Ignite Resources Management

Management is Not Parenting

7 Leading Mistakes Managers Make

Being a parent is the toughest thing a person could think of doing, but managing has to be the second most difficult thing any professional person could do. Many managers think managing staff is like parenting kids, but using this method can be hazardous.  Take two reasons: First, kids will rarely ever quit and leave; second, the relationship with most employees is usually only 3-5 years.

That’s just for starters. There are also some parallels between kids and staff. If treated poorly, they will refuse to do anything at all, and they hate being told exactly what to do. The bottom line is that staff and kids are endlessly complex.

What makes a manager’s job so extraordinarily difficult is that, in order to motivate and keep a staff member productive, the effective manager has to tailor-make every decision and task for that individual staff member in such a way that it perfectly fits that person’s entirely unique emotional, psychological, and intellectual needs.

1. Not Fully Delegating Work

Doing your staff’s work for them equates to you “working in the business” rather than “working on the business”. Managers should always be “working on the business”. There is no question that, in many cases, it is quicker and easier for you to do the work to ensure that in that instance it is completed and correct. The problem is, this teaches your staff dependence and little knowledge is transferred to them that would allow them to do the job correctly long-term. The result is that in 5 years, you will more than likely still be working like crazy, none of your staff will have learned how to do their job, and your company will have moved on. In today’s world, standing still is akin to moving backwards.

2. Poorly Defined Roles

Related to work delegation is a poorly defined role with no real job description. Positions in companies evolve and often will grow around a person and their own personal skill development. When that person leaves the role, filling that hole will be difficult if it is unclear what they did. A good manager will have each team member write their own job description and have them update it annually to keep track of the changes. If you don’t like some of the tasks they are doing, you can manage those right away.

3. Being a Friend

No question a sign of being a great manager is bonding with staff on a personal level. However, a manager who takes it to the extreme and become friends with those who report to him/her will cloud their own judgement. This results in decisions that are aligned to the staff and not the company.  Do not confuse them. If you act like a friend towards someone who works for you, they will naturally assume that you will not fire them, even if they mess up. That assumption is very unfair, both to them, and to your organization. That you cannot be a person’s boss and their friend is a tough lesson that every manager learns, sooner or later.

4. Small Rule Breaks

Allowing small rule breaks can turn into a slippery slope. A minor indiscretion could cause a significant impact through a long chain of relationships in an organization.  No one wants a rule nazi (politically incorrect?) for a manager; however, small rule bending may lead to more significant rules being challenged and/or broken. Remember, the greatest casualty from bending the rules is your reputation as a manager.  A house with one cockroach has hundreds unseen.

5. Ignoring Problems

If you are a driver who continues to drive 1000km after your engine light turns on, you many have an issue with ignoring problems.  Regular maintenance is the best risk avoidance strategy, and quickly addressing problems right when they are discovered will reduce the impact and ultimately the cost.

6. Accepting Excuses

If I eat fast food once because I am in a real hurry, “having no time” is the reason I ate high fat food. If I gain weight after repetitively eating fast food, then for me, “no time to eat healthy” becomes an excuse. Similarly, if I install a new script incorrectly while learning a new program,, the reason for my mistake is that I’m inexperienced with that software.  If several months later I’m still incorrectly loading scripts with the same program, then whatever reason I might give for doing that can only be an excuse. A temporary personal issue is a reason; an endless series of personal problems becomes an excuse and a case for counselling. Reasons should only be accepted for a short while if an employee is unable to do their job well.  If reasons are used repetitively,  they have in fact become excuses for poor performance. Learn to tell the difference between a temporary reason and enabling your staff’s excuses. The former, you’re helping; the latter, you’re not.

7. Managing Distractions

Managers are often stuck in firefighting mode, but that comes with the territory for any manager. However, when managers are continuously in firefighting mode, their decision making is all based on this view of reality. Protracted time in this management often leads to staff burnout. Unless a manager can pull themselves out of this trap, they will stay in this zone and never grow or get promoted.  Managers can also be distracted by external projects. For example, an organization rolling out a new ERP system can create many distractions for an organization. These can come in the form of either mental attention or financial constraints. Managers can often be so distracted with these external projects that management of their team can suffer. The results are often all kinds of issues.

Kids don’t want a manager and your staff do not want a parent. Remember which role you need to play as you juggle your time.

Here’s your desk & there’s the bathroom. Now get to work.

Here’s your desk & there’s the bathroom. Now get to work.

You just hire a new employee and have invested 2 months of your valuable time going through the selection and hiring process. There is a total of 100 hours invested in hiring your star programmer, costing your company $35,000 – $50,000. The team is super excited to get this person on on-board. Their skills are exactly what was missing and will take a lot of pressure of them because they have be understaffed for 3 ½ months.

The newest member of your team is very nervous about leaving their last company but came because the money was a little better and the projects seemed exciting. They arrive at the front lobby for their first day and you receive a call from the receptionist announcing their arrival. You are in a middle of a conference call with some executives.  You call your Lead Developer to get the newest staff member and, you say, “Peter, please get Sally from reception and show them around.”

An hour later, you make your way over to Sally and you find her on the internet looking at job postings.

90% of an employee’s decision to stay with a company happens within the first 6 months of joining! Yet, 60% of companies have no formal on-boarding process.

A proper on-boarding plan reduces this by 18%, reducing turnover and mistakes resulting from lack of training.  In addition, companies who have formal on-boarding plans reduce the time it takes to get to full productivity by 50%, down from 6-8 months to less than 100 days.

Companies have taken some interesting steps to amalgamate new staff into the fold. For example Facebook  tape a piece of paper on the monitor: “Welcome to Facebook!” Underneath, printed in big, bold, red letters, are slogans like: “We hack therefore we are,” or “Move fast and break things.” “Within days, your software code will be in front of more than 845 million users”.

The best companies have a clear plan and process. These companies have increased retention, increased moral, increased productivity, strong team bond and greater loyalty to the company and its brand.

Here are 10 innovative things companies are doing to help acclimatise new staff:

  1. WAP (Welcome Aboard Party): This is an event held by the company or department where all the staff celebrates the arrival of the newest team members. The party has music, food and drinks. Think of the bonds this would create for everyone involved!
  2. Start Buddy: The company has volunteers from the new employee’s department to partner with them for the first 4 weeks. The individuals give them tours, offer advice, answer basic questions, assist with training and provide reports to management.
  3. Friday Starts: Many companies like to have their new employees start on a Friday. This is the day most staff are open and relaxed. Also, this gives the new staff a rest before they start their training on Monday.
  4. Meeting with President: Every employee gets to meet the President of the company within their first 2 weeks. The larger the company the more impressive it is, with large companies, the President will meet the new hires in a large group, but still shaking their hands.
  5. Swag: Many companies provide new hires with a lot a company swag, including pens, clothing, mugs, note pads, key chains and other need items; this builds excitement of being part of the company and is a great branding opportunity.
  6. Welcome Sign: At the front entrance, there is a personalized welcome sign for each new employee.
  7. Deliverable Checklist: A road map of expectations and deliverables by the newest staff member, this enables them to check things off upon completion leaving the sense of accomplishment.
  8. Onboarding Feedback Survey: At the end of the first 3 months, an employee will receive a survey to critique the process and offer areas of improvement.
  9.  Everything ready for the first day: When a staff member joins they are lost looking for a home to settle into. If their space is set up with a fully functional computer, training manual and welcome package, they feel at home.
  10. Early Onboard: Providing materials for the employee before they officially start will allow them to become familiar with the company and their role.

Again, the employee retention statistics are horrifying and by themselves are reason enough to be upset with HR, but it takes a community to raise an employee. You have a great opportunity to improve the retention and performance numbers in your organization by rethinking how we design new hire training programs to consider the entire on-boarding experience.

What have you done to improve how your organization onboards new employees? 

Why Writing Job Descriptions Sucks

Hiring staff is never a manager’s favourite list item; it is often considered a necessary evil. The typical process begins with you determining the need to hire a consultant or employee and putting thought into what they will be doing. The next step is to communicate with someone who can find the person you need, normally your HR Department or a Recruiter. They ask you to write a job description, and since you are no novelist, it takes a few weeks. You send the final masterpiece off, doing your best to convey the role to a non-technical person and articulating the type of person you are looking for, trusting that in their hands you will find the right fit.  A few weeks later you get some resumes, review them and select a couple to interview. You then invest several hours interviewing candidates and determine that none are a fit. Again, you seek out HR or your Recruiter, left feeling unhappy and frustrated with having to start the process again.

Why are the results so often bad? There are a few reasons:

First, writing a job description is the hardest thing you, as a manager, have to do. As stated earlier, you are not a writer by trade and getting your thoughts to paper is a slow and laborious process. You must also write this document considering the audience – a person who likely has little technical background all the while knowing their misunderstanding can lead to inappropriate candidates applying for the position.

The second issue is ‘grapevine’ communication, the process of information passing from person to person. This leads to lost details as well as information inadvertently being altered as it passes to the next party. The child’s game “Telephone” is a great example of this. The first person starts with a simple sentence and tells it to next person, continuing like this all of the way down the line. The more people involved, the greater the probability of the sentence changing.  A similar thing can happen to a job description. The job description starts with your technical lead telling you in their words the technical skills needed.  You attempt to relay these to HR or a Recruiter, either verbally or written, and they in turn explain the role to a candidate. By this point, the understanding a candidate has of the role and requirements expected of them is regularly incorrect. This is a situation where the term “lost in translation” can truly be applied.

Thirdly, a manager’s own personal bias can create issues. Racial profiling aside, all managers will build a job description based on their prior experiences and personal beliefs of what skills and attributes the new hire should possess.  These issues are often greatest when you have to fill a role that has been filled many times previously. For new roles or new technologies, as a manager you want to ensure your needs of this position are met. This bias can lead to even greater errors in hiring, permeating through any job description and potentially leading to poor results. Bias also enters into determining what the candidate should get paid. The issue of compensation is a very touchy one; many people believe the manager should be paid more than staff that report to them. The question then arises of how big that differential should be?

The final issue frequently occurs when replacing staff. Many times a manager will take the resume of the person who had the job before and attempt to replicate that person. Unfortunately, people’s resumes are like snowflakes, no two are ever alike. Utilizing this strategy will lead to many frustrating interviews.

We want to provide some tips to improve your job description writing to alleviate some of the challenges you face. Here are some simple but effective suggestions;

  1. Use clear and concise language, right to the point. No need to write a novel.
  2. Use non-technical language and explain acronyms used.
  3. Keep sentence structure simple. It is not an essay contest.
  4. Sell the position; the job description is more marketing than HR. The more exciting the job description, the better the candidates who apply.
  5. State what a successful person will accomplish on the job.
  6. Avoid any gender, race or age based language.
  7. Answer this basic question from a candidates point of view: “What’s in it for me?”
  8. This document should serve as the basis for the performance reviews – this can be an invaluable tool in the future when working with your new hire on evaluating performance and helping you keep the staff on track to do what they were hired to do.
  9. Share the job description with many stakeholders and consider their input.
  10. Ask your Recruiter or HR to write a draft that you can review & edit.


Spending time up front before posting a job will help reduce the wasted hours many managers experience in the resume review and interview stages of hiring a contractor or staff. Involving others in the process will speed up things up. However, a word of caution that seeking universal agreement of the job description will slow things down. Don’t seek approval, simply seek input.

Why do employees waste time & what can a manager do?

Why do employees waste time & what can a manager do?

Innovation is often seen as the mother of necessity. However, I believe laziness is the greater driving force. Humans by nature are lazy. Most inventions are designed to allow humans to perform the same task with less effort.  On the other hand, in theory we should produce more with the same energy. But, in many studies the expected theoretical production gains with innovation are rarely realized.

The consequence of having innovation is that people have more free time because their work is done quicker. However, few employees ask for more work. Since we as employers demand our staff work 8 hours a day, more idle time requires this gap to be filled by an endless array of time wasting activities.

Innovation is often the cause of wasting time at work and continues to become a bigger and bigger problem for companies all over the world. Good news is that the Great Recession has reduced the amount of time people are wasting on the job. Only 22% of those surveyed waste more than 2 hours from their work time each day, down from 24% in 2007. Still, over 1 in 5 employees waste more than 500 hours a year costing corporate Canada $6.5B alone! Many academics have attempted to understand this issue better. Here are some results from a variety of surveys:

  • Young employees waste the most time at work. The reason for this could be that most of the jobs young people are hired for are menial tasks and are not very rewarding, thus any distractions are better than doing the job. Generational differences in social media and texting usage are also contributors.
  • The correlation between education & time wasting. One would believe education would lead to more motivation. However, greater education leads to higher expectations and lower fulfilment.  Alternatively, more education could mean these individuals can get the work done quicker, yielding more idle time.
  • Blocking is not the answer. A study conducted at the University of Melbourne found that employees with access to social networks were actually more productive than employees in companies that block access. According to Dr. Brent Coker, employees who can reward themselves between the completion of one task and the start of another with a visit to their Facebook or MySpace page are more invigorated and get more done. According to the study, they get 9 percent more accomplished than their blocked counterparts.
  • Social Media productivity killer. In fact, according to a new survey, a majority of American workers (51 percent) think using social media at work hurts productivity. The survey of nearly 23,000 workers, by staffing company Kelly Services, shows that even more of them — 57 percent — believe that social media can cause problems in the workplace when workers mix personal and professional
  • Not enough work – One third of employees spend their work-time for non-work related activities because they do not have enough work to do. At a first glance, the solution for this is very easy. Give your employees more tasks. Well, this is not quite the wiser decision. The key components in productivity, innovation and job satisfaction are personal and professional development. Thus, a solution for this issue could be to fill wasted time with developmental programs and resources. Provide opportunities for employees to grow personally and professionally.
  • Feeling under paid – 34% of employees waste their time at work because they feel that they are not paid enough for their efforts. What could I say about this category of employees? My opinion: they shouldn’t be in that place. Every person is the only one responsible for their personal success and happiness. If they feel underpaid, they should get a better job! It’s up to them. As for the motivation, employees are actually more likely to be motivated by regular praise, respect in the office place, a sense of having a real voice in the business, and some level of job security. These things matter more to most people than high wages do.
  • Facebook is the number one destination, where 41% of self-professed time wasters admit to going.  The next most popular virtual stop is LinkedIn, which 37% say they visit. This might not be surprising, given that 46% of respondents say they use their work computers to look for new jobs.

Five ways to solve employee time wasting :

  1. Make people more accountable.  Have your employees build their action plans for the next 1 – 3 months. Have them build a timeline and milestone dates for weekly checkups. When your staff is defining their plans, they will be more like to buy into the deliverables and there is a greater chance they will achieve them on time.
  2. Implement an Internet policy. We have stated in earlier blogs that every company needs a policy. If you have one, it should be updated to include social media. The policy needs to be clear and consistent. Most workers say that if they know what is allowed and what is not, they will be more likely to adhere to those guidelines.
  3. Try tracking software. Time management and tracking software have been found to improve employee productivity by creating more structure and accountability as well as enabling employers to more effectively monitor employee time use.  Let them know that they are being monitored.
  4. Challenge employees. The main reason people are surfing is that they are bored.  More work is not the solution. Look for special projects or something that is different they can sink their teeth into. Challenge their initiative, decision-making and creative skills.
  5. Be more visible. Walk-abouts are helpful. Go visit your staff, surprise them. Ask them what they are working on. If you see non-work related sites quickly disappear, ask them to bring the page back.  It will be awkward, but will get your point across.

Barry Johnston

VP Operations