Managing By Exception conjures up a vision of the boss surveying their realm from a high vantage point. Only swooping down to fix problems when they occur. It sounds attractive because it seems time-efficient and it implies that your employees are independent. But be aware that efficiency comes at the price of effectiveness and the autonomy is just an illusion. In the worse case scenario managing by exception is going to make your staff dislike you.

False economy: Leaving employees to their own devices

As a person who doesn’t like confrontation, I know that it can be tough to tell your employees what to do. And it’s really tempting to leave them to their own devices as “long as they don’t do anything wrong”. But this just replaces one uncomfortable position with another. Because you are responsible for your employees output you still have to quality check their work or run the risk of embarrassment. I don’t have time to check all of my employees work but I don’t want to get caught out either - there has got to be a better way than managing by exception.

managing by exception could be damaging your relationships with your employees jpeg

Parachute management - no one likes negativity

But the real problem is when they do something wrong and you “step-in” to fix it. This is because of something simple that is easy to miss from the manager’s perspective. To understand this we need to see it from the perspective of our employees. What our employees experience is a manager that only criticizes their work and brings up problems. Doing this also breaks the illusion of independence because you override what they have done. Of course you have to because “it’s wrong”.

Awareness: Your natural tendencies to spot mistakes cause negativity

The reason why we are so good at spotting mistakes is because we evolved the ability to quickly spot a pattern interrupt that could be a predator. Those that didn’t quickly became lunch. Nowadays I can use this as an uncanny ability to pick up a 100 page document and find the only 3 errors in the entire document in five minutes. It’s a great skill for my work in finance but it’s unhelpful at motivating my employees. To be a good manager sometimes we have to fight our natural tendencies.

Why Managing by Exception is limiting your upside

So managing by exception is damaging your relationship with your employees because you’re negative and critical. But that’s only part of the problem. When you manage by exception, by definition, the sole focus is on fixing what is wrong. But this is like looking at the shadow and missing the sun. Imagine what is possible when you spend a little energy to help your staff to get better instead of trying not to be bad. This is one of the characteristics of an Effective Manager.

Awareness - Managing by exception can make YOU unhappy too

There’s a side effect of the focus on mistakes and that is your own mental wellbeing. Unhappy with what you have? Constantly critical? These negative thoughts affect your mood and can lead to unhappiness, even depression. I don’t want to go through life constantly being the fun police. And I don’t want to be dealing with performance problems, fixing errors. No wonder people don’t like managing -  there has got to be a better way for performance management.

Use your powers for good instead

So what do you do? What is the actionable advice? I can share something I learnt from mountain biking - don’t look at the rock or the tree, look at the gap between the two. It’s amazing how you are drawn to what you focus on. When you are looking at the tree it’s like there is an irresistible force drawing you towards the tree. But when you look at the gap - it doesn’t matter how narrow or tricky it is, your wheel magically finds the way. To convert this into management speak:

Tell your employees what you want MORE of, 

  • Give them MORE positive inspiring performance communications,
  • Develop them to IMPROVE their skills and,
  • Delegate MORE responsibilities and challenges to them that match their strengths.

Here’s to giving MORE to your employees and getting MORE back in return.


Do you know that regular, high quality one-on-ones with your employees are the single easiest management practice. Do one-on-ones right and not only can you can take care of almost all your management responsibilities in one go but they will also deliver you to manager Nirvana . 

Weekly one-on-one meetings with your staff not only build good relationships and improve communications but they're also a good forum to:

  • Give your staff performance feedback,
  • Focus on employee development and,
  • Delegate tasks and projects to your directs.

It almost seems too good to be true – which could be why some managers don’t believe in them.

The reason why not every manager believes in one-on-ones is because not every manager knows how to do fast, high quality one-on-ones. As with anything in life, do it wrong and you're simply not going to see the results. But do it right and one-on-ones will change your life and deliver you to management nirvana. 

And the reason why bosses and employees have poor one on ones is simply because no-one shows you how to have high quality One-ones. I know none of my my bosses every taught me this skill and clearly no-one ever showed them either. What I do with Manager Foundation is that I show you the real world boss skills that you need but they don't teach you in university. That's why I made a mini-course on one-on-ones (including a one-on-one template with a one-on-one meeting agenda) which will show you 3 Easy Steps 2 1 on 1's. What I expect you'll find is that you already know some of the content on some type of level but maybe you're not putting it into practice. This will help. As I say this is essential for new managers and helpful for experienced managers.

3 Steps 2 easy 1 on 1's: Free Mini-Course and One-on-One Meeting Form


Do you have any comments, tips or suggestions about employee performance management? Help the rest of us out by sharing in the comments below.

Boss Camp

I bet your staff would rather be at the beach than working hard. But you’re the poor boss who’s responsible for their work. Managing is hard. Find out how to make managing easy at WWW.BOSS.CAMP. The program includes topics such as:

  • How to hire for performance,
  • How to motivate employees,
  • What are bad employee motivators,
  • What you must do as a manager but isn't on your job description,
  • How leaders get power.