How Poor Managers Threaten Us

What have ineffective managers contributed to organizations around the world? No list would be complete without these “gifts” from those who manage poorly:

  • The 80-hour work week
  • Discouragement of initiative, creative thinking and risk-taking
  • Massive turnover
  • Ultimate failure of the organization

This is the story of business that gets repeated, often in scandalously public ways, year after year. One spectacular collapse of a poorly run company earlier this decade included a customer service vice-president who did not exist, even though his name appeared at the bottom of the company’s form letters. The business received so many complaints from customers that it made up the name so that no one had to deal one-on-one with dissatisfied people.

Although poor management is the standard operating procedure at many places – and although poorly managed companies often seem to thrive – believing that they will prevail is like believing a house of straw can survive 150-mph winds. Unless the builder erected the straw house underground or reinforced it with steel, it cannot withstand a storm. So goes the poorly managed company.

We are devoting this issue of Profiles Advantage to the subject of incompetent managers because they are so prevalent and so destructive. A new Profiles International report, “Eight Signs of Incompetent Managers,” notes that 40 percent of workers believe they have bad bosses. Yet organizations often manage to survive for years or even decades even though they are poorly run.

How does this happen? First, many of them likely provide important goods and services, something that a majority of the population needs or wants.

Second, if they are about to miss important deadlines, they are well versed in reactionary management. They throw more people and hours at a problem, forcing others to bear the burden of poor management.

Third, they reward poor managers for finishing the project on deadline. This ensures that nothing changes and sends the message to other workers – some of whom put in 20-hour workdays to help finish poorly managed projects on time, that:

  1. Planning is not necessary or perhaps not even something the boss wants.
  2. Poor performance is not only acceptable, we reward it.
  3. Creative thinking is not welcome, even when the project is foundering.
  4. If you complain or offer ideas different from the boss’s, you will not fit in.
  5. If you don’t like the way things are, here’s the door.

Sadly, people who might offer courageous solutions and a brighter future to a troubled business either fall in lockstep with poor management, or they do leave. And when poor operation causes high turnover, we have a perfect storm. Because in most areas of commerce, there is too much competition for poorly managed organizations to survive.

Their failure might occur in stages, so that it’s not all that evident. But it will happen, as surely as the house of straw will blow away in a hurricane.

Top leaders who are paying attention to detail will want to act quickly if they see any of these symptoms of incompetence:

  • Managers discourage decision-making by failing to make decisions themselves, or refusing to own up to a decision if it might result in criticism.
  • They prevent the completion of tasks because they give no one the responsibility to do things; often, they try to do too much themselves because they don’t want to give control of a project to someone who might do it worse – or better.
  • They react to problems instead of thinking ahead and planning. Projects are late; new initiatives are non-existent.
  • Since they do not engage anyone, there is no team play. Communication is rarely face-to-face. They don’t value people, or if they do, don’t know how to show it.
  • They don’t often improve because they fail to see problems in themselves and problems they create.

Leading the managers is not easy, but it’s not impossible, either. It requires paying attention to the big picture and, sometimes, to the details. This is the kind of foundation work that ensures an organization will stand up even to gale-force winds.

Contributed by: Jim Sirbasku, CEO, Profiles International

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