March 20, 2014

Don’t Let Promising People Fall Through the Cracks

Executive CoachingNobody means to do it, but it happens anyway. Managers get so busy focusing on the wide ranging and increasingly complex responsibilities they face that their people slowly fall through cracks because of inadvertent neglect.

If you are concerned about the status of your employees, you can download a free guide to Getting Your Direct Reports Back on Track.”

In order to unleash your team’s potential and address the root-cause performance gaps that stand in the way of their best work, you have to be present and skilled at making the most of feedback opportunities. To clear away the clutter and avoid the unfortunate affects when people with potential disengage, here are two strategies every manager can apply. Applying these concepts will ensure sufficient, focused contact with employees, without compromising your diverse responsibilities.


A general rule of thumb in management is: less is always more. Good managers seldom implement a lot of different interventions; in fact they often focus on only a few priorities that can make the biggest difference for their people. Once they understand what these are, they invest in getting them right, which is as much about saying “no” to other distractions as it is about executing the tactics that will lead to the changes they seek.

If you have ever worked for a boss who managed by the “flavor-of-the-month” rule, then you know how exhausting it is to be on the receiving end of a steady stream of new approaches that amount to little more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Managing to the hidden side of work provides the constraints needed to focus on just a few domains, each of which has significant potential to support the increased learning and performance of others.

  1. Are there any unfruitful initiatives that you can stop investing in?
  2. How can you simplify and focus your communication with the team?


Sometimes managers get really good at providing basic administrative supports to their people. For example, your manager could spend considerable time handling clerical and organizational functions that make your work easier. These could include introducing new processes and programs, procuring resources, managing budget requests, approving time off, generating opportunities for training and development, and advocating for you and the rest of the team with other departments.

In some cases these things are helpful, but they are not the most valuable. However, when managers invest time in understanding their employee’s genuine concerns and deliver relevant managerial interventions that solve problems and remove roadblocks to getting great work done, they become a critical link in the performance chain.

Managing to the employee’s ultimate concern generates tremendous respect within the reporting relationship. And, if managers also bring Beyond the Job Description tools (i.e., knowledge and experience to turn their everyday challenges into opportunities for improved learning and performance), that respect can elevate to true added value.

Based on the philosophies of “Less Is More” and “Focus on Value, Not Stuff,” this is the brass-knuckles definition of effective management: helping people understand and transform the everyday challenges that prevent their best work—then getting out of the way! However, managers have to remember that the “getting out of the way” part only comes after they have invested in the relationship enough to ensure that it has a healthy trajectory of performance. This is the only way to prevent high-potential people from falling through the cracks.

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