Dirty Management Truth: What’s Up?

Dirty truth:  Most of us were never taught how to manage an individual, and especially when that individual goofed up. We mimic our parents, bosses, Murphy Brown, Donald Trump. We dislike it. They dislike it. It’s just something that has to be done, like vomiting when you’ve had too much of the wrong thing.

Here’s how to do it right.  I’ve had many many clients work with it and report great results. One of them, a CEO asked me last week, “Is there a name for this?”  I stammered, “umm, I don’t have a name. I adapted it from what I learned from one of my first coaches.” The client said, as he jotted, “I’m going to call it ‘What’s Up Management.'”  I said, “I love that. I’m going to call it that, too.” And here’s how it works.  5 Steps:

  1.  It’s essential that you — at least think you — have made expectations very clear, and your employee has fallen short.  (This works with a kid, co-worker, spouse, or even boss, though some of these are a little or a lot trickier.)
  2. Now, in a safe setting — e.g., the employee’s office, your kid’s bedroom, etc. — you say, “Joe, you said you were going to do X, and you have given me Y,” and true to the name of the practice, you conclude with the question, “What’s up?”   That’s ALL you say.  And you say it with kindness and curiosity.  (No, not with rage, seething madness, accusation, a power tone, etc.)
  3. Listen for the answer.  Here are some favorites:
  1. No, I didn’t say I’d do that (or by then).
  2. Sorry but I had other more important stuff (that you gave me to do).
  3. I did say that, but I didn’t think it was a hard deadline (or I didn’t think you cared).
  4. Other stuff came up.
  5. The dog ate it.
  6. I’ve been waiting for Julie to give me info and can’t do it until then.
  7. I got confused about what you wanted.
  8. I would have, but it turned out to be the wrong thing (for the client).
  9. Sorry.

4. Repeat it back, clearly and perfectly: “So you said were going to do X, and you have given me Y and the reason is  [e.g., F] ‘You’ve been waiting for Julie?'” They may say, “yes,” or they may squirm and modify, e.g., adding, “I just wasn’t sure what you wanted.”  If the latter, then you clearly and perfectly say, “you were going to do x and have given me y, and the reason is you’ve been waiting for Julie, and you weren’t sure what I wanted?”  If they squirm again, you repeat it back again — not trying to nail them – but just trying to clarify so there is mutual understanding.

5. Together you diagnose.

A  Sorry to say, but you the manager may have been largely at fault.  It may be you didn’t make it clear; this happens to me more often than I would like, as I tend to be abstract and open-ended, or you gave the impression your priorities had, in fact, changed.  In such cases, what you have to do, what I have to do is own my fault. And I may even ask them to push me to be more clear in the future.

B. When they have made the mistake, or a significant part of it, then you encourage them to diagnose what they will do to ameliorate now and to avoid next time.

What’s the goal?  Learning, learning, learning.  If they have failed in the same way more than once, then sure, you may be moving to “writing them up,” and/or helping them find a better-fitting job. But in the meantime, it’s about continuous learning, adjusting and moving forward.

And the key to all of this is “What’s up?”  Like the kids ask.  Casual. Not inclining them to cover up, to be defensive, to shift the blame.  No.  Yu want them to learn, so that you and they can

Lead with your best self.

  • This is an excellent piece of education for managers. I have so many times seen and heard about the exact opposite being done. The manager / supervisor never gave clear instructions, direction, goals, et cetera, and then blames the employee for a bad outcome, or even condemning the employee for a good outcome which the manager decided they did not want. As Walter Heller is quoted as saying, “The first myth of management is that it exists.” Sadly, this is often true.

    One common error I have seen is that the upper management gives the front line managers / supervisors the same duties as the workers they direct, and not enough time to manage. And then the upper management gives the front line management poor job ratings, doing the opposite of what you recommend.

  • Beautiful – with an emphasis on the “asker” being truly, authentically, sincerely, deeply curious, interested and non-defensive.

    Until the asker is ready, hold off!

  • Cathy,
    I am just reading your response from two years ago, and feeling: Yes, Yes, YES!
    “What’s up” management is all about learning. It is not about venting, punishing, controlling, etc.
    It is about BOTH parties learning. So often managers prescribe solutions without any idea of the array of reasons for the non-performance!
    Great management is about LEARNING, as you put it “being truly, authentically, sincerely, deeply curious.”

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