In a 2018 Wall Street Journal article, Bob Sutton (professor at Stanford) discussed the ways leaders unintentionally waste the time of their employees. Here are some insights I gleaned from this article, ways managers may cause employees to be less productive.
- Adopting fads: Jumping on the latest management fad or program, thus disrupting the workplace with “a new round of training, meetings and paperwork.” Employees may react with “fad surfing” and do the minimums to support the initiative while concentrating on getting their jobs done.
- Not delegating: As organizations grow or change, there is a limit to how much one person can do. Leaders may fail to realize they are overextended and thus fail to delegate responsibilities. They invest their time in tasks others should be doing (“cookie licking”).
- Rewarding wrong people: Boat-rockers (people who always seek to improve operations, challenge old practices) often are not rewarded to the extent that “status quo” employees are. Boat-rockers facilitate organizational learning and renewal.
- Making “throw away” comments: Some employees (trucklers) will move into action to make something happen based on a boss’s offhand comment, a reaction the boss may never have intended (“Executive magnification”).
- Be skeptical if all news is good news.
- Be careful in making offhand comments or minor complaints. But if you do, add “Please don’t do anything, I am just thinking out loud.”
- Act on employees’ suggestions, feedback, don’t just give “lip service.”
- Reward employees “who end old, obsolete and effective programs and practices” as “star employees.”
1. Bob Sutton nails it. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard this employee complaint about time wasted, well let’s just say I’d have a nice wad of cash. Just last week a friend told me about all the time being wasted in his organization because of a fad training program of little or no value in his workplace. Faddism is a problem in organizations. We need more evidence-based evaluations of programs and initiatives, more evidence-based decisions.
2. Leaders should work on self-awareness and the effect of our words on others. There will be people eager to please and who will act on your words, regardless of your intent. Self-monitor. Incorporate Sutton’s suggested phrase about thinking out loud into your verbal scripts. I recall in my Air Force days a general commenting offhandedly on the color of a gym. Next visit it was the color he was wondering about. He had just been thinking out loud – and was not happy about the time or expense wasted by those who had it painted.
Sutton, R. L. (2018, August 13). How bosses often waste their employees’ time. The Wall Street Journal.
Image, "Wasting Time", by C x 2. –Image slightly reduced inside from the original image at https://www.flickr.com/photos/c_x_2/23853285506 Used with permission: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/
© John Ballard, PhD, 2018. All rights reserved.
Decoding the Workplace “deals with principles and practices that are timeless . . . Is this a must-have for managers and would-be managers? Yes.” Ron Riggio, Book Review, Academy of Management Learning & Education, June, 2018. Now also available as an audiobook.