Many books and articles have been written about management styles, team building and motivation and whatever comes with being a good manager. Unfortunately too many people think they are good managers when in reality they aren’t. Just reading a book or an article does not make one a good manager. Even worse, just years of “experience” as a manager will not turn an employee into a good manager.
Some people just don’t get the concept of managing a team and what needs to be done to build and manage a team for long-term success. I am not sure if it is the feeling of power and control that turns these people into bad managers or if it is really just the lack of management skills, or a combination of both. Even worse is if you have bad managers managing each other. The shit literally drips down from the top and trickles down to normal employees who are just trying to do a good job.
Here is an example I ran into when talking to a few people that I know. A team lead was promoted to manager for a larger group of people. I will call this manager #1. You could already tell there was a disconnect happening because that individual’s behavior changed immediately. There has to be a certain separation between managers and employers to make this type of relationship function, but in this case the new manager completely separated himself from anyone up to the point to ignore people who greeted him friendly in the hall way. The manager completely lost touch to his employees – only concentrating on the newly inherited power and control. Things went along alright, not good, but alright. For whatever reason the manager above this new manager moved up the chain and so did the new manager – even more separation between him and the employees. However, the new manager failed to fill the now empty management position underneath him for a while and “managed” shop by himself with practically no guidance or direction from above because that manager was only concentrating on his own well-being.
Time went by and employee moral started dropping. A ship with no guidance will sooner or later hit rough sea or run into ground and this specific “ship” was well on its way to do so. Finally the manager realized something was not going well and so he installed a new manager under himself. Instead of fixing the issue a new manager was brought in to keep things under control. I call him manager #2. Unfortunately if an unqualified manager makes hiring decisions, those hiring decisions reflect the lack of leadership and management skills. It’s kind of like a chain reaction. Bad managers hire bad managers and so on. The newly hired manager did not have the right skills either and so things got worse. Some employees made the attempt to communicate and to point out issues so that they could get addressed, but the new new manager did consider these recommendations a threat to his management style and a couple months later layoffs started happening and people who had stepped up earlier in an attempt to save the ship (= responsible acting employees) were given the boot. After the layoffs the existing workload for the remaining employees increased and everyone worked more hours. To further tighten control the new manager removed certain parts of flexibility (less work from home options, no compensation/time-off for excessive over time, etc.) from work schedules to “make sure” that employees would be dedicated to work. Again, no leadership and direction anywhere. The vacant positions were not refilled and new projects added to the overall workload of the employees. Employee morale continued to drop and one can imagine that this reflected on work results and timelines.
Due to project timelines slipping and other visible issues of things not going the right way, manager #1 and manager #2 decided to re-organize the department. But common sense was not part of the deal and existing groups were split based on people and not based on tasks and responsibilities. Suddenly you found new groups with responsibilities assigned to them, but no team member having matching skills because the person who had the right skills and expertise was moved into a different group. Again, the workload for everyone increased dramatically because employees not only had to cover existing tasks and projects, they also had to fill the gaps that manager #1 and manager #2 had artificially created. Employee morale tanked and sure enough people started looking for new employment outside of the firm.
The first move happened and actually 2 employees resigned in one week. They were not immediately replaced and workload for the remaining employees increased. Some contractors were brought in, but nothing permanent. Additional projects were added and the contractors mainly turned out to be useless. Additional employees were looking for work outside of the company and just 5 weeks after the first 2 employees had left the next 2 resigned in the same week. A junior level person from a different department was brought in to partially replace one of the senior people that had left.
Upper management (manager #3) took notice and asked those employees that had resigned for feedback (honest feedback) and they spilled the beans. HR also contacted the employees who had left weeks earlier for feedback and those former employees also spilled the beans. One would think that someone would finally take action and at least look at the situation, but apparently all managers are looking the other way. At the moment a large number of employees is actively looking for work somewhere else and the knowledge that has walked out the door and will walk out the door will put a big dent into the ability of the department to function and can also hurt the company a lot.
In this example there is a clear pattern of how bad managers can easily destroy a well-functioning team. It also shows that these unqualified managers do not have the proper understanding of how to correct a bad situation. I have seen these type of situations before and it often takes an exodus on employees to leave for greener pastures and then someone finally to step up to the plate and to get rid of the bad managers and start from scratch. The financial damage can be significant. But even worse – the reputation of the firm in the “employee community” gets damaged too, and that will reflect on who is eventually willing to work for this company again. To get superstars and senior employees back in the firm will have to pay above average salaries.
I mentioned the word chain reaction before and this is what it is. Put one unqualified manager into a position where he or she is not guided correctly and that one bad manager can destroy teams at will.