Can You Future-Proof Your Business From Management Problems?

If you can future-proof your business from management problems, you may be able to head off many common manager vs. employee issues.
Journalist, freelance writer
September 28, 2017

Have you ever come up with a strategy to solve a problem before it happens? That's an example of how you can future-proof your business.

You've probably heard the term “future proof” before—it's a catchy phrase that encourages people to think about fixing potential issues now, so they don't overwhelm an organization down the road.

While you can try to future-proof your business against anything from hurricanes to hackers, a wiser tactic may be anticipating and avoiding management problems. If you think about it, management problems can lead to a different sort of crisis. For instance, if your business is ever actually hacked, you may look back and realize that it started with a management problem that led to your IT department weakening your company's tech defenses.

Consider trying these five strategies to help future-proof your business from management problems.

1. Future-proof your business by offering feedback.

Aaron Schmookler is a co-founder at The Yes Works, a team-building consultancy based out of Tacoma, Washington.

Schmookler says that business owners could future-proof a lot of management problems by making sure employees are consistently receiving feedback on their performance.

“An effective manager is a feedback machine," he says. “Everything they see their people do is an opportunity for feedback—kudos or correction."

Managers may make the mistake of thinking that an employee doesn't need consistent feedback, that they'll grow into the job. While one can hope, Schmookler advises against it.

“Don't figure they'll get better," he says. "Don't expect that a problematic behavior will disappear on its own, that they'll pick up the clues and fix it on their own. That's not how it works. What's measured and rewarded sticks around."

2. Show empathy to your team to help future-proof your business.

If managers don't show that they care, you could eventually have a workplace culture that is toxic and has a lot of turnover.

Steven Benson, founder and CEO of field sales app Badger Maps, says that a lack of empathy can be an issue for many managers and business owners.

“Leaders and managers who fail to empathize often create negative work experiences, because they don't appreciate the impact of the way they set things up, the cultural norms they create or how they treat people," Benson says.

In the vast majority of circumstances, you can recognize budding problems early and address them before they become big problems.

—Aaron Schmookler, co-founder, The Yes Works

He saw that first hand early in his career when he was part of a new class of employees at a Fortune 500 tech company.

“The class was set up to be a fairly cutthroat environment, where new employees were basically put in competition against each other," Benson says. "It's easy to rationalize being cutthroat or to expect people to check their emotions or feelings at the door."

While that's what management wanted, Benson thinks it was a mistake. Maybe, he says, companies fare better when employees have each other's back instead of being encouraged to stab each other in the back.

3. Give your employees the freedom to make decisions.

Micromanaging can create problems for your company. When managers micromanage, their employees may not feel empowered to take initiative or use their common sense. You know how sometimes you'll see a story about a company in the news where an employee doesn't make an exception for a customer who should have one? And the entire world trashes that company? Exactly.

“The more rules and restrictions you put into place that is a one-size-fits-all scenario, the less independent your employees will feel. Having employees who have some autonomy to make decisions and not micromanaging their work usually leads to happier people," says Jennifer Barnes, a co-founder and the president of Pro Back Office, a company that offers businesses accounting and human resource services.

The best managers often don't feel like they have to manage their people every second. They usually let employees do what they're paid to do and step in if there's a problem.

And if there is a problem, Barnes advises, “Be patient and listen to all sides. Don't undermine people in front of each other and be as diplomatic in your responses as possible."

4. Future-proof your business by making sure your managers remain professional with your employees.

Your managers should be friendly with their teams, but not necessarily friends, says Ian McClarty, the president of Phoenix NAP Global IT Services, which specializes in colocation and cloud services.

"Do not fall into the 'friend zone,'" McClarty warns. "Looking back, a management mistake I made was being friends with employees."

McClarty once had a staff member who would often leave work 10 to 15 minutes early.

"When approached about it, he said he didn't think he needed to check with his supervisor because he figured I 'had his back,'" McClarty says.

When you or your manager's friendship with employees supplants the boss-employee relationship, it can become challenging if you have to make a tough decision involving one of them.​ Some employees may subconsciously start taking advantage of your friendship.

For instance, how will you handle it if you're doling out promotions and you don't feel that one of your "friends" deserves a promotion? What if you have to fire a friend? What if one of your teammates notices that you seem really buddy-buddy with certain employees, but not so much with others? Are you planting the seeds for a revolt?

McClarty has since found a happy medium when it comes to his employees.

"I learned to find the right balance between being a friend and being the boss. I have established clear boundaries while maintaining a positive working atmosphere," McClarty says.

5. Have mentors available for your managers.

Managers don't necessarily learn all there is to know about being a manager the moment they're promoted to their new position.

“When hiring new managers, make sure they have the training needed to be effective," Barnes advises. “If someone has never been a manager before, but has recently been promoted or given the opportunity to take on more responsibility, make sure that they have as much mentorship from the people above them as possible."

She suggests starting a formal mentorship program for your managers to help create the next line of leaders at your company.

All that said, you may still experience some issues with your management.

"How do you avoid management problems? You don't," Schmookler says. "At least, you can't avoid them all. However, in the vast majority of circumstances, you can recognize budding problems early and address them before they become big problems."

That's the reason why you may want to make the attempt to future-proof your business. If nothing else, look at it this way: If you have a growing business, you have your past self to thank. Make sure your future self is just as thankful by being proactive in the present.

Read more articles on leadership.

Photo: Getty Images
Journalist, freelance writer