One of the things that bothers me to no end is when managers treat employees the same way they treat their fantasy team. When you have a fantasy football or baseball (or soccer) team, you trade players, you move them around on your roster, you release players and sign free agents, etc. You may have to deal with a salary cap or other roster limitations.
Although many people, myself included, take it very seriously, it is not the real world. You are not actually putting Jay Cutler on the field or releasing Tom Brady (as some fantasy league owners did early last year). Your moves have absolutely no impact on their success in real life.
Fantasy leagues are fun and a great social experience but they do not represent management training. What leads to fantasy league success, regularly changing your roster to leverage match-ups and hot new players, is not the way to build your team or company. Unfortunately, I have seen many cases where managers and companies treat their employees as if they are in a fantasy league. Interestingly, some of the best leaders I have worked with have fallen into this trap.
Playing “Fantasy League Company”
I sometimes see managers trading employees. One manager may need someone with a particular skill set, another manager may need to cut their head count and they agree to “trade” the first employee for a lower-cost employee.
Sometimes managers play fantasy league within their own organization. They will move people into different positions because it improves their chances to “win.” It will not be based on the employee’s performance or career path but there is a short-term opportunity to solve an issue by taking a person from one role to a potentially completely unrelated role.
Another problem arises when a company closes a division or unit. While planning the closure, management often decides where members of the team will end up. Although it is great that the team members are not losing their jobs, they are often moved to positions inconsistent with their existing position, working on products they do not believe in or forced to work with people they do not want to work with.
It is not fantasy league; it is people’s lives
The key problem with this approach is that you are deconstructing employees to their existing skills, neglecting what makes every member of the company special. I have written before about the benefits of understanding each employee’s specific strengths and weaknesses and that is exactly the case when considering moving or changing their positions. While their skills might be better used somewhere else in the company, if that role is not consistent with their long-term goals then they are likely to be sending out resumes as soon as they learn of their new position. If they are moved to a team they do not like (either for personnel or product reasons), again, the resumes are likely to hit LinkedIn within the hour. Additionally, even if they do not seek out or find career opportunities outside the company, they may no longer be the great, motivated employee from the existing role. If the new role is something they do not want to do, they are likely not be as motivated to do a great job.
How to manage real people
The most effective way to get the most out of the team is to work with everyone individually, as I’ve written before. Understand what motivates the person, what his/her long-term aspirations are and work to find an opportunity that optimizes benefits to the company and is consistent with his/her goals.
If there is a disconnect between the company and the person, talk to the employee. Most people want to contribute as much as possible and they are likely to help you find a solution (maybe a short-term reassignment and long-term career plan) or suck it up and do a great job in the new role. Once you get the employee’s input and buy-in, they are much more likely to stay with the company and perform at a high level.
- Many managers make the mistake of considering employees interchangeable, the same as they would look at with a fantasy football or baseball team.
- Making position changes for your team members, without including them in the process, makes them more likely to seek a different employer or lose motivation.
- You need to talk to and understand each employee and then make moves that are consistent with both the company’s goals and those of the employee.