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When Is Enough, Enough?

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In this series of blog posts I am addressing the most frequent questions we hear about the challenges of being a highly engaged effective manager. In my previous post I discussed how to kick off a management relationship. But what about the other end of the spectrum? When is enough, enough? We are frequently asked, "at what point can I determine if an employee requires so much of my management time that it's just not worth it? How can I tell if an employee is just too high maintenance?"

First, let me promise you this: Most employees require more management time than you think and most require much more management time than you might wish to spend. Some employees need to be coached into their roles every step of the way.

Second, here is some good news: Most employees require more of your management time in the early stages of a job and less over time. Most require more management time in the early stages of a new task, responsibility, project, or role, and then less over time. This is how employee development actually plays out. If you provide a lot of direction, guidance, feedback, and support, hammering away at expectations and standard operating procedures and best practices, employees learn and improve. They grow. They get better at their jobs. They get better at managing themselves. They get better at being managed by you. And thus, they usually require less time over time. But this only works if you put in the time, up front, over time, to build that person up. (As I've said a bunch of times, this is what I call "real empowerment"!)

Third, with every individual, you have figure out just how closely the person needs to be managed and you can calibrate your approach accordingly. Some people, you will discover, require a huge amount of management time in order to succeed. And with some people, the amount of time necessary does not diminish much. Hands-off managers sometimes mistake these employees as incessant low performers. Hands-on managers usually discover that these employees can and will do good work, but only with constant coaching and assistance.

So when is it too much? That is a business decision you have to make for yourself. Is this employee much less able and skilled and motivated than other employees you could hire for this job from your available labor pool? Are you sure? Or is it the case that, if you replace the employee, the labor pool available to you for this job is likely to yield a similar employee? Sometimes the punch line is this: Given your available labor and given this particular job, the only way you are going to get high performance consistently is if you commit to very high intensity management -- twice, three times, four times a day. Sometimes the punch line is this: No way! I'm paying this person too much and this job is too high level to justify the kind of management time this person requires.