One of the first management mistakes I ever made occurred when I had just been assigned my first team to manage. I was young and inexperienced, but eager and confident that I knew how to guide my team to corporate greatness. In other words, I was delusional.
The problem arose when one woman on my team starting slacking off on work, causing other team members to pick up the pace for her. I don't even think she realized that she was doing this; she just subconsciously depended on the good will of her teammates to even things out. The me that I am today would readily approach the woman herself to talk about the issues she was having. However, the me I was back then was unable to take the direct approach out of fear that I would hurt her feelings or become—God forbid—an UNPOPULAR MANAGER. Instead I called a team meeting and announced a new policy. "Due to some projects whose deadlines haven't been met," I said (and thank goodness for passive voice), "Each team member will keep a log of all work he or she completes, and turn the log into me weekly." My goal was that the slacker would see from the logs that her name showed up less frequently beside completed work than those of her peers.
Now, in my little manager fantasyland, this woman would have had an epiphany of self-awareness at this announcement and realized that I was talking about her, begged my forgiveness, and re-devoted her entire life to the company cause. Of course, that didn't happen. I was wrong to think someone could read my mind. If you want clarification or changes, you simply have to be direct and explicit. Here's what happened:
Over the course of the next week, each of the "stars" on my team approached me separately at some point, asking if he or she had done something wrong to cause the new policy. The overachievers and perfectionists all blamed themselves. I had to tell each person it was not him or her without mentioning the name of the person the policy was intended for. And of course, my problem employee blithely went about life without a care in the world, never once asking if the problem had been with her.
It goes without saying that my remedy didn't work. I had to eventually speak to her about the particulars of her performance directly—what I should have done in the first place. Unfortunately, she never improved.
I once heard an expression that the world is made for people who are not cursed with self-awareness. The over-achievers on my team were hyper-sensitive to the perceptions of others so my actions caused them unnecessary worry. My friend the shirker, however, probably never suffered a moment of honest self-evaluation in her life.
Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.