Bad management advice can stick around for generations, masquerading as accepted practice.
People are often taught something as they rise up the ranks and stick with it for their whole careers, despite evidence that it doesn’t work or makes employees miserable.
We’ve broken out some outdated and ineffective management advice that needs to die.
Bad Advice No. 1: Stack ranking is the best way to keep a workforce productive.
First popularised by Jack Welch at General Electric in the 1980s, stack or forced ranking requires managers to designate a small percentage of employees, typically about 10%, as top performers. Meanwhile, a set number must be labelled as low performers and are often fired or pushed out.
Human performance at a company doesn’t fit a bell curve. At a company that hires and manages well, there’s no reason to think that some 20% of employees are poor performers that need to be reprimanded or fired to motivate everybody else to work harder.
Managers end up either having to name some people as poor performers who aren’t, or end up rewarding people who spend their time lobbying, sucking up, and doing highly visible tasks rather than the quiet and essential people behind the scenes. Either way, productivity isn’t the result.
Bad Advice No. 2: Employees perform best when their whole day is managed and scheduled out.
There’s a school of thought that leaving employees up to their own devices is a recipe for laziness, incompetence, or even corruption, and that micromanagement is the only thing that keeps people on task. That might be true for relatively low-skilled repetitive tasks, but for most adult professionals, having a manager always over their shoulder is uncomfortable and feels infantilizing.
For engineers in particular, micromanagement is among the worst of evils, distracting from time better spent coding. Feeling trusted is one of the best motivators out there.
Bad Advice No. 3: Fear is the best motivator.
Fear might provide short-term boosts of motivation, but research finds that the best sources of motivation are intrinsic. The best managers manage to imbue the sense that workers are creating something of value, and that their feelings and needs are important. Bosses who make a point of emphasising their power actually have less-productive employees.
Constant pressure leads employees to take the safe choice, rather than the best one.
When employees only work hard because they’re scared, they’re most motivated to look for a job where they’ll work hard because they enjoy and care about it.
Bad Advice No. 4: Money is the best incentive.
Everyone certainly looks forward to their paycheck and bonus, but research finds that there are better alternatives for motivating people. Employees are far more motivated when they think about helping others, rather than themselves, and public recognition is much more effective than money.
In fact, commissions and performance-based bonuses may make people act unethically or cheat in order to get ahead, because there’s a clear and concrete financial reward.
Bad Advice No. 5: Everyone needs to be in the same office.
Older managers in particular place an outsized emphasis on the in-person meeting. Managing people remotely is difficult — it’s hard to get across the sort of nuance that you can achieve one on one. But this is simply the reality of the world that we live in.
Having a distributed workforce means that hiring decisions don’t have to be made based on geography and that everyone isn’t working exactly the same hours.
Bad Advice No. 6: “Best practices” are the key to success.
Best practices almost never last. The world and business changes too rapidly for them to persist for very long. In the end, the effort to repeat past success ends up leading people to change too slowly.
At its worst, following best practices becomes an excuse for avoiding new things or responding to difficult problems.
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