Leading beyond assumptions

May 21, 2018

Leaders are often so focused on the here and now that they may not be aware of problems that adversely affect the organization’s growth—and their own stress levels. As a result, company leaders, and particularly those founders who take deep pride in their entrepreneurial approach, can fall into the habit of inadvertently deluding themselves. They see signals that should point them toward the conclusion that there is a problem. But, over time, they find reasons to convince themselves that the problem does not really exist. We call this variety of self-deception a ‘management blind spot’.

At Sandler Training, we have worked with tens of thousands of leaders over the years to help them recognize and overcome these blind spots. Below are five of the most common myths, and some strategies for overcoming them.

01 i know a good candidate when I see one

This myth is common among company leaders who have not yet identified exactly how much a bad hire costs the organization, and who never—or rarely—involve other people in their interviewing process. Here is some context to consider: the actual bottom-line impact of a bad hire depends on the company and the industry, but we can note for the sake of comparison that the Society for Human Resource Management recently cited an estimate of $250,000* for finding and hiring the right employee, which does not even begin to take into account the expense, stress, and lost productivity that accompanies replacing the wrong hire. Adding someone to your team is a big decision, and that means more than one person should have input before that decision is made. One person’s ‘gut feeling’ is not enough. At the very least, you need a second opinion. More importantly, you need to establish and follow a clear, quantifiable hiring process that everyone can understand. Would you bet $250,000 of your own money that the person you just had a good gut feeling about—after a single interview—will produce the results the position demands? Most managers I talk to admit that the answer is no.

02 i only hire self-starters or experienced people, so onboarding takes care of itself

We hear this kind of justification from leaders who are looking for reasons to excuse a minimal, or even non-existent, onboarding program. Not creating a good onboarding experience is a major strategic mistake. At companies where leaders convince themselves that they operate in a ‘self-starter’ culture, or that they ‘hire only seasoned veterans’, new employees are all too often left to figure out nearly everything on their own. This rarely works and leads to higher attrition, lower morale, and lower productivity than the company (or the workforce) deserves. Do you track the time from hire to productivity? Do you share the key benchmarks with each new hire? Do you share all the things the new hire needs to know to be successful, put them in priority, give the new hire clear examples of what great performance looks and sounds like, and then test how close the person is to being able to execute on that level? Bottom line: every organization needs a great, tested, and continuously updated onboarding process.

03 my people are smart enough to figure things out on their own

The myth being propped up here is that it is unnecessary to document and distribute the critical best practices that will help middle- or lower-tier employees contribute at an optimum level. For instance, why would you not want your top sales performers telling you about all the innovative things they do to move relationships forward… so that those same best practices can be recorded, transcribed, and shared with the rest of the team? Document the processes and habits of your top performers in each area of the company. Every professional sports team has a playbook. You should create one for your team as well. Build their best practices into your onboarding and performance review processes.

04 it is faster for me to just solve the problem

Actually, it is not—and you could easily end up spending most of your day doing other people’s jobs. A common variation on this blind spot symptom is: “If I want it done correctly, I am the one who ends up doing it.” These attitudes support a default setting of learned helplessness among the people who report to you, and that is a cultural disaster for any team. Responsibility for remedying this situation lies with the leader, and no one else. The next time a subordinate attempts to dump an obviously solvable problem in your lap, ask: “Just out of curiosity—what would you have done about this if I had not been available today?” Walk them through the solution so they can have a ‘light bulb’ moment of their own. When you treat these discussions as teaching moments, you create opportunities and make it easier to avoid future fire drills. People will be much more passionate about implementing their solutions than they will be about implementing yours.


05 my primary job as manager is to tell my people what to do and how to do it

This seems to be the operating principle in many organizations. In reality, though, a far more important part of the manager’s job is to coach employees to a point of self-sufficiency. The best managers spend between 30% and 40% of their time coaching. And, contrary to popular belief, coaching is not issuing instructions and sharing stories about how you successfully handled the same situation the employee is facing. Rather, it is working with employees in a one-on-one setting and then enabling and supporting their efforts to take personal responsibility for their own personal and professional development. Coaching is both an art and a science, and the hard truth is that most managers need plenty of time, support, and practice to master it. Effective coaching is nevertheless essential if you want to help the individuals on your team, and the team as a whole, to reach full potential. 


*  https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/cost-of-bad-hires.aspx