“Whack -a -Mole” Management

“Whack -a -Mole” Management

At a fair or amusement park you might find a game of skill called “Whack – a – Mole.” The point of the game is to wait for one of several moles to raise its head through a hole in a platform and then “whack”
it with a padded mallet before the mole quickly ducks below the platform. Just as fast as you whack one mole, another one appears. The point of the game is to test your concentration, reaction time, and
hand-eye coordination. On a game I recently watched my grandchildren play, there were nine moles that poked their heads above the platform. Points are won each time a mole is whacked before it disappears.

I recall playing the game as a child many years ago, my five children played the game a few years ago, and now my grandchildren play it yet today. Clearly, the game of Whack – a – Mole has been around a long time. Something else that has been around a long time and is still practiced today is “Whack – a – Mole Management.”

Whack – a – Mole Management is a style of managing or leading others where a manager waits for something he or she believes to be wrong to happen, and “whacks” the behavior with words and/or actions. This style has also been called “Managing by Exception,” because the manager exclusively or primarily reacts to people who act in exception to his or her expectations.

One of the most important things to remember when analyzing Whack – a – Mole Management is to note that the manager’s behavior is completely reactionary. No action is taken until the mole raises its head. The manager is not proactively trying to prevent things from happening, or trying to direct things to happen, or even making things happen, the manager’s behavior is a reaction to some other stimulus.

In other words, Whack a Mole Management is non-strategic and totally tactical. Future problems, issues, trends, threats and opportunities will be a surprise, because the manager has his or her head down waiting for the next mole to raise its head. There are at least five things that can cause a manager to practice a Whack a Mole style. Perhaps a brief description of each cause will enable you to reduce any
reactionary tendencies you may have in your personal managerial style.

1. Poor Organizational Skills.
Some people are simply more organized than others. Part of a person’s ability to be organized comes from temperament (personality), and another part comes from desire and training. In other words some people have a natural skill to be organized and others learn the skill through life’s experiences. How are your organizational skills? Do you live in a state of clutter and mess? Are you embarrassed to have people see your work area? How often are you unable to find something you need? If you need better organization, find someone who is organized and make a deal. Say, “I need you to teach me how to be better organized.” Then, pay attention and do what the person suggests.

2. Failure to Prioritize.
The ability to prioritize is essential in order to be proactive and plan ahead. Have you ever written down a list of your personal priorities? Do you have another list of your professional priorities?
If you haven’t taken the time to prepare such lists, you may be less prioritized than you think. A person who has not prioritized his or her life leaves an open door for someone else to do it by proxy. In other
words, a person, manager, department or company that has not established clearly communicated priorities lets anyone else, including the competition, set those priorities. That is a sobering, but true,
thought, because effective leaders and managers have learned that first things must be done first.

3. Failure to Delegate.
In my teaching, consulting, and coaching practice I frequently encounter managers and leaders who have a deep-seated resistance to delegation. Perfectionists can resist delegation because they want the
job done perfectly; control freaks can resist delegation because they want to control everything; and the untrained or inexperienced manager can avoid delegation because he or she may not know better. One of the most critical skills a new manager must learn is how important it is to let go of some tasks and responsibilities and delegate them to others. As difficult as that may be for some managers, it is one of the most important lessons a person must learn. I’ve heard managers say, “Yeah but, I can do it better and faster than anyone else.” But that isn’t the point. The manager got to be a manager because as an individual contributor he or she could do the task better and faster. That’s what gets people promoted. The job of managing others is to develop them through the delegation of both responsibility and authority, not hold them back for your own personal weakness.

4. Activity Addiction.
Some managers become addicted to being busy. They think that having their plate full each day means that they are effective as a manager. Being busy is not the same as being effective. Truthfully, some highly effective people are not overly busy at all. They have learned how to delegate, how to say no, when to act, and when not to act. The most effective managers today are not addicted to being busy; rather, they are addicted to producing measurable results by doing the right things, in the right way, and at the right time. Another problem with activity addiction is that it is self-reinforcing. Being overly busy can feel so good to a manager that the act of being busy reinforces itself. This can create a downward spiral of ineffectiveness.

5. Feelings of Insecurity.
A manager can be plagued with feelings of insecurity. There are many causes for feelings of insecurity, but the most common is low emotional intelligence due to having been parented badly. When a manager suffers with profound insecurity, he or she can over-compensate by seeking out and embracing any task or activity available in an attempt to feel worthwhile, productive, and useful. Insecurity can be a difficult limitation to overcome, because any meaningful remedy will include considerable self-evaluation and personal commitment.

About the Author

Richard Williams, Ph.D.

Dr. Richard L. Williams has been a business consultant for over 40 years and has conducted more than 5,000 workshops to more than 350,000 managers and executives. Rick’s interests include maximizing human performance, team building, leadership development, executive coaching, process improvement, and instrumentation research and design. Rick has experience in working with a wide range of industries globally.