5 common worst practices bosses need to abandon now

Micromanagement, using fear as a motivator, leaning too heavily on top performers, and other ways you might be screwing yourself over without knowing it.

5 common worst practices bosses need to abandon now
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Having a best practices lists can boost productivity when employees don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Tried and true methods can save time, money, and frustration, but sticking too closely to them without reevaluation can be dangerous.


“When an organization has processes and practices in place that are seen as ‘the way we do things around here,’ people may tend to simply go through the motions,” says John Taylor, practice development manager at RiseSmart, a provider of career transition services. “Legacy ways of doing things will naturally cause productivity to dip if they aren’t periodically examined for improvement, or if new ways of doing things are dismissed too quickly.”

Best practices could become worst practices if you’re not careful. Here are five common workplace practices to reconsider:

(Too) Hands-on Management

One of the quickest ways to increase turnover in a company is by creating a culture that allows micromanaging, says Alex Nadal, assistant general counsel and HR consultant for the HR solutions provider Engage PEO. From providing excessive oversight on a task to demanding to be cc’d on every email, micromanaging is counterproductive and stifling to creativity and progress.

“Micromanagement creates high turnover, is demoralizing for employees, and destroys trust between the employee and the manager,” he says. “Micromanagement destroys autonomy for employees, which means that over time employees will lose the desire to do anything except what the micromanager specifically demands, and nothing more; micromanaged employees do not go the extra mile. Unfortunately, even in 2018, many managers still employ this outdated and morale-crushing technique.”

Instead, companies should create an open-door policy where team members can receive coaching or guidance only when needed. “Put more emphasis on managing your organization’s culture than on managing your employees,” says Nadal. “Effective leaders communicate the vision and values of the company and then trust their team members to complete tasks and projects based on these values. Manage expectations and not the task itself by clearly communicating the goals and the intended purpose of the task.”

Demanding Excellence

Setting big goals can be a way to challenge employees. Managers take it too far, however, when they use fear as a motivator, believing people will do better work for a demanding boss, says Amy C. Edmondson, author of The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth and Novartis professor of leadership and management at Harvard Business School.


“While this practice can work when high-quality work output is both observable and objective–tasks on an assembly line, for instance–for most of the knowledge-intensive work today, where ingenuity and collaboration are required for excellence, fear-based management backfires,” she says.

Using fear leads people to hide problems and mistakes, says Edmondson. Instead, challenge employees by combining stretch goals with open ears. Start with articulating ambitious goals, suggesting general directions and approaches that might work, and communicating an intense interest in hearing what’s happening out there in the world of action, and why, she says.

“Stretch goals should be articulated more or less as hypotheses, not as definitive targets, anytime there is uncertainty or interdependence,” says Edmondson.

“Rewarding” Your Best Workers with More Work

When you have outstanding employees, it’s natural to give them more responsibilities. If you give them too much work, though, you might overwhelm them and cause them to quit, says Carrie Duarte, PwC’s Workforce of the Future Leader.

“According to recent PwC research, workload manageability is the number-one ‘at risk’ capability for organizations in North America,” she says. “Increasingly, many people work in a hyper-paced, extremely demanding work cultures, where stress and the risk of burnout are rampant.”

Instead, create manageable workloads. “Pick the top three to five priorities for them to focus on, and then your overall strategy will be more efficient and effective,” says Duarte. “When strategies fall flat, it is often due to poor execution and lack of focus and productivity of the key contributors to the strategy implementation.”


Also encourage periods of recovery. “Ensure that people take rejuvenating vacations or sabbatical time away from work,” says Duarte. “Promote short breaks during the workday to improve performance. Enable employees, if possible, to choose when and where they work. And create an effective ecosystem of working environments across the physical and virtual domains.”

Annual Performance Reviews

If your company is still holding the annual performance review, stop, saysAnne Gilson, regional managing director, HR consulting at the HR services provider OneDigital. “They don’t work,” she says. “Data regarding real-time feedback works much better.”

Performance reviews suck up hours, days, weeks, even months in some organizations. The word-heavy process demands that leaders reflect and evaluate.

“The leader rates more on their own performance than the employee’s, and the most recent events impact the rating than the full performance period,” says Gilson. “It takes time, the ratings are not real, and the employee often feels confused, offended, or unmotivated by the performance discussion.”

Instead, performance conversations need to be radically frequent. “Weekly is best,” says Gilson. “Ask questions; how is the work going, how the leader can help; what is the employee working on that supports their development and desires.”

Department-wide Meetings

Meetings larger than 10 people and longer than an hour shouldn’t happen, says Bob Pozen, senior lecturer, MIT Sloan Executive Education.


“Think critically of all meetings,” he says. “Social scientists have studied how many people is too many for an effective meeting. The conclusion: More than seven to eight attendees at a meeting reduces its effectiveness. With more than seven to eight attendees, it is difficult to have active debate and discussion, which should be the objective of most meetings rather than to merely exchange information.”

At larger meetings, attendees also tend to engage in “social loafing” where they take less responsibility for what goes on and let others take the lead, says Pozen. Instead, keep meetings small and short, or replace meetings with email updates whenever possible, he says.