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Learning From Mistakes

It’s wonderful when your career development manages to stay on the straight and narrow – with positive role models and good experiences – but all too often we learn our most valuable lessons from failures, from tactics or decisions that didn’t work.  Or from failed managers for whom we’ve worked, and those who apparently made error repetition a personal career choice.
With that practical experience in hand you’ll find yourself saying either, “yes, I should do that, when the decision is mine” or conversely, “no, I’ll never do that.”  Both experiences can offer valuable lessons and help shape your career.
One manager’s gems . . . .
Putting together an all-inclusive list can be an endless affair, given the myriad scenarios, personalities and business circumstances that could be involved.  Instead we’ll try to highlight the big mistakes.
These are provided in no particular order of relative importance, and only reflect my own experiences.  No doubt I’ve missed a few, so feel free to add your own experiences.
  • General Adjustment vs. Merit:  Granting all employees the same pay raise, instead of varying increases on the basis of performance delivered.  It’s easy to administer, but rarely an effective strategy.
  • Performance vs. Entitlement:  Rewarding management with a more generous hand vs. other employee segments – simply because they’re management.  Leadership is no more entitled to fair and equitable rewards than any other employee group.
  • Overuse of Discretion vs. Objectivity:  Reliance on subjective measures in lieu of quantifiable results.  When assessing employees on a subjective vs. quantifiable basis management discretion can sometimes lead to abuses (favored sons, “halo” effect, or even discrimination).
  • Abuse of FLSA Exemptions:  Avoiding overtime by treating non-exempt employees as if they were exempt.  Managers try this tactic all the time, for numerous reasons.  This is when you need to put on your policeman’s hat.
  • Surveys says:  Using a title and a generic write-up for matching jobs against “the market.”  It’s the easy way; anyone can do it.  There’s nothing to interpret, is there?  And then there’s the matter of quality surveys vs. . . . the others.
  • The Performance Distribution Curve:  Assigning employee performance assessments in a manner set to follow a bell-shaped graph.  The operative dirty word here is “assign.”  Nobody likes this tactic, except perhaps employment lawyers.
  • Ignoring Internal Equity: Hiring candidates without consideration of how other like-qualified employees are paid.  There are no secrets, so pleasing the new one while angering two veterans is a dubious strategy.
  • Title Inflation:  That meaningless “bone” you toss employees you can’t otherwise reward.  This tactic will raise fixed compensation costs without providing a corresponding benefit to the company.  You’ll eventually regret the decision.
  • Absent Safety Valve:  It’s often said that a good compensation program should cover 85% to 90% of contingencies; for the remainder a degree of flexibility and common sense should guide the decision-maker.  For those more rigid in their thinking, for whom the policy manual is gospel, or those who avoid stick-out-your-neck decision-making, authorizing of exceptions can be a struggle.
Can you see possible rationalizations for each side of the above?  Of course, depending on a litany of possible mitigating circumstances, individuals and . . . whatever.  Just have a care that your rationalizations don’t become a pattern of excuses, and that you document.
. . . are another manager’s errors
Then there are those decisions that over the course of one’s career you continue to regret – wishing you had the time to reboot your thought processes.
  • Hiring a friend / relative: If you would hesitate to sell them a used car, why would you ever think that hiring them would be an idyllic experience?  Correcting this mistake can be painful.
  • Ignoring Office Politics:  I’m not very good at politics” is a poor response to an important reality that all managers must deal with.  It’s all around us, so to pretend you’re above it all, or otherwise ignore it, is likely counter-productive.
  • Performance will take care of everything:  No, it won’t.  Not anymore.  In today’s work environment image and exposure have grown in importance, to the extent that just doing a good job is no longer enough to ensure career progression, or even longevity.
  • I was too busy for networking:  I usually hear this from people in transition, from those who failed to connect with colleagues, peers and industry insiders while they were employed.  You build a network when you don’t need it, so it’s there for you when you do.
Have I missed anything?  Are there other ill-considered practices or policies that you’ve experienced during your own career?
Of course there are.
Make sure that you learn from them.


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