Lessons Learned From My Mistakes Managing Employees

Published on: October 17, 2012

The topic of talent management seems to be the dominant discussion I am having these days (sales operations and financial modeling/forecasting are a close second). There are some common themes in those conversations. So until artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robots completely take over our jobs, here are some lessons learned you may find actionable:

  • We all have grown cold towards each other. Business is business, as we like to say. But if you want extraordinary performance, you will need to find a way to provide a matching level of care about your people. Good caring managers tend to have very loyal and high-achieving teams.
  • Dictating and acting in privilege no longer works unless you want to have corporate cockroaches on your team. I can tell you with an absolute certainty that I know which functional heads on my team are player-coaches, mentors, and teachers. Their team KPIs are always above industry averages, which quickly starts reflecting in the financials. Dictators cost companies money because now you must pay “a-hole premium” for the people to put up with said “leader”
  • Regardless if we are talking about CMO or intern, if you don’t think that new hire can teach their colleagues, move on to the next top candidate.
  • Don’t wait to accumulate a large body of evidence of someone being unethical! Fire them immediately. In my experience, waiting for more evidence costs the company dearly.
  • Settling for someone because you are desperate will cost you more in damage to the company than work not being done. Bust your behind to fill the top of the candidate funnel because that is the only way to solve the need.
  • Work ethics and general attitudes aren’t something you can coach. Adults don’t change, so stop trying to be like that spouse in a relationship trying to change their partner. Work with what you have or find someone else.
  • Investments in a better workplace atmosphere and quality of life pay at least a 3x dividend. Noise levels, comfort, light, quality of air, and break areas matter! However, those foosball tables, game consoles, and other stuff we use to try to keep people from going after work – skip them.
  • If you put your personal needs, as a founder, executive, or manager, higher than those of your employees, do not complain when people become disengaged and will not go above and beyond for you. Do not make someone miss family time because your deadline suddenly became shorter. Servant leaders get the highest output out of their teams.
  • If you let a customer or vendor treat your employees like crap, you are communicating a very toxic message to your team. It does not matter how strategically important this customer or vendor is, your employees come first, then customers, then investors.
  • Stop “fixing” your people. Invest in your team, amplify their strengths, and work to offset their weaknesses operationally. If someone is not fit for the job and/or won’t grow, either find them the role they will thrive in on help them find one somewhere else.
  • Budget and model for hiring flexibility. I tend to project the need for the role around six months before I will need them because hiring opportunistically leads to much better teams than hiring in haste. It is sure cheaper to do it that way than get desperate and pay outside recruiting fees.
  • Even a top-rated MBA program will not turn an incompetent person into a business maven. All it will do is increase their incompetence and their illusion of prudence. Don’t ever rely on someone’s education to predict their performance. In business roles, I found education to be a very poor predictor of the person’s success.

Photo credit: Chris Ingrassia