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3 Signs you’re a Mushroom Manager and How to Stop

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You may have seen the report we released the other day on Mushroom Management, a non-transparent management style where managers keep employees in the dark on company performance and feed them s**t. Much like the process of growing mushrooms.

The report identified that:

  1. Over 80% of employees want bosses to share more info and data about the business
  2. One in four employees have, or know someone who has, left a business due to a lack of transparency on business direction and performance
  3. Over 50% of employees say that more company info and data being shared had a significant positive impact on their productivity and performance

Given this, and in order to take a step towards eradicating the problem, we thought it was worth highlighting the signs that you might be a Mushroom Manager and how to stop yourself.

Three signs you’re a Mushroom Manager

1. Your team don’t focus on tasks that align with business goals and performance.

If team members don’t have visibility into what a business’s goals and performance are, how can you expect them to focus on executing the work that will achieve those goals?! Giving team members visibility into the direction of the company enables them to generate ideas and focus on the work that will help the business achieve goals. Having an always-on view of business KPI data also enables teams to take corrective actions where necessary and exploit opportunities when they’re there.

2. Your team do their own digging on company performance data.

Our research found that more than 50% of employees do their own digging when company information isn’t shared. Chances are that, if you’re a Mushroom Manager, you’ve been approached by a team member with a snippet of information about the company - which you didn’t give them or have a chance to frame proactively - and asked to explain what was going on. It’s much better to be forward with data and have the chance to frame and explain proactively where necessary.

3. Your team don’t make their own decisions, they always ask you.

If your team are flying blind to company performance and direction, they don’t have the quantitative info and data on which to make solid decisions. As such, they’ll simply ask you because you’re the one ‘in the know’. Even if you need to run an autocratic team and have to take every decision, getting info into the hands of team members will mean the first solutions you’re presented with will be better than ill-informed solutions put together without any quantitative context.

Three steps to stop being a Mushroom Manager

We believe that the issue of Mushroom Management arises from two major challenges. Firstly, it may be that businesses don’t have clear visibility into company performance because their data is fragmented across different tools and departments. This means that there is no company performance data to be shared with team members. Secondly, even if data is available, it isn’t being shared. This may be due to a fear of what happens if figures aren’t going in the right direction, or because it’s time consuming to aggregate and share regularly.

The question remains, how do you stop yourself from being a Mushroom Manager? Well, there are three key steps you need to take:

Measure - What gets measured gets done.

The task of measuring starts with defining what you’re going to measure. As a business you need to define the KPIs that are most important to your business’s success at the stage of growth you’re at. This should start with what your objectives and strategy are as a business. From there define the metrics that, if achieved, will enable you to reach your company goals in line with the strategy. These KPIs should then waterfall down throughout the business with each department having their own KPIs, which in turn enable them to deliver against the overall business KPIs.

Once you have defined the KPIs, you need to select how you’re going to measure them. Businesses are drowning in data today because there is more data available than ever before. This means that the tools you require to measure your KPIs will be available. However, you may need to invest in integration of data. Just remember that 50% of employees said that bosses sharing information and data had a significantly positive impact on productivity and motivation, so the benefits of data availability will far outweigh the investment needed to begin measuring.

Share - Make data available all the time.

Now you have the data, it’s time to make that data available by aggregating and sharing it. We obviously recommend creating a business dashboard with all your top line metrics in one view. With sharing, it’s important that data is always-on and available to all employees. What do we mean by this?

Firstly, data shouldn’t be shared once a month or weekly via email. The context of your business can change a lot in the space of a week or month. Your team needs to be able to monitor and react to changes all the time, so make data available all the time.

Secondly, as we’ve seen from the research, performance data needs to be available to everybody. Not just the CEO, not just managers, but everybody in your business if it’s going to have the biggest impact on success. We now know that 90% of team members across the business would rather hear bad news than no news. Also, if your whole business can see things aren’t going well, then they can react quickly to rectify issues rather than flying blind.

Obviously, Our recommendation is to display your KPI dashboard on a big TV screen in the office. This way every team member can always see the data and react accordingly. You may also find that it turns into the new office water cooler as data-driven discussions break out around the TV screen.

Digest - Make data understandable.

Making data understandable is a bigger issue than it sounds. Our survey found that 20% of employees still see important business data in spreadsheets. This is far from optimum. Viewing raw data in spreadsheets makes it difficult to identify the key data points and can lead to inefficient interpretation and misinterpretation of data.

There’s also the question of visualisation. Many data visualisations aren’t optimised for quick and accurate digestion by the human brain. The science of the cognitive brain, visual cortex and the backs of our retinas tells us a lot about how to visualise data effectively for humans. Our CEO Paul Joyce does a great job of summarising this in these two articles:

  1. Humanising the way we communicate data
  2. Design approach: The question of colour

However, there are a few major mistakes made when visualising data for the human mind:

  1. Trying to make visualisations beautiful, not digestible
  2. Too much colour, which means the human brain can’t use the colour to process the data
  3. Overusing different fonts, font sizes and movements, creating too much distraction

Ultimately, you need to strip your data visualisations back-to-basics using colours, fonts and font sizes sparingly.

All-in-all it’s clear that the signs of Mushroom Management are glaring us in the face. However, through some focused measuring and sharing of data we can quickly eliminate the issue to give team members focus. We’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts on Mushroom Management, so please go ahead and give us some feedback in the comments below.

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