My last post on weighing the assets and liabilities in each employee provoked this comment:
This is very one-sided. Management has a lot to do with whether an employee is an asset or a liability. I think you should address that in a blog. You have to consider the “fatigue” component in employees who work with limited resources or for bad managers, and there are a lot of those.
Amen to the last line. Live long enough and you will work for a bad boss, or two. If you read Dilbert you surely know a leader who looks and sounds like the pointy haired boss, at least some times.
Think about your level of performance under that bad boss vs. what you and your team COULD have done with someone less odious. Bad bosses will have employees chasing their tails, spending time on frivolous tactics rather than core strategic initiatives. They will reward appearances of effort over substantive output. They will castigate and demean employees, thus creating pervasive fear and anxiety. They will crush initiative, innovation and new ides with bureaucracy, indecisiveness, and play-it-safe politics. They will pursue their own agenda of advancement at the expense of everyone around them, resorting to back-stabbing others and stealing credit if it furthers their ambition. Bad bosses can absolutely compromise the ability of individuals and groups to perform.
What may be worse is that because of how the power elite often works, many bad leaders go unpunished and unchallenged, and frankly, unacknowledged for their badness. If they are hired for the wrong reasons – friendship, loyalty, sucking up, getting things done no matter how badly they ruined morale, etc. – then the person or group that promoted them will not easily see their true colors. The bad boss usually aids and abets the cover-up by blaming and scape-goating peers or direct reports for all bad occurrences. In such a scenario, everyone suffers. The employees are totally demoralized, the rest of the organization is adversely impacted and performance suffers all around.
What is the antidote to this downward spiral? The answer is really simple and straightforward, though perhaps difficult to implement if an organization’s culture is too contaminated by bad bosses.
First, top management needs to seek input and assessments from throughout the organization. If mistrust is running high, it will likely take an outsider and some truly anonymous data collection tools like Attitude Surveys and 360s.
Second, after data collection there must be a substantive response from leadership, letting employees know they have been heard and specific actions are about to be launched.
Third, every employee, from top to bottom, needs to be part of a fair and balanced performance management system that acknowledges their strengths, provides support for addressing areas for improvement, and is conducted with a sense of fairness and thoroughness. For executives, 360 degree feedback from bosses, peers and direct reports provides strong evidence of managerial and leadership abilities. Done with sincerity, integrity and commitment for improvement, performance management systems help unearth chronically bad performers – including and especially bosses.
Finally, leaders must maintain vigilance for good and bad behaviors among the organization’s executives, managers, supervisors and individual contributors. Malaise, complacency and more negative aspects of culture tend to grow slowly, quietly and in subtle ways. Pay attention to metrics, such as voluntary turnover, quality and productivity. Notice the mood in a department or on a floor or in a meeting when the spotlight is turned off. Watch for how dissent and conflict are managed – or avoided. Probe deeply when an employee is nominated for promotion or punishment to check for the merits of the recommendation.
While personal skill, motivation and experience are the greatest determinants of an individual’s performance, we cannot overlook external factors. Of these, none is more potent than the influence of the organization’s leaders and managers.
One final note: As a coach I would be remiss if I left the impression that bad bosses LIKE being bad, know they’re bad, and will never get better. While there are some diabolical sociopaths in the executive ranks (like Mr. Burns, pictured here), the majority of bad bosses don’t have to be bad. Some do not realize they are crushing morale and hindering performance. Some are aware but don’t know how to change. Some are just inept. I have found that armed with a genuine desire and the right coach or mentor, ANYONE can improve.