The Four Things Your Management Team Must Stop Doing Right Now

September 14, 2021 Maddie Grant

One of the biggest lessons in both business and life is that removing barriers or impediments to progress is typically much more effective than pushing harder or trying to leap over the obstacles. Instead of adding things to your “to do” list, try creating a “stop doing” list and see how that frees you up to get where you need to go. This is particularly true with management teams, and when I coach management teams, I’m finding there are a number of areas where management teams need to stop doing things in order to improve. Here are my top four.

  1. Stop making everything a priority.

Most management teams are confusing the need to get something done with what is a priority. I recently heard a senior leader argue that marketing was a top priority for them—we can’t sell our products, services, and membership if we don’t do marketing well. Okay, while that statement is true (you must, indeed, do marketing well) that’s not the same thing as a priority. A priority is a choice—a choice to elevate something in importance over other things, for strategic reasons. Like this is the year we will grow the membership base, or this is the year we will launch our first certification program.

That doesn’t mean you don’t do marketing (or your annual meeting or your other programs). It just means that the organizational priority is something else right now, and as you do those other things, you make sure not to mess with your priority areas. We learned this early in in our culture design work—you can’t change the whole culture at once. I think many times management teams won’t make that bold call to elevate some things over others, because they don’t want to imply that other members of the team are not “important,” as if it were personal. Remember, if everything is important, nothing is important.

2. Stop avoiding your conflict.

I wish I could quantify the time lost, opportunities missed, and effort duplicated or wasted because management teams refuse to simply tackle their conflict quickly and without drama. I think the numbers would be staggering. Conflicts, of course, are not easy. Emotions can make talking about things harder; we’re all coming at it with different perspectives and data sets; and problems can be multi-layered and hard to solve.

But as hard as that is, choosing to avoid the conflict is guaranteed to make things harder. You need to build your capacity to hit conflict straight on. Years ago I worked with a management team that was struggling with a big issue around the CEO being a micromanager. In a facilitated session, one of the VPs finally confronted him directly, complaining that the CEO would constantly tell him how to run his program. The CEO explained that when he said “what about doing X,” he wasn’t suggesting doing that, he only wanted to know that the VP had considered it when making his choice.

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And instantly, that issue disappeared. Yet for months the VPs had been talking about this big issue and wondering what to do about it. All they needed to do was have a clear and focused conflict conversation that generated a shared understanding of the issue and a commitment about what to do differently moving forward. (And if you need to get better about having those conversations, consider our Managing Conflict with Confidence workshop for your team.)

3. Stop letting the culture manage you.

Too many management teams think that their role in culture is mostly to define what a good culture looks like. Go on a retreat, come back with a set of core values, and then communicate that out to the staff. All that is good, but here’s what happens next. Different parts of the organization live those core values in different ways, and performance suffers. Some departments just won’t share information or work collaboratively. And instead of addressing the friction that is being caused by your culture, you just get mad at each other for the performance problem, or you come up with work-arounds to try and make up the gap. You’re letting the culture manage you.

The alternative is to actively manage your culture. Look for areas of culture friction, and then change the way you do things to eliminate that friction. Let’s say marketing and IT are constantly fighting for control around how to manage back-end database issues. The culture issue there is that the teams are valuing control more than problem solving; that’s the source of the friction. To change that, you might change the structure of how the two teams meet. Pull the complex problems that need to be solved out of the tactical project meetings into their own meetings, with a longer time block and maybe some pre-work done by both sides. This simple process change will help shift their focus to problem solving. This is frequently a focus of our culture change coaching with individual C-suite leaders.

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4. Stop pretending you don’t fail.

Nobody wants to fail. I get it. But when that evolves into putting a positive spin on everything in order to build the narrative that you are a successful organization, then you are only hurting yourself in the end. Failure is a critical part of being successful, because it is through failure that we learn. When our story is that we are always successful, then we never learn.

The best way to fix this is with metrics. In our coaching program, I help management teams develop organizational priorities in three-month increments. These quarterly “rocks” are always expressed as measurable goals that have a binary outcome—you either did it, or you didn’t. Finish mapping body of knowledge and identifying gaps for 3 of the sub-areas of xyz practice area. Increase attendance at xyz education programs by 10% compared to this quarter last year.

If you accomplish these goals, then great. If you fail, then great—what did you learn from it? Why did it take longer than three months to map the body of knowledge? What assumptions did you make that were wrong? How can you apply that to the knowledge mapping work moving forward. Embrace your failures and keep moving.

Management teams have a lot on their plate, and having to learn how to do it all remotely over the last couple of years has not made it easier. That’s exactly why we think management team coaching can be so valuable right now. We work with teams to sharpen their focus, remove the behaviors that are slowing them down, and unlock new opportunities for growth. And if you want to hear about it first hand, be sure to come to the Digital Now conference in Nashville this December, because I’ll be doing a session with the CEO of one of our team coaching clients, and we’ll be talking about how he’s been applying some of the concepts above in the real world.


Photo by 43 Clicks North

Maddie Grant

Maddie Grant, CAE, is an expert culture designer and digital strategist who focuses on helping organizations unlock the power in their culture and navigate culture change. She has specific expertise in digital transformation and generational differences in the workplace. She has explored the language of workplace culture for several years through her books, co-authored with her partner in business and life Jamie Notter, including Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World (2011), the Amazon category best-seller When Millennials Take Over: Preparing for the Ridiculously Optimistic Future of Business (2015) and the Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement (2019).