I recently stayed at a hotel and was eating breakfast at the hotel restaurant. An occupational hazard of our work is that we often observe teams working in public and can well assess the health of the culture. You’ve probably done the same thing at a restaurant. You can just “feel” how the team works together.

On this particular day, you could “feel” that the team was not working well together and that they hated their job. The mistakes weren’t large, but they were frequent. My coffee cup was dirty, my over-easy eggs were hard, and my toast was the wrong type. On top of that, the servers just acted miserable. Again, nothing unforgivable, but just things I observed.

The manager was very engaged however. He was aggressively moving around the floor and engaging customers filling up coffee cups and handling every request. He was a real customer service rock star. When I ordered decaf coffee and they didn’t have a pot already made, he showed up to my table with a decaf Americano (certainly an upgrade) to make sure I had my coffee. He offered me a to-go cup before I left. He saw that I did not have butter or jam at my table and scrambled to get me some before I even asked. He was awesome at customer service.

And probably not a very good manager.

From my limited observations, it looked like this manager had fallen into the Management Hole. The Management Hole happens when a manager of a team focuses on keeping the process working well and not on helping the team to perform the process. It is a hole because once the Manager becomes a key cog in the wheel, it is hard to stop. My overall experience at this restaurant was fairly positive despite all of the mistakes because of this manager, not because of his team. If the manager isn’t there, I’m betting this falls apart.

If you find yourself as a key part of the process, here are some tips for climbing out of the Management Hole.

  1. Cast a Vision of Success with Your Team – Pull your team together and establish clear expectations for what success looks like. Include them in the discussion if you can. Don’t get angry and “yell” at the team, but be frank and honest about what you’ve seen that doesn’t work and what you see that does work.
  2. Give Constant Feedback – You will want to reference the above Vision constantly with the team both when they are being successful and when they aren’t being successful. The feedback should be 1000 small nudges in the right direction. Be clear and encouraging. Highlight success stories for the whole team, even when the stories are small wins.
  3. Focus on Behaviors, not People – It is a mistake to tell your people to be “more like Steve” or even “see what I did”. Its not about the people themselves, but what the people do. When we judge people’s intentions, it makes them shut down. Instead of saying “you need to care more about the customer”, but need to point to specific actions that the person should have taken. If your team starts to believe they are all failures, they will act accordingly. In contrast, if they hear you talking about what they can do to be more successful and compliment them when they do it the right way, they will start to own their own success.
  4. You Might Need to Fire Someone – If you have someone who just resists this shift in culture, it might be time to let them go. This is especially true if they are actively working to fight the direction you are trying to implement. While this might not be easy to do as a manager, remember that it will help you, your team, and yes, even help the employee who is clearly miserable in their job.

Don’t fall down the Management Hole. You might be able to solve all of the problems yourself, but that isn’t the path to being successful. Great managers build teams who solve problems.