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Three laws of management that every manager should know

3 min read | 25 January, 2016 By Jonathan Richards



The hardest part about being a manager is trying to understand what's going on in your team and understanding why things don't go as planned. Over the years the scientific community has occasionally ventured into this area and a number of 'laws' have been penned to help the beleaguered manager.

Parkinson's law

This one is not new as it was first made public in 1955 in an Economist Articks. In brief it states that 'work expands so as to fill up the time available for its completion'. We've all been there - you give a member of your team a task to do that should take an hour but for some reason it's reached the end of the day and only come together in the last hour. They seem to have been working on it solidly so the only possible cause can be that you failed to set a clear deadline. It's why students pull all nighters in the week leading up to exams and arguably whey government departments bloat to the size of the budget not the task.

How to beat Parkinson's Law?

  1. Scope out work so that everyone knows what is needed
  2. Define what 'done' looks like
  3. Set boundaries so that everyone is clear - eg money & time
  4. Break tasks down into milestones with deadlines
  5. Set challenges and incentives to get the job done quicker
  6. Know what comes next when the task is done
  7. Game the system - if you see Parkinson at work then consider audacious goals or making expectations highly public

A number of corollaries have sprung from Parkinson's law including:

  • "if you wait until the last minute it only takes a minute to do"
  • "Work contracts to fit the time we have to do it"
And one for the techies:
  • "Google Chrome expands to fill the RAM available to it"

The Losada line

A decade of extensive research on high and low performing teams by psychologist Marcial Losada came up with the number 2.9013. This represents the ratio of positive to negative interactions required to make a team successful. It takes roughly 3 positive comments, experiences or expressions to offset the languishing effects of just one negative.

This explains why it's so difficult to lift employees out of a bad mood when something has gone wrong. It could also explain why an underperforming sales team goes on a downward spiral - there's just not enough good new around.

How to work with the Losada Line

  1. Understand you can't beat it so learn how to work with it
  2. This doesn't mean you should be cautious or reluctant about giving negative feedback. Neither should, you act all pollyanna around bad situations
  3. Build credit in the bank of positive feeddback
  4. Always look for opportunities to celebrate
  5. Constantly be on the look out for things that go right and make it clear you've noticed
  6. Catch people doing good things, no matter how small and reward it with a simple 'thank you'

The Peter Principle

This is a piece of management theory that suggests candidates are selected for a position based on the performance in their current role rather than their abilitiy to do the new role. If this happens then employees will only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively - "managers rise to the level of their incompetence".

How many times have you seen a great sales person being wasted by promotion to sales management. Just because someone can sell doesn't mean they can manage the sales function.

The Dilbert Principle is a variation on Peter Principle that states companies tend to promote their least- competent employees into management in order to limit the amount of damage they are capable of doing.

Avoiding the Peter Principle

  1. Write a clear job description for every role and recruit against it
  2. Develop other ways to reward good performers so that there are alternatives to promotion
  3. Avoid tagging the word 'Manager' to the end of a job title just to reward great work
  4. Understand where a person lacks the required skills and implement a training programme to fill the gap
  5. Have regular 1-1s with your team and don't shy away from managing performance
  6. Spend a moment thinking about your own position - have you been promoted above your ability? It's very common for entrepreneurs to fall fowl of the Peter Principle as their businesses grow.

Let me know if there are any other laws of business that need to be held up for scrutiny so that we can all become better managers.

Posted on 25 January, 2016

By Jonathan Richards

in Employee Engagement

Tag Employee Engagement

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