Friday, October 16, 2009

More Bad Managers

(News-Herald, October 15) Show me a chronically bad employee, and I will show a big neon sign pointing toward a bad manager.
Please note—nothing that I’m about to say removes one iota of responsibility from employees. An employee who is not doing the job should be making improvements, not excuses.
But if I am looking at the big picture and I see an organization with employee performance problems, the blame lies with the managers in the system.
In the widget factory, managers are the guys who do not actually work on widgets. Managers are not in any way directly involved in the primary mission of the company, which is to manufacture widgets.
Instead, managers have one primary function, and that is to get the best very best performance out of the people who work for them. That’s their entire job. And the performance of their employees is the most important measure of whether they are good managers or not.
Most bad managers have forgotten this principle. It’s not that they choose bad methods to get the best work out of their people. It’s that they have forgotten that getting that best work is the manager’s job.
They believe, for instance, that effort is a measure of their own job performance. But if the dikes are collapsing, it’s pointless to claim that you plugged some of the holes and you were going to plug some more but it was difficult to figure out how and actually plugging those holes would have been hard. The fact that you tried as hard as you felt like trying is irrelevant when the waters are up around your armpits.
Management is like most jobs in that the job is not done when you’re tired of working; the job is done when you’ve achieved the results you need to achieve.
Many bad managers have their favorite techniques, Management by bullying. Management by email. Management by think-I’ll-hide-in-my-office-and-hope-it-goes-away. None of these get any useful results, other than to set up the moment when the bad manager tells his boss, “Hey, I managed the heck out of that situation. If it didn’t get any better, it must be a hopeless employee or sunspots or drugs in the water. It certainly isn’t my fault.”
This is a dumb career move for the bad manager. If he’s announcing that he can’t actually manage employees, which is in fact the very job he was hired to do, his boss should be wondering why the organization is still paying him. Well, unless his boss is also a bad manager.
Bad managers will also protest that their techniques of choice Should Have Worked. But “should have” means nothing. When your car stalls, you can kick the tires and kiss your St. Christopher medal, then get back behind the wheel and claim that the car “should be” running—but you will still be going nowhere.
There is no doubt that some employees are a challenge. Most come with some particular quirk that, under the wrong circumstances, can invite disaster and chaos. Getting the best possible work out of them can require skill, talent and diligence. And that’s why the widget plant managers get paid more than the widget builders.
If an employee needs help and direction, it’s the manager’s job to see that it’s provided. If the employee can’t be salvaged, it’s the manager’s job to replace the employee.
Of course, a manager who wants to replace employees because he doesn’t have the wit to manage them will not exactly inspire loyalty or optimism in the employees. That’s why it’s useful to have a variety of techniques with which to salvage problem employees.
An entire cluster of employee problems, hostility and poor performance is a sure sign that bad management is loose in the workplace. Part of insuring that you get the best work from your people is helping them work well together. Bad morale, infighting, and widespread non-performance are sure signs that a manager either can’t do his job or just doesn’t want to.
None of this excuses employee bad behavior. Every employee should be responsible enough to stay on track, behave himself, and do what he needs to do without being reminded. In a perfect world all employees would be self-directed professionals, responsible and selflessly working together to fulfill the organization’s purpose every hour of the day. And in that world the managers would all be out of work because there would be no use for them.

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