My worst management advice (received not given)

I was commenting on Phil’s post on “Worst Management Advice” (here).  My comment ended up so long that I thought it would be worth manually copying, revising, and posting below:

The worst advice I’ve heard has come in a number of variants, but the basic jist always was: “You have to monitor your employees like a prison guard or [insert negative outcome here] will happen.”

The most extreme instance was when I took over a troubled McDonald’s in downtown DC.  The incumbent manager told me: “You have to watch this gang [crew and management] like hawks — they’re all thieves.”  Of course, she was wrong.  It turned out that only two employees were making off with merchandise.  Oh, and the other thief was a vendor.

What I like to call “The KGB Way” is the lazy manager’s substitute for detecting, analyzing, and correcting exceptions and opportunities.  Continuing the McDonald’s example, the incumbent had alienated her crew and management team.  She was getting precious little cooperation and respect.  Showing a little trust and spending a day doing a root cause analysis (they teach you this at McD’s BTW), allowed me to focus on appropriate “suspects” and established my credibility (the crew knew very well who had sticky fingers were).

The kicker was that this “gang” contained a future McDonald’s franchise owner, a future McDonald’s executive, and two future Marine officers. Not bad for a bunch of thieves…


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