Unintentional Mismanagement

The economic downturn in the U.S. has turned up the heat on organizational leaders to wring as much productivity as possible out of their employees and equipment. As resources dwindle, organizational survival often is at stake. Unfortunately, even well-meaning leaders end up engaging in practices that I describe as “unintentional mismanagement” – i.e., those that are not in employees’ short- or long-term interests. Here are four examples of unintentional mismanagement of people and resources:

    1. Insisting that employees who survive furloughs and layoffs do “more with less”

    I’ve written quite a bit about the fatal flaw of this concept – i.e., it’s not sustainable in the long-run. While most organizations have inefficiencies that can be addressed by cutting back or down, after a certain point they reach the physical and mental limits of people and equipment. The fact is that, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, doing LESS with less actually is more productive – not to mention that it’s better for employees’ well-being.

    2. Burning out employees and volunteers in the name of the “cause”

    Time and time again, I have seen non-profit organizations experience high turnover of both staff and volunteers because their leaders are working them into the ground. Even when the “cause” is a noble one – e.g., eradicating disease, providing safe environments for children, providing disaster relief – how well is it really being served when people and resources regularly are stretched well beyond the breaking point?

    3. Substituting cost-cutting for achievement of the organization’s mission as the #1 priority

    Particularly in times of financial crisis, people turn first to cost-cutting measures as a way of surviving. The problem arises when leaders lose sight of the organization’s mission, and the cutbacks don’t support it. For example, if a school board justifies its decision to cut four instructional days from the school year by saying it needs to save teachers’ jobs, one might question whether the mission of the school system is to provide students with a quality education or to provide jobs for teachers.

    4. Focusing on the short-term to the exclusion of the long-term.

    Sometimes we have to accept a short-term “hit” to achieve a long-term result that supports the organization’s mission. One example that comes to mind is leaders who must make financial decisions for the long-term good of the company and its stakeholders, yet are evaluated on the basis of the current quarter’s results.

What are some solutions to unintentional mismanagement? Here are three suggestions to get you started:

    1. Be clear about the mission and goals of the organization, and focus relentlessly on them. Especially in challenging times, they should be the criteria against which decisions are made.

    2. Balance long-term and short-term outcomes keeping #1 above in mind.

    3. Focus on creating employee-centered workplaces™ – i.e., environments in which every person, program, system, and policy is focused on helping employees become fully successful in achieving the organization’s mission and goals.

I invite you to share your plausible solutions for examples of unintentional mismanagement.

© 2010 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

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