Executives Surveyed Reveal the Biggest Mistakes They've Made as Supervisors

Nobody’s perfect, including the boss. Executives polled recently acknowledged making a number of mistakes, from not recognizing staff accomplishments to overworking their teams. While the examples were diverse, some common themes emerged. The most frequently cited issue was lack of communication, which was at the root of 20 percent of the errors. Poor hiring decisions accounted for 13 percent of the responses.

The survey was developed by Accountemps, the world’s first and largest specialized staffing service for temporary accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals. It was conducted by an independent research firm and includes responses from 150 executives -- including those from human resources, finance and marketing departments -- with the nation’s 1,000 largest companies.

Executives were asked, “What is the biggest mistake you have ever made as a boss?”

Withholding praise was a problem cited by many:

  • "I didn’t give recognition to someone who turned out to be one of my best employees and soon lost her."
  • "I didn’t give credit when it was due to individuals who made major contributions."
  • "I failed to acknowledge someone who needed to be rewarded. I have regretted that for years."

While not recognizing positive contributions was a common mistake, letting poor performance go unchecked was another frequently cited misstep:

  • "I kept someone on who should have been let go."
  • "I didn’t recognize that someone was in way over her head. She wasn’t able to do the job because she didn’t know how."
  • Keeping a person in a position where he failed was my biggest mistake."

"Managing people effectively requires offering support and making tough decisions, and few people are naturally adept at both," said Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps and author of Motivating Employees For Dummies (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.). "Over time, however, most supervisors learn from their mistakes and are able to improve weak areas."

Hiring the right staff is a key management challenge, as these next examples show:

  • "I encouraged a group manager to hire an internal candidate when an external candidate was better qualified."
    "
  • Hiring people who are too similar to me has been a mistake."
  • "I hired an executive-level individual for a much less senior-level job."

Once you have good employees, you don’t want to lose them. These next executives wish they had read the writing on the wall:

  • "I didn’t pick up on signals from disgruntled employees."
  • I regret not seeing the signs that someone was going to leave."
  • I failed to clearly understand an employee’s situation and ended up losing him."

"It’s not uncommon for managers to first learn of an employee’s unhappiness via a resignation letter," said Messmer. "Routinely checking in with staff can prevent unwelcome surprises. This becomes especially important as the economy improves and more career choices are available to professionals."

Even if their actions didn’t result in turnover, managers regretted not being more supportive to staff:

  • "I wish I had provided more opportunities for subordinates to engage in projects they enjoyed."
  • "I didn’t recognize associates’ birthdays or anniversaries."
  • I didn’t understand that my staff had reached a limit on their ability to produce."
  • I was overly harsh in my criticism, and that brought about insecurities in my employees."

False assumptions often led to trouble:

  • "I assumed I knew what my employees’ problems were instead of talking to them. Now I talk to my employees instead of assuming that I know what’s going on."
  • "I assumed someone’s motives were like mine and he would want to make his job a career."
  • "I assumed someone was very knowledgeable when she wasn’t. It backfired on me when a presentation was made."

Although management mistakes can be a learning experience, some lessons come at a hefty price:

"I delegated some work on a project and never checked to see if it was completed. A year later, I discovered it had never been done, and it cost the company about a million dollars."

Still, while errors can be painful, it’s best to acknowledge them and move on:

"Early in my career, I didn’t admit my mistakes, and it was very damaging. I have since changed my ways."

Accountemps has more than 325 offices throughout North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and offers online job search services at www.accountemps.com.

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