Jack Welch loves micromanaging. You may have heard it's an unproductive, if not destructive, trait. But the hallowed former chief executive officer of General Electric says on LinkedIn that you have been misled.
He encourages an accordion approach: Get very close to your subordinates and their work when they need you and pull back when you're extraneous.
You help when you bring unique expertise to a situation; when you can expedite things by dint of your authority; when you have highly relevant experience that can prevent costly mistakes; when your presence signals the organization's priorities; or you have a long relationship with a customer or supplier and can substantially change the outcome.
"In such situations, you have to micromanage. It's your responsibility," he writes. "Micromanaging only stinks when bosses do it because they have nothing better to do, or they're constitutionally unable to trust people, employees included."
Improving your meetings
The first few minutes of a meeting can be crucial – so be careful you don't botch it. That's the conclusion Bryant University management professor Michael Roberto draws from a study showing how the first five minutes of time in university classrooms get frittered away with logistical tasks like taking attendance rather than developing focus in distracted students. By extension, he suggests you need to consider how you start meetings. Do you sink into the quicksand of mundane administrative talk or stimulate with a clear and compelling question? And does that question cut to the heart of the meeting's purpose? "By starting with a question, you are inviting your team members' comments, insights, and questions. You are drawing them into the conversation and giving them license to share their ideas," he says.
But don't get so carried away that you forget a meeting is not just about results – it's also about building relationships. Consultant David Dye notes teams require trust, and that is only built through time spent together, solving problems, making decisions, and learning how everyone operates. Looking for a good question to open the session? How about this one exposing the elephant-in-the-room: "What are the conversations we are not having that we should be?"
Still, if a meeting seems totally aimless, you may want to surreptitiously reach for your electronic device and check the nifty cost-of-meeting calculator Harvard Business Review has devised. We'll leave it up to you whether it's wise to share the results.
Learning to listen
Many managers worry about their ability to listen. Leadership seems to call for assertiveness – pushing your own ideas. If you want to improve your listening skills, take the advice of consultant Dana Casperson: Next time you are listening to someone during a difficult conversation or conflict and are tempted to make a suggestion – don't. Instead, bring your attention back to what they are saying and why. Listen for what's important, even if you think you already know.
Listening and making suggestions are two different actions. Separate them. Listen first. Then make suggestions, if needed. Hard to do, but vital.
The crucial art of early talent spotting
How do you spot talented employees early in their careers and help them develop faster? David Loree, an assistant professor of organizational behaviour at the Ivey Business School, notes that talent isn't easy to recognize in its early stages. Decca Records missed it, for example, in a young musical group called The Beatles.
Spotting future leaders means looking for glimmers of potential, like the new recruit who kept raising product quality and company reputation while everyone else was focused on meeting the project deadline. Prof. Loree suggests developing systems that help your organization pick up on someone's ability to master new skills, mobilize others to get things done, or see how different pieces of the corporate puzzle fit together. Don't be like Decca; imagine the possibilities.
Research news for you
The social class origins of CEOs appreciably affect their companies' strategic risk-taking, a study has found. If incomes are divided into five levels, in general, CEOs raised in the two top and two bottom levels exceed those in the middle in terms of strategic risk-taking, with leaders from upper– and upper-middle-class backgrounds the biggest risk-takers of all. The researchers suggest having grown up with an abundance of resources, individuals from the upper social classes have experienced the benefit of a substantial safety net, so they perceive the world as safe, welcoming, and full of opportunity. By comparison, the middle class safety net is less secure, so those drawn from it are more motivated to maintain their current position. CEOs from bottom rungs have less to lose and seem willing to accept the potential downside of a risky decision.
A counterintuitive finding from other new research: Mediators who exhibit hostility are more effective in resolving conflict than more neutral souls. It appears that hostile mediators serve as a common enemy, connecting the parties with one another.
Rate your reading
Do you read enough for professional purposes? A survey by Thoughtleadersllc.com found that 3.8 per cent of respondents read more than five books a month; 13.3 per cent read two to three books; 34.5 per cent read one book a month; 42.6 per cent – the largest group – read a book every few months; and 15.9 per cent didn't read at all, lacking time or interest.
– Toronto consultants Samantha and Marc Hurwitz urge you to resist evaluating ideas, situations and people until it's really necessary, so you have as much information as possible.
– In leading, abide by the advice of basketball great Shaquille O'Neal who said "when the general is calm, the troops are calm."
– If you hold back on mobile recruiting because you fear low-education people won't have access to smartphones, set that assumption aside. Pew Research found they are more likely to use their phone for advanced tasks in job-hunting like filling out an online job application or creating a résumé than people with higher education levels.
– Consultant Kristof De Wulf declares that more than one-third of the time, performance appraisals have a negative impact on performance – while they may be helpful for the two to three per cent of employees not performing adequately, they needlessly put everyone through the process with adverse effects.
– Wind down tonight and every night by writing down your worries and anxieties before going to bed.
Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column, Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter