Classic: Behaviors Managers Hate, Business Cluelessness

In a departure from my regular practice of posting re-edited material from a few years ago in my “classic post” series, today I’m going to expand the current sequence – Behaviors Managers Hate – with a brand new post.

As I was editing last week’s post on “Performance Cluelessness” I realized that it wasn’t the only kind of “Cluelessness” that drives managers up a wall.  The second type, I call “Business Cluelessness,” and I think you’ll readily see why it is different.

So let’s start with an easy question:  Is business complicated, confusing, or difficult to comprehend?

At the twenty-thousand foot level, the answer is “no.”  In business you offer a good or service for sale, connect to customers, provide said good or service, invoice the customer, and put the money in the bank.  Out of the bank, you pay expenses for materials (if applicable), salaries, and other items needed to keep the business running.

Basically pretty simple, right?

At the detail level, there is plenty to become confused about.  But I’m not referring to those things here.  This post is not about the intricacies of variances in LIFO inventory accounts, or the detailed differences between tax and book depreciation.  It refers to those big picture principles that describe how the business operates – which is plenty to inform an employee about priorities and needs of the business.

Okay, maybe it isn’t that simple, but if you spend 40 hours (or more) per week in a business for years on end, you ought to be able to glean a little bit about the business and how it runs.

Over the years, I’ve been quite stunned by the number of employees I’ve encountered that seem to have absolutely no idea how the business works.

Capacity, Education, or just plain Laziness?

There are definitely employees that lack the mental capacity to understand the basics of the business’s model.  I encounter employees like this every week when I shop at the grocery store.  They are good at bagging groceries, have a friendly smile for the customers, and probably cause few problems for their managers.  Many of them are mentally challenged.

These employees who have mental challenges, probably lack the capacity to see the larger picture.  I’ve always found such employees, assigned to jobs that are well suited to them, to be happy, productive and cause little trouble.  And while they may be clueless about the business, they don’t drive their managers crazy because of it.

The rest of employees, which in most organizations means “most of them,” certainly have the intellectual capacity to understand the business.

So why do so many of them fail to do so?

Some might claim it is a lack of education.  “If I had trouble with algebra, how can you expect me to understand a business?” or “If you expect me to understand the business, you should provide classes (or seminars, or tutorials, etc.,) and pay me for the time, since it’s to YOUR benefit, not MINE.”  (The last part of this comment is usually implied, although I’ve had people directly say that to me.)

For most people, I have trouble accepting this explanation for why they are clueless about the business.  First off, they’ve somehow managed to figure out how to lead lives in our complex world (drive, pay bills, prepare meals, make decisions, etc) much of which comes without “formal education.”  Yet they can’t seem to comprehend the basic business model of the company where they work?  Seriously?

I’m reminded of “courses” provided to help people learn computer programs, like spreadsheets.  Thirty-five years ago, when personal computers were new, I could understand the need to provide formal instruction for this (Lotus 1-2-3, at that time).  Today, do we really need to sit in a classroom to learn how to use a spreadsheet?  People can use Facebook, but they can’t add a column of numbers in Excel?  I don’t buy it – spreadsheets have become a part of daily life, and not being able to figure out how to utilize them without a formal class is more than “a bit odd.”

As one of my old bosses used to say:  “When the pupil is ready, the teacher will appear.”

In the vast majority of cases, the reason employees don’t understand the business where they work is simple – because they aren’t interested in doing so.  In other words, they are LAZY.

Perhaps they don’t see the value in learning about the business.  Perhaps they are so pressed for time and limited in mental bandwidth that they can’t get around to learning about the company.  Most likely, however, they simply don’t make it a priority.

A real picture from Ethiopia, with St. George Church in Lalibela (A World Heritage site) in the background and some of my family in the foreground.

A real picture from Ethiopia, with St. George Church in Lalibela (A World Heritage site) in the background and some of my family in the foreground.

Why this drives bosses bonkers.

The business clueless have to be spoon-fed by their bosses, an activity that takes up valuable time and often results in blame for mistakes being shifted back to the boss.

Why does this happen?

Without an understanding of the basic business model or the goals of the company, a clueless employee has no idea what to do or how to do it intelligently.  I’ve many times found clueless employee vapidly pushing data around in a spreadsheet without any thought of the value of this activity or even who might utilize it.  Worse, I’ve encountered plenty of others that, when out of things immediately screaming for attention, Facebook, make personal calls, or play solitaire.  Their explanation for this:  “You didn’t tell me what to do next” or “You didn’t tell me how to do it.”

For the manager, there’s plenty to dislike in all this – wasted time, misdirected effort, and blame rebounding back at you.

It is the exact opposite of what the great employee does.  Great employees anticipate needs, understands the organizational impacts of their actions, doesn’t waste their boss’s time, and take responsibility.

This is why “Business Cluelessness” makes the list of “Behaviors Managers Hate.”

Posts in the “Behaviors Managers Hate” Series

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To the right is the cover for the Audiobook version of  INCENTIVIZE.  This novel is about a U.S. based mining company, and criminal activity that the protagonist (a woman by the name of Julia McCoy) uncovers at the firm's Ethiopian subsidiary.  Her discover sets in motion a series of events that include, kidnapping, murder, and terrorism in the Horn of Africa.

My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.