Under-Managing: 4 Energy and Time Drains of the Busy Boss


I’m following up on my series of posts about why 90% of managers are under-managing. We hear a lot about micromanaging and busy bosses who command and control, but survey data tell us “hands-off” managing is pernicious and the foundation of  poor employee engagement.

Author Bruce Tulgan, (The 27 Challenges Managers Face: Step-by-Step Solutions to (Nearly) All of Your Management Problems) says that in the ten years since his research firm first investigated under-management, they’ve begun asking about “management engagement”.

The key factor affecting employee engagement was and remains the relationship employees have with their immediate supervisors. That’s why we had been asking a different question of business leaders: “Are your MANAGERS ‘engaged’ or not?” ~ The Under-management Epidemic Report 2014: …Ten Years Later

So if managers are practicing ‘hands-off’ management, what are they doing with their time? Here are four energy and time drains that tie up managers and get in the way of good management conversations with their people.

4 Energy and Time Drains on Managers

  1. Attending Too Many Mediocre Meetings – Ask any managers and they’ll tell you their number one time suck are meetings. The more people work in teams and are interdependent on others to get things done, the more meetings. But most meetings aren’t very good.
    • People fill seats without any purpose. Then they sit there waiting for something to come up that’s in their domain. They’d rather be working and productive.
    • Meetings aren’t good for creating accountability. It’s too easy to hide in a meeting and diffuse responsibility. Or blame, and divert attention.
    • Poor meeting preparation and agenda planning will encourage mediocre meetings.
  2. Dealing with a tidal wave of email – Much of email is unnecessary, duplicative and sloppy. Yet sometimes there is a morsel of key info embedded in all the rest. Managers get copied on everything which means they have to read and sort it to stay tuned. But this is inefficient because the pure volume means we have to scan and we inevitably miss things anyway.
    • Train your people to know what you need to be copied on, and what doesn’t need to take up your time.
    • For important info, make sure they address an email to you directly.
    • But until you give them guidelines, people will automatically copy you and generate a ton of email you’ll be required to read through.
    • Never forget that a 15 minute, high-substance personal conversation will beat a barrage of emails hands down.
  3. Touching base, checking in, and chit-chat conversations without substance – Similar to email, conversations need to be limited to high-substance content. Just checking in with an employee to see if everything is “fine” doesn’t tell you much. They don’t need or want you as a friend. Good management is focused and meaningful. So stay on topic with questions like:
    • What are you doing? How are you doing it? What steps are you taking?
    • Let me see what you’ve got so far.
    • What’s next?
    • How long will that take?
  4. Interrupting and being interrupted – When things pop into your head, write them down for your next conversation with someone. You don’t like to be interrupted and neither do they. Besides, impromptu answers are never as good as when you have time to think and prepare. Interruptions prevent everyone from focused, meaningful work.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Contact me here and on LinkedIn.

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