How to avoid common management mistakes

Management blunders come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from poor communication and planning to spending too much time on paperwork and failing to tackle under-performing employees at an early stage.

For IT managers, many of whom spent the early years of their careers gaining technical qualifications and experience, getting the time for training in basic management skills is a real problem.

If you fall into this category, here are some common management mistakes and some advice on how to avoid them.

Poor communication

“Good communication isn’t just about being articulate, it’s about explaining to your staff what is expected of them, and what you mean by ‘good performance,’ says Angela Baron, an adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. “People could be working really hard but not getting and praise. Employees can get very frustrated because they haven’t been told what to do.”

If your organisation has a good performance appraisal system, it can provide a structure for regular discussion about the performance of employees and teams and realistic targets to aim for.

However, feedback shouldn’t be left to a rushed appraisal meeting once or twice a year, when the manager raises a series of concerns about the performance of the worker.

Managers who are poor at communicating often have limited empathy about the fears and aspirations of their workers. “The role of the manager used to be so much easier,” Baron adds. “It used to be about process; you told people what to do and made sure they did it. Now management is much more about facilitating and getting people to work together in teams, as well as leading them.”

Believing that management is about control and giving orders

New managers often wrongly believe that their job is to tell people what to do.

Experts say that management by diktat isn’t practical, especially in a team-based technical environment like IT, where staff need to think laterally and solve problems to tight deadlines.

Telling people what to do disempowers them and allows them to avoid taking responsibility for their work. This will create more work for managers in the long run.

Failing to win over key stakeholders

Delivering a project on time or hitting annual performance targets for your team isn’t enough. IT Managers need to ensure that other departments are aware of the quality of their work and its importance to the performance of the whole organisation.

However, this PR role is often overlooked by managers.

Neil Turner, a project management expert at Cranfield University School of Management, says his research has highlighted the need for IT managers to promote their work across business departments.

“[IT] projects needs be perceived as a ‘high-quality project’ by the client,” Turner says. This includes more subjective criteria such as showing a commitment to quality; the ability to integrate well with other parts of the business; and adapting to changing circumstances and delivering value.

“These [qualities] are harder to measure, but can differentiate managers and their projects,” Turner adds. “IT project management is not just about the IT, but also about the perception of service during the project as well as making sure it all works at the end.”

Getting bogged down in paperwork and elaborate organisational theories

Keeping track of an ever-expanding list of targets, budgets and deadlines can be tough. In response, managers can become over reliant on paperwork and organisational theories like as the “maturity model” – a methodology for improving business performance.

This can result in managers neglecting the basics of management – such as listening to staff concerns, providing clear leadership, and buying a round of after-work drinks on Friday.

“Implementing [a performance management] system will not mean that your project will be successful,” Turner says. “It’s not a panacea for a lack of good staff or good, practical management that get things done.”

Repeating the same mistakes

“I've learned from my mistakes and I'm sure I can repeat them exactly,” the comedian Peter Cook said. In management, pressure on time and budgets, can make it hard to learn from mistakes and avoid repeating them.

“Projects often fail for the same reasons, for example technical problems, or poor planning or mistakes made during the implementation,” Turner says.

Reviewing a problematic project after it has finished can be an uncomfortable experience for those involved. However, launching straight into the next big project without changing working practices is asking for trouble.

“Many teams often go from one project to the next project, particularly if the last project was finished late or went over budget,” Turner says.

Treating people unfavourably because you don’t like them.

As a manager you have to help provide a coherent team spirit and work with all sorts people, inside your department and in other departments. If you start to have favourites, or don’t treat people with the same level concern and fairness then you will very quickly undermine your authority, experts warn.

Failing to address problems at an early stage

In an IT project, problems such as bugs in computer coding or low staff morale can escalate rapidly. A common mistake made by managers is failing to tackle issues early enough. Problems snowball and can derail a project, or affect the performance of a whole department.

Why do problems go unchecked for so long? One reason, according to Turner, is “face saving” by managers and their staff. This creates an environment where people are reluctant to highlight problems in the workplace for fear of being proved wrong, or appearing disloyal to colleagues.

Watching out for these failings won't, on thier own, make you a great manager, but avoiding these common pitfalls will give you and the team you manage a chance to  shine

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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