Is Your Company Dysfunctional? Find Out How to Right the Wrongs

— April 27, 2017

Companies are hard to run and can be dysfunctional. Take it from someone who knows. Especially hard to run are bootstrapped companies (again) take it from someone who is intimately acquainted with the subject. Managing people to scale is something that can go very wrong, very quickly, if you’re not careful and here’s how.


Putting your top performers in management.


This is a classic first time CEO mistake and one that I’ve made time and again. Look, someone who is consistently batting 1000, is not going to want to take the coach job right away. They want to continue to see how high they can go in terms of an individual contributor. This mistake is really easy to make with employees because many times they confuse responsibility with power and think they want to manage, when in fact, they are nowhere near ready. More than 70% of employees who are considered “high performers” lack attributes essential for their success in future roles.


Right this wrong: Avoid putting people in management before giving them various projects and teams to lead in the short-term. If they loathe the assignments, you have your answer. If they love what they’re doing, you have time to shape them into a healthy leader who has the time and experience to pass along his or her unique brand of leadership.


Avoiding confrontation.


This issue usually starts at the top. A recent survey found that 72% of employees rank respectful treatment of employees as the top factor in job satisfaction. If you’re afraid to call people out on unacceptable (or even substandard) behavior, this will permeate your firm. A true leader will have that uncomfortable conversation, and will honestly critique his or her team. A true leader will do it because bullies cannot be tolerated at work, or because gossip is getting out of hand or because someone fell asleep in the middle of a meeting (usually a bigger issue). If you do NOT confront you may never know that someone’s significant other is suffering from alcoholism or someone’s mom is very ill and facing surgery or someone is facing financial ruin and thus having difficulty sleeping.


Right this wrong: Start practicing confronting “same-day”. You can do this via email or any other area in which you feel comfortable (we use our intranet, email and our feedback platform iRevu). It may shock you how many problems have simple and effective solutions when confronted right away. Confront and learn and then lead.


Confusing leadership with enabling.


Guh. Yet another role I’ve confused in my lifetime. Leadership is empowering and serving people to do their best work. Enablement is doing that work for them. Leadership is giving people enough feedback to make the next great decision for their work and empowering others to succeed. Enablement is turning yourself into a bottleneck in order to feed your own ego. Leadership is graciously giving credit for a job well done, even if you feel you were pivotal in getting it there. Enablement is insisting everyone know you were the actual hard worker. See the difference? Enablement keeps your people green, scared and doesn’t allow them to take credit for a job well done (or accountability for a job NOT so well done.) Leadership creates a culture where people swing for the fences, are accountable for their work, empowers others to succeed (which is how 50% of millennials define leadership) and eventually see how some things are a team effort.


Right this wrong: Recognize when you’re enabling (and micromanaging) and then discuss it in very plain terms. Say “I know in the past, I’ve simply taken this over from you and that was not the right way to handle it. It may take a little longer to get this right, but I would like you to fix this problem with guidance from me, input from the team, your own experience and research if needed.” If you feel a deadline is warranted so you can check in on progress, assign one, but do it with a loose hand.


Thinking productivity = impact.


This is difficult to identify and also requires the confrontation piece. You can stay late every day of the week, you can reach the end of the work week totally fried, you can feel like you are giving your all and still be a mediocre employee. If you are not reaching your peak impact, productivity or just actual “work” can feel like a moot point. It was this realization that pushed forward the rise of ROWE that started in the last decade or so and has largely morphed into the “unlimited vacation” and “work-flex” environments of today. Of the companies who implement work flex, 71% saw an increase in productivity. In fact, you need both productivity and impact for lots of reasons:



  • Sometimes, you have to send out five proposals to get one “yes.”
  • Sometimes, you need to write six articles to see one go “viral.”
  • Sometimes, you have to manage your time better to complete your assignments.

You get the point. Celebrating impact when productivity gets the job done sends the wrong message, but in a strange twist of fate, the opposite is also true. Recognizing productivity without impact can also create a culture of “phoning it in”. For leaders, it’s a tough tightrope to walk because people usually fall on one side or the other and need to be constantly coached to the center.


Right this wrong: Write it out. Show your people the difference between productivity and impact and ask them to rate themselves. Since it very likely is a spectrum, ask them where they fall for each project or task and then work with them to see how much they can impact the company while remaining productive. The more you provide examples of each side, they better they will start to understand their own roles.


Failing to give people a clear path.


Just because 96% of leaders are reportedly extroverts does not mean that everyone else is. GASP! I know, it’s shocking. One of the hardest things I have ever had to learn as a leader, manager, CEO, and individual contributor is that sometimes people will give you 110% week after week until they just give up. It is my personality to drive people as far as they can go, thinking I am training them for excellence, when in fact, I may be driving them crazy. While sometimes we all have to work hard or do a job or two that we don’t want to do, it can be exhausting to keep plugging away in the same job once you’ve mastered it.


Right this wrong: We ask people in every single performance review (and their interview) what they’d rather be doing (professionally). We can’t promise we’ll give them that position TODAY, we can help them work toward it. And we can offer training to help them build up their replacement.


Building a company will have some dysfunctional periods, full stop. But you have to work through some of these in order to create a culture and a company that can last and scale for now and years to come.

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Author: Maren Hogan


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