Ten Management Practices to Throw Overboard in 2012

Hurrah! It’s a new year. I get to write about the 10 management practices most in need of extermination in 2012—possibly my favorite topic, and with luck a service to my HR brothers and sisters who’d love to toss their employers’ most goofy anti-leadership programs out the window.

There are some new and horrendous management practices on our list this year. Just when I thought I’d seen the last of Forced Ranking (that insulting and pointless practice skewered by pretty much every management researcher or pundit), up come ingenious employers with new, equally heinous and idiotic practices to replace it. (Thanks to everyone who sent me items for inclusion on this list! If you’ve got a really bad management practice, policy, or program to share with me, send it to liz@asklizryan.com.)

Take a look at our list of management practices to nuke in 2012. How many of these are in place at your employer?

No-LinkedIn Policies

In 2011, I heard for the first time about employers forbidding their employees from using LinkedIn—at all. Those employers will suffer for that branding blackout because LinkedIn is one of the most powerful ways for an employer to build a human presence in the blogosphere. It’s also free. But some employers are stupid and fearful, so they’ve created a LinkedIn blackout where their company’s leadership brand and message should be. That’s a shame for the employees, who should be entitled to the same online credibility and visibility benefits their colleagues at less inflexible employers enjoy.

Death Certificate Requirements

I can see why employers require their workers to bring in death certificates when those employees expect to be paid for two or three days of bereavement leave. After all, you could make up a relative any time you wanted a day off. You could drop in to anyone’s funeral. I don’t think employers go far enough, in fact. I recommend they require not only a death notice, but the funeral home’s articles of incorporation, a CD of the funeral music, and photos of the deceased with the employee.

(The previous paragraph is tongue in cheek. I think it’s disgusting to require a grieving employee to bring in a death notice in order to get two measly days’ pay. Don’t you trust your employees? After all, you hired them.)

Press “1″ to Fire Someone

I was dismayed when employers started removing embedded HR staff some years ago, but things on the local-guidance front got worse in 2011. All year, I heard from managers whose HR support has been moved outside the company and offshore, requiring them to call a phone bank when they need to coach an employee, tackle a performance issue or personality conflict, or even fire someone. If you’re going to hire people, you’re going to have to invest in leadership training and support, and workers 10,000 miles away will never understand your culture and your issues. You’re asking for a lawsuit when you remove employee-relations people from the teams they support (not to mention turnover, dissatisfaction, and managers at their wits’ ends).

Like the Desk? It’s Yours

Another newcomer to our Worst Management Practices list for 2012 is the practice of making employees pay for their office equipment. Employees aren’t allowed to bring their own laptops to work. They have to use the one the company supplies, and pay for it. At one large employer with a facility down the road from me, the staff was told, “Your BlackBerry will now cost you $100 a month.” Even if you can get a better deal from another carrier, you have to go with the office plan. I heard from a young man in Chicago who is paying $300 a month out of his salary to use his office space, even though he’s on salary, not commission. What’s the lesson? Run your career like an entrepreneur, whether you’re working on a payroll or not.

Stealing Miles

If I travel for my work, I’m giving up a lot of that time and disrupting my home life, sometimes dramatically. I’m appalled that otherwise reasonable employers would find it correct and appropriate to steal employees’ frequent-flier miles. How cheap do you have to be to say, “Yes, you stood in those security lines and you ate those airplane peanuts, but the rewards the airline gave you are now ours, and we’re going to use them to get other employees to other destinations”? Give your employees the miles they earned, or get ready to lose whatever top-drawer talent you’ve got.

Forced Ranking

According to the many e-mails I receive, the long-reviled management practice called Forced Ranking is on the wane. In an era of staff cutbacks, it may be that leadership teams have finally realized lining their employees up in order of General Awesomeness and telling them their rankings had no good effects at all, and plenty of bad ones. We know teamwork is critical for success, yet leadership teams kept insisting for years that once a year their managers kill team spirit by pitting employees against one another in a Lord of the Flies ranking exercise.

Black Hole Recruiting

Some employers recruit talent in the worst possible way, using a practice I call Black Hole Recruiting. They set up an Applicant Tracking System practically guaranteed to push the most capable, most in-demand job-seekers away. They sort résumés using keywords (because, as we all know, when a person uses the words “results-oriented, strategic leader” that person is undoubtedly strategic and highly effective) and subject job-seekers to endless red tape, delays, and generally insulting interactions all the way through the selection process. I’m excited to see Black Hole Recruiting lose steam in 2012, as employers figure out that personal contact, community-building, and the cultivation of talent pipelines bring in more and better rock stars than bureaucratic black holes ever did.

Sorry, You’re Too Late to Be Sick

I was an expert HR witness in an employment case last year and the company involved had management practices on a level with or worse than most of our past years’ Top 10 list entries. Here’s one: Employees are required to call in sick to a large corporate call center by 6 a.m., and each day there are five “sick day” slots available (among 200-plus call center agents). If you’re the sixth caller one morning and the slots are all gone, you can’t be sick. You’re sick anyway? Too bad. If you stay home when the sick-day slots are all taken, you get a disciplinary write-up.

Death by Handbook

“Our employee handbook would kill you if it hit you at the right angle,” writes one correspondent. “The thing is 400 pages long, easy.” An employee handbook like that will kill you even if you don’t get hit by it. An employee handbook is a window on the corporate soul, so if you’re job-hunting, make sure to get a copy. (If they won’t give you one, run for the hills and rejoice: You’ve dodged a bullet.) In 2012, I challenge HR directors to thin out their employee handbooks and workplace rules and policies in general. Humanity in the workplace is back in style.

Leaderless Leadership

When I read about the reality TV show Undercover Boss I thought I was being put on. Could CEOs and their handlers be stupid enough to shout the news on national TV: “Hey, world! I’ve got so little presence in my firm that my own employees don’t recognize me!” Shareholders, take note.

We can’t imagine an Apple employee not knowing Steve Jobs’s face, voice, and style, and Jobs was not alone. What is the point of leadership, after all, except to share a vision and a worldview with other people? If the employees in your organization don’t know who your top dog is, and don’t know his (or her) face, voice, jokes, views, and perspective, can you say that your organization is being led at all?

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.