Management has many myths – things that are often believed but the science behind management shows to be unsupported.
Here are ten management myths.
1. About interviewing
Myth: When interviewing a candidate for a job, experienced managers can tell in minutes if the candidate will excel in the job.
Reality: We can all assess quite quickly if we like someone. We use our survival instincts to do this – and these work fast. But determining if someone will fit in an organisation, if they are well suited to a job, and indeed if they will excel in that job, takes considerable time – hours, or even days, rather than minutes. Determining if someone will excel needs application of psychometric instruments and work sample tests to test each candidate. Any thought that a manager can quickly tell who will excel is misplaced.
2. Money motivates
Myth: Managers can develop performance-related pay or commission systems to successfully incentivise their staff.
Reality: There is no scientific evidence to suggest that money motivates. Conversely, there’s a lot of evidence to show that performance-related pay or commission systems are ineffective in realising desirable business outcomes. There is also significant evidence suggesting that these systems actually encourage the wrong behaviours by focusing on overly simple objectives like sales. Sales encourages individualism whereas overall business success needs teamwork and a collective approach. Universally, all the science suggests that managers should pay just over average for the job and use other techniques to motivate staff to perform.
3. About intelligence
Myth: A person’s intelligence is inherited from their parents and hence is fixed. Any training of staff must therefore focus on their skills – aiming to make small changes to make them better at their trade without expecting significant change in their knowledge and overall competence.
Reality: There are two parts to intelligence – fluid intelligence and crystallised intelligence. Fluid intelligence is what enables us to reason, to learn totally new concepts and to think out of the box. It’s true that this is substantially inherited and fixed – but we can learn techniques (e.g. for reasoning) that, to some extent, can replace lack of innate ability. Crystallised intelligence is that which we come to know and understand through learning and experience. Crystallised intelligence is built continually throughout life, diminishing only with reduced brain capability in later life. So learning should also be for life and great change can be achieved.
4. About dismissing staff
Myth: Under the present UK employment law, it’s difficult and risky to dismiss a poor performer or someone who is persistently absent from work through illness.
Reality: All employees must be capable of doing the job for which they were hired. In managing a person, managers must be clear about the job to be done and the performance standards and expectations. And managers must consistently reinforce these expectations. If the employee cannot – for whatever reason – perform to these standards, they can be dismissed. Dismissal is a straightforward process. But managers must be fair and must make effort to accommodate the employee, particularly if they have a disability. Difficulty and risk come from poor manager understanding, lack of clarity and lack of process.
5. Best practice management
Myth: All managers should adopt best practice management methods and techniques. These can be read from the various ‘how to…’ guidance in books, blogs and videos on the Internet.
Reality: Simply, if there was such a thing as ‘best practice’, and if best was indeed best, managers need only read this information and follow its guidance and all firms would be perfect. The context of every firm – the environment in which the firm exists – is different. No two firms have the same customers, competition and capabilities. ‘Management’ describes the decision framework around the firm that directs its capability towards its markets to achieve specific outcomes. Therefore, management in every firm must be different. Management involves drawing on the body of management science to make the right decisions. There is no such thing as ‘best practice’ management, only appropriate management given the context prevailing.
6. Predicting behaviour
Myth: It’s relatively simple to learn to ‘read’ others. One need only do a couple of hours’ course on a tool like DiSC.
Reality: There are a host of simple tools like DiSC, many available free of charge, that claim to offer managers insight in interpreting behaviour and predicting how people will behave in given scenarios. There are also a number of tools based on what’s known as the ‘Big 5’ personality traits. Tools from this latter group are not available free, they require significant training in use and are backed by over 50 years of research and academic validation. As you might imagine, you get what you pay for. Interpreting and predicting how people will behave is difficult. Every scenario has multiple variables, rendering real-time or semi-real-time interpretation and prediction near impossible. Where interpretation and prediction is needed (for example in recruitment), managers should use specialists.
7. Working on the business
Myth: Managers, and particularly owner-managers, should work ‘on the business’ and not ‘in the business’.
Reality: This simple mantra is often misunderstood. As a result it’s responsible for many business problems. It’s simply rebuffed by another simple saying – ‘you can only steer the boat if you’re actually in it’. What’s meant by the idea of working ‘on the business’ is that owners and manager should treat it as a project rather than becoming embroiled in the detail. As such it should have a beginning, a middle and an end and activities should be planned recognising the common lifecycle from growth to sale. But in following the mantra literally, many owners and managers become detached from day to day activities. As a result, those owners and managers fail to understand what’s actually happening in their organisation, with disastrous consequences.
8. Hire for attitude
Myth: Hire for attitude, not for skill – because deficiencies in skills and knowledge can be corrected by training, whereas deficiencies in attitude will remain to bedevil managers.
Reality: There are two basic issues with this claim. First, there’s the assumption that skills and knowledge deficiencies can be corrected by training once in the hiring firm. That’s perhaps true if the job demands relatively low competence – such as in hospitality and retail. But it takes several years and over £1m to train a fast jet pilot. Anyone hired must be selected for his or her ability to do the job. Secondly, attitude is a function of the environment in which a person works. People develop an attitude towards their environment. Attitude depends on things like the job done, work colleagues and management. It’s impossible to select for an attribute that doesn’t yet exist. Managers should select for personality (because that predicts behaviour and empathy) and for other desirable personal characteristics that are substantially fixed such as proactivity.
9. Economic contract only
Myth: Written terms and conditions of employment are all that an employee needs in order to interact with the business and their manager – give them a contract and point them at the work and that’s all that’s needed.
Reality: Whilst there is a requirement (in the UK) to provide written documentation within eight weeks of a new hire joining, this is not the most important contract in a firm. An unwritten (or ‘psychological’ contract) is built in the minds of employee and manager. This describes the relationship between the two. It’s about the expectations each has about the other and it drives opinions, attitudes and beliefs. A positive psychological contract is built when there is mutual trust and respect. When employees are treated fairly, they give their commitment. If managers damage the psychological contract it can take years to fix, and can even destroy their firm.
10. No training for managers
Myth: Managers don’t need training – management is best learned on the job by trial and error.
Reality: People who are expert in their field and technical competent are often promoted and suddenly find themselves managing people – they’re called ‘accidental managers’. Managing people is very different from managing projects or machines. No one would allow an employee to work expensive machinery without adequate training. Managers should not therefore be expected to manage the most important asset – people – without being trained. If people are put into management roles and are not trained, they are being set up to fail. Managers can learn on the job – indeed on-the-job training is very valuable – but it takes many years before a manager encounters the necessary variety of scenarios to have learned enough to be competent. Formal management training is essential in giving the new manager a framework in which to learn, supported by on the job experience. There are a host of ways managers can become trained.
Ten management myths – your views?
Do you agree with our ten management myths? Or disagree? Leave a comment or contact us if these myths have raised issues for you in your management task.