Smokey the Bear used to say, “It’s a whole lot easier to prevent a forest fire than it is to put one out.” And Smokey was one smart bear. And so in many ways, the discipline we teach is managing upfront in advance before anything goes right, wrong, or average. It’s fire prevention. Or if you like Stephen Covey, it’s quadrant to management, it’s putting leadership and management upfront, and making it easier for people to go in the right direction in the first place, so you don’t have to spend a whole bunch of time solving problems that never should have happened.

Pete Mockaitis
So the “important but not urgent” quadrant there.

Bruce Tulgan
Exactly. In many ways, good management is like taking a walk every day and eating your vegetables. It’s simple but it requires discipline and focus, and you’ve got to build those habits.

Pete Mockaitis
So, when you talk about having a structured dialogue, what does that look like in practice? What are some rituals, the equivalent of the taking the walks and eating the vegetables that should just be happening and be sort of like one-on-ones, schedule that recurring times, or how does that look like in practice?

Bruce Tulgan
Yes, so it’s team meetings, but only for what team meetings are good for. And then one-on-one is where all the action is. And the reason for structure… So, look, maybe it’s the same time – Tuesdays at 10:00, maybe it’s everyday at 10:00. Or maybe your schedule’s a moving target so you can’t do it at the same time every day or every week, so that at the end of each conversation, you schedule the next one. But the key is to have structure.

And the reason for structure is so that you, as a leader, know you’re going to have this conversation. And me, as an employee who relies on my leader, as your direct report, I know it’s going to happen too, so that I can prepare and you can prepare. The key to structure is instead of interrupting each other, we keep a running list because we know we’re going to have that meeting. Now, of course, we should be able to talk informally in between one-on-ones. And if the building’s on fire, then we better interrupt each other. But so often we interrupt each other – nobody’s at their best when they’re being interrupted – so often we interrupt each other when we really don’t need to, the building is not on fire.

And it works so much better if you keep a running list, and then before each one-on-one, you prepare. Some leaders and managers, what they do is they have their direct report send them a one-page document before the one-on-one, maybe the day before, with what are your burning issues, maybe status updates on ongoing tasks and responsibilities and projects, burning issues, resource needs, questions, and other matters. And then the key is by preparing, you’re going to make that dialogue so much more effective because you’re preparing. The structure leads to the substance.

And when it comes to the substance and structure, everybody’s different. The dialogue you need to have with one employee may be very different from the dialogue you need to have with another. That’s why one-on-one is where all the action is. Some people, you need to go over their to-do list with them every day. Some people, that would be ridiculous. Some people are self-starting high performers. The reason you meet with them is to make sure that you’re helping them clear obstacles out of their way, or get them the resources they need, or help them navigate interdependency, or maybe you’re trying to get ideas from them because they’re so good.

The conversation you develop with one person will be very different from the conversation you start developing with another person. And so the structure is key, but it might be every day for one person, every other day for another person, every other week for another person. And likewise, the substance will be different depending on what you need from that person, and depending on what that person needs from you.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot, and as one who really doesn’t do well with interruptions. Not that I start screaming or anything, but it’s so true. It’s like, “Where was I?” All that time, reconnecting to what I was doing before the interruption, that really does add up. And so I’m curious then, there’s this time saving occurring with those eight business costs avoided. And so what kind of time investment are we talking about here in terms of daily, or weekly, or one hour, half an hour? What are the rough ranges that you’re seeing?

Bruce Tulgan
Well, it depends on how many direct reports you have. Look, the reality is there are some managers who have unwieldy spans of control. If you have 30 people reporting to you directly with no chain of command, best of luck. Now you’re still better off to have one-on-ones and maybe have a 20-minute one-on-one with each person. That means you could get to three in a day, and that means you get to 15 in a week, that means you could get to all 30 in two weeks. And that still would be better than the random unstructured loosey-goosey ad hoc touching base interrupting and firefighting that most managers are addicted to.

So, look, I say start with an hour a day. If you think you don’t have time to manage people, set aside an hour a day. If you really think you don’t have time, like, “No way,” then set aside 90 minutes a day, because it’s high leverage time. The less time you have, the more important it is to set aside time for guiding, directing, supporting and coaching upfront, in advance while you still have a chance to prevent problems from happening.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good, that’s good. Alright, so then I’m intrigued by the title of your book itself, It’s Okay to Be the Boss. I think some would say, “But of course it’s okay to be the boss. Who thinks it’s not okay to be the boss?” What specifically are you challenging there?

Bruce Tulgan
Well, so many people, they don’t want to be in charge, or they feel like they don’t know how. A lot of people want the status, and the authority, and the prestige, and the rewards. They want the business card, but they don’t want the burdens of being in charge of other people. They don’t want the actual day-to-day work that comes from guiding, directing, and supporting and coaching people. So maybe they want the paycheck, maybe they want the business card, but in fact they resist the interpersonal difficulties that sometimes come with having authority over someone else.

If you have authority in relation to someone else’s career and livelihood, that’s powerful. And I’d say, do not take that power lightly. That is a lot of responsibility and it’s not to be taken lightly. On the other hand, you have to own your responsibility. You’re someone else’s boss. They go home at night after work, and sit at the dinner table and talk about their boss – they’re talking about you. So it’s okay to be the boss, but you’d better be good at it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so I’d like to get your take then – in the realm of what you’re describing, being a little bit more hands-on and planful in these exchanges, what’s the right way to think about the empowerment versus micromanaging elements? It sounds like it’s quite easy to go too far in one direction or another. How do you think about navigating those waters?

Bruce Tulgan
Well, my view is that micromanagement is a big red herring. Micromanagement is the shield people use when they want to be left alone. “You’re micromanaging me.” “Nope, I’m just managing you. Good news we’re also going to pay you. If this were an amusement park, there’d be a line outside the door and somebody would be selling tickets.” And by the way, micromanagement is also the excuse a lot of managers use when they don’t want to do their job of managing. “Oh, I wouldn’t want to be a micromanager.”

But micromanagement is really quite rare. Real micromanagement is too much direction and feedback for this person with this task at this time. How are you going to know how much direction and feedback this person needs with this task at this time if you’re not in regular dialogue? So the way to calibrate is precisely to get in there and start talking about the work with this person until you are engaged in a regular ongoing structured dialogue with every person about his or her tasks, responsibilities and projects. Then how do you know how much direction and feedback this person needs?

And it’s a moving target. Maybe I’ve been doing X, Y and Z projects for a long time, so I know how to do those, I don’t need as much direction on that stuff. But what if I have a brand new responsibility? Well, then I’m going to need a lot more guidance and direction on the new responsibility for a while until I get up to speed on it.

So, I think there’s a lot of false empowerment thinking out there. The way to empower people is to leave them alone. What’s empowering about that? False empowerment is sink or swim, reinvent the wheel, figure it out, do it however you think it should be done, even though it’s probably not up to you. There’s nothing empowering about that. Real empowerment is about setting people up for success. Real empowerment is about making sure people know exactly what’s expected of them, giving them the resources they need, spelling it out, breaking it down so that people know exactly how to succeed.

That’s real empowerment. Real empowerment takes hard work on the part of the manager. And so what I tell leaders is, real empowerment is not so sexy. It’s the boring art of delegation, is real empowerment. It’s spelling out an area of responsibility for someone else, making clear all the guidelines and parameters, establishing good timelines, and following up at regular intervals. That’s how you properly delegate.

Some people think that delegation is giving away responsibility. Delegation is about giving away limited execution authority. So delegation is not like putting your kid up for adoption. Delegation is like hiring a babysitter.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s a nice metaphor, thank you. I have a baby at home, our first, at the moment. So I’m right with you on that. And so then, I’m curious, you mentioned that we can do this. You can avoid folks kind of hiding out and collecting a paycheck, the stowaways. And so I’m imagining that this would be tremendously effective at surfacing very quickly, “Well, you’re really kind of not doing anything. I’m talking to you every week, and I’ve looked at what it is you’re working on and it ain’t much, and it hasn’t been much week after week. And I’m trying to ask you to do some extra things, you’re not doing those things.” I’m wondering that once you start engaging folks in this way, I think that many workplaces will surface many such people in that boat. Any pro tips for handling that once you’re in the thick of it?

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, what I always tell managers is… When they ask me, “How long should I tolerate a low performer?”, what I always say to managers is, if you’re not providing regular high structure, high substance guidance, direction, support and coaching, then you don’t even know if you have a low performer working for you. Because if you think you have a low performer and you’re not managing, then the first question you should be asking is, “Is it you or is it me?” Because a lot of problems in the workplace can be avoided or solved relatively easily when managers start practicing the fundamentals.

But if you’re practicing the fundamentals of leadership, if you’re every day, every other day, once a week, spelling out expectations, following up, following up, following up, breaking it down, spelling it out, breaking it down some more – if you’re doing everything you can to set me up for success and to give me the support I need, and when you come back to me say, “Did you do it?” and every time it’s, “Nope, I didn’t do it.” “Well, okay, let’s talk twice a day.” You come back in four hours, “Did you do it?” “Nope.” “Okay, here’s a checklist for the checklist for the checklist.” You come back the next day, “Did you do it?” “Nope.” Well, how long does it take to figure out that I’m really not doing the job?

So managers often say to me, “Oh, the hardest thing is giving negative feedback. Oh, the hardest thing is letting somebody know when they haven’t done as good a job as they think they have.” Well, if you’re bending over backwards and jumping through hoops to help me succeed, all of a sudden, if I’m not doing it, I’m the one who’s uncomfortable, not you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true.

Bruce Tulgan
All of a sudden, when you come tell me, “Hey, you’re not doing it,” it’s not going to be a surprise to me. We’ve been having these conversations every day. It’s becoming increasingly clear to both of us that gee, I’m just not doing the job.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright. And then any choice words that you encourage managers to deliver under such circumstances?

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, that if you’ve been documenting this. As long as you’re documenting that you’re spelling out expectations and you come back, document that my performance is not meeting those expectations, then yeah, the choice words I recommend at that point are, “Hey, we’ve got a problem. And it’s not me, it’s you.” [laugh]

Pete Mockaitis
[laugh] I’m wondering if we should use the same intonation. [laugh]

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, it’s like when employees come to the manager and say, “Oh, you’re picking on me and you’re favoring Mr. Red.” And what most managers want to say is, “I’m so glad you noticed. The reason I favor Mr. Red is he comes in early, he stays late, he bends over backwards and jumps through hoops. He dots his i’s, he crosses his t’s. The reason I favor Red is he does more work than you.” And if you’re meeting with people and spelling out expectations and tracking performance in writing, it becomes much easier to be authentic and hold people accountable in a meaningful way.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m right with you there. And then I think you mentioned that this has so many implications for so many different parts of the organization, I’m thinking about just performance reviews. And we had a lawyer on the show previously – I believe it was Eliot Wagonheim – who mentioned that performance reviews in court cases for wrongful termination are never brought up by the employer saying, “As you can see, judge and / or jury, there’s a long history of underperformance.” But they are always brought up by the defense, like, “Time and time again, the performance reviews said, ‘Met expectations’.” And I think that is just a super clear, official, institutionalized way that you see this with regard to, is this management really happening on a meaningful basis, or is it not at all.

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. We call that “false fairness”, “false nice guy syndrome”, and “avoidance of conflict”. And what happens is that if you’re not managing people every day, every other day, once a week, guiding, directing, supporting and coaching them, tracking performance in writing, then what happens is the review period comes up and everyone’s got to kind of figure it out. And often people are making reference to work that they’ve never seen directly, or they weren’t supervising directly, or something that was 10 months ago, or people think it’s politics or who you like.

And a lot of times what happens is because of all of these complications, managers do not give real granular feedback, but rather everyone gets a “Meets expectations”. And so it means the paper trail is not helpful, it’s not accurate, it’s not driving performance, and it’s a sledgehammer that has no real management impact. If anything, it has a negative impact.

So, one of the beauties of guiding, directing and supporting people on a more granular basis and providing more structured feedback on an ongoing basis is then when you do get to those performance reviews, it’s much easier to create them, it’s much easier to differentiate between high performers and low performers and people in the middle, and there are a lot fewer surprises. And it’s much easier to align rewards with performance.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. I’m thinking about, I’ve shared… I’ve looked at some people’s reviews before when they’ve opened up to me a little bit. And I guess I’ve had a privileged formative years in work with consulting, because I would see someone’s review and it was so sparse, it was like, “This is barely a page, and you get this annually?” Well, I got a four-page review, it’s single spaced, full of specific instances of my work every three months, at the end of every project in consulting.

And I actually looked forward to the review period because it was like, “Oh, I am learning stuff now. And this is enriching for me and part of value proposition of having taken this job.” And it’s just a shame how so often it’s just a joke. And it does, as you mentioned, cause problems in terms of, I guess, credibility, authority, trust – all that stuff being undermined because the words are often hollow in these documents.

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, I think that’s absolutely right. And by the way, high performers like to keep score, high performers like to get reviews, high performers want to be evaluated, because they know they’re going the extra mile all the time, they want to get recognition and reward for it. The only people who want to be managed by false empowerment and false fairness, the only people want to be left alone and treated like everyone else are low performers who are hiding out.

So, this sort of hands-off management and false fairness approach caters to low performers. High performers want a manager who knows who they are, knows what they’re doing, is in a position to help them do more better faster, get unnecessary problems out of their way, get rid of low performers who are in their way, and help them get recognition and rewards so they can earn more for themselves and their families.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Bruce, tell me – anything else you really want to make sure to highlight before we shift gears and talk about a few of your favorite things?

Bruce Tulgan
[laugh] No, I think you’ve been very thorough.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh shucks, thank you. Put that in my review, Bruce.

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, there you go.

Pete Mockaitis
Document it. Then can you start us off with a favorite quote, something that inspires you?

Bruce Tulgan
Well, gee, where shall I begin? I guess the title of one of my favorite books, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith, that’s one of my favorite quotes.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And how about a favorite study?

Bruce Tulgan
Well, we’re always doing research. So we’re releasing a new white paper in a couple of weeks called Winning the Talent Wars, so I guess that’s my current favorite study.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Any choice insights that you can speak to in a sense or two?

Bruce Tulgan
Yes, the supply and demand curve is totally out of whack. There’s much greater demand for skilled talent, especially in the STEM fields than there is supply, and that’s going to be true for the foreseeable future. And employers who don’t become more nimble in their employment practices and their management practices are going to find themselves engaged in frustrating bidding wars for talent. So you either are going to commit yourself to a bidding war, or you’re going to do the hard work of building a winning culture.

Pete Mockaitis
Well said, thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Bruce Tulgan
Well, gee, probably my favorite book of all time is The Last Lecture, and that’s just an amazing book. Siddhartha is one of my favorite books. Jonathan Livingston Seagull is one of my favorite books. There’s a few.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good, thank you. And how about a favorite tool?

Bruce Tulgan
A favorite tool? Well, I guess in my own life, probably the tool I use the most are reading glasses and my iPhone. But I think in the management world, the tool that I recommend the most is what we call the “manager’s landscape”. And at the top of the page, you create a horizontal axis with six questions: Who, Why, What, How, Where, and When.

And then in the Who column, you list all of your direct reports and make a few notes about them – A player, B player, C player, that sort of thing. In the Why column, for each person you say, “Here’s why I’m managing this person. Here’s my goal with this person. Here’s what I’m trying to help this person get better at.” In the What column, you put what’s your message for this person right now, or what are your questions for this person right now. In the How column, it’s a trial-and-error thing, but it’s how do you talk to this person. Some people, you ask question; some people, you give orders; some people, it’s a combination of both. And then Where and When – where and when are you going to have these conversations, and how often of course? So that’s what we call the “manager’s landscape”. So that’s a very powerful tool that we recommend.

Pete Mockaitis
Very nice. And how about a favorite habit?

Bruce Tulgan
Well, I think fitness is at the core for me. Take a walk every day and eat your vegetables. But I think in general, human beings are creatures of habit. And the only question is, do you have good habits or bad habits? That’s where you have to make choices. Human beings are creatures of habit. Habits feel good. And the problem is that bad habits feel just as good as good habits. The good news is that if you take the time and discipline to develop good habits, they feel just as good as bad habits, and they make you stronger.

Pete Mockaitis
And tell me, is there a particular nugget, an articulation of your message that really seems to connect and resonate with folks?

Bruce Tulgan
Well, I guess, “The fundamentals are all you need.” “Own your responsibility, own your authority.” “It’s okay to be the boss, be good at it.”

Pete Mockaitis
And Bruce, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Bruce Tulgan
Well, our website is RainmakerThinking.com, and there’s a whole bunch of free resources at RainmakerThinking.com. Or you can always follow me on Twitter @BruceTulgan, or LinkedIn, or the normal channels.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or a call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Bruce Tulgan
Well, the first person you have to manage every day is yourself. And that means you’ve got to be honest with yourself about your work habits, you’ve got to be honest with yourself about your personal habits, you’ve got to take care of yourself outside of work so that you bring your best to work. You’ve got to get good at being on time or a little bit early, take notes, use checklists, stay focused. The first person you have to manage every day is yourself, and then the second person you have to manage every day is everybody else.

Pete Mockaitis
Got it. Well, Bruce, thank you. This has been fun, it’s been eye-opening, it’s been intriguing. Please keep doing your good work. And just thanks for taking this time!

Bruce Tulgan
Likewise. Geez, I’m honored to be on your podcast, and thank you so much. Thanks for making it so easy.

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The Gold Nugget

The Gold Nugget

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