Avoid the Neglect Effect

Are you guilty of propagating the Neglect Effect?


When I was about 12, I had a pet hamster. I can’t remember his name…we had lots of hamsters when I was growing up. But this one was my special responsibility, and I kept him in a cage in my room. However, I wasn’t too diligent about taking care of him. I didn’t clean his cage regularly enough. I would put food in his cage every day, but sometimes I forgot to fill his water container. I didn’t play with him often.  How could I? Hamsters are nocturnal. I’m not.

One night, I noticed that I didn’t hear the familiar squeaking of his hamster wheel as I went to bed. I thought “How strange. He’s always up and about, running on that squeaky wheel.” When I looked into the cage, he was nestled in his corner, tightly tucked into his sleeping position. I thought he was just tired.

The next morning, I looked in, and he was in the same spot, in the same position. “That’s odd” I thought. “He doesn’t look like he moved at all.”

I gave him a poke with my finger.

Ugh. He was hard as a rock– as dead as one too. The stink of not-often-cleaned cage masked the stink of the dead hamster. In fact, I couldn’t remember how long his wheel had been silent. I had no idea how long he had been dead. I felt horrible! My neglect killed my pet.

Neglect is insidious. It’s hazardous. And it’s initially quite comfortable.

We only neglect something because we choose something else over it. We neglect time with our children because we choose work. We neglect our own health because we choose destructive habits like a bad diet and lack of exercise. We neglect the health of our organization because we choose to believe everything is just fine. We choose that which is comfortable and convenient, sometimes even noble.

But the neglect effect cannot be avoided.

Are you neglecting to stay on top of your organization’s activities? Maybe you are afraid of being accused of micromanaging. Maybe you really think that your employees know what to do, and they have the resourcefulness to get the job done. Maybe you’ve created a culture where your employees are afraid to bring up problems to you. Maybe you’re too busy with your own work to deal with monitoring anyone else’s .

The problem is you may have a dead hamster in your midst, and not know it.

Bruce Tulgan, in the first chapter of his great book “It’s Okay to be the Boss” describes The Undermanagement Epidemic. He describes the Myth of Empowerment, which is: “The way to empower people is to leave them alone and let them manage themselves.”

It sounds noble, but it’s a guarantee of  downfall. You fail your team and your team will fail.

Delegating is not handing control to someone and walking away. There must be continual guidance, redirection, periodic check-in, accountability, clear limits and clear division of responsibility. This is not micromanagement. It is the basis of good management. Neglecting to do any of these is under management, not good management.

Don’t be an undermanager who spreads the Neglect Effect. Get involved with your team. Stay engaged with them. Give them the strong boss they need. Give them clear directions, clear limits and a clear path. Spell out expectations. Track performance. Correct failure. Reward Success.

Don’t risk killing your hamster.

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