Why unqualified managers are harmful to employees: Part I

Wednesday, 14 March 2012 00:02 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The responsibilities of a manger are the obligation to accomplish the goals related to the position and the organisation.

Managers, no matter what level of the organisation, typically have the same basic responsibilities when it comes to managing the work force: Direct employees toward objectives, oversee the work effort of employees, deal with immediate problems, and report on the progress of work to their superiors.

Managers’ primary responsibilities are to examine tasks, problems, or opportunities in relationship to the company’s short-and long-range goals. They must be quick to identify areas of potential problems, continually search for solutions, and be alert to new opportunities and ways to take advantage of the best ones.Incompetent managers create problems and then waste everyone else’s time to brainstorm solutions to the problems they create

How effectively goals and objectives are accomplished depends on how well the company goals are broken down into jobs and assignments and how well these are identified and communicated throughout the organisation.

Capability to influence

The power of formal job definitions and coordinating strategies are not enough to get the work done. Managers must somehow use influence to encourage workers to action. If they are to succeed, managers must possess the ability to influence organisation members. Influence is the ability to bring about change and produce results; people derive influence from interpersonal power and authority. Interpersonal power allows organisation members to exert influence over others.

There is an old saying, “Managers get things done”. This short sentence looks better in a book than a practical application in the work place. As for me, I feel this definition is more appropriate to be used on managers who push buttons on automated systems and robotics so that things get done. But to arrive at a planned result by mobilising the enthusiasm and commitment of the people/workforce, one has to learn the rules and playing methods of a different ‘ball game.

Forms of power

Power stems from a variety of sources: reward power, coercive power, information power, resource power, expert power, referent power, and legitimate power.

nReward power exists if managers provide or withhold rewards, such as money or recognition, from those they wish to influence. Money is a hygienic factor whilst recognition is a motivator factor as defined by Herzberg.

nCoercive power depends on the manager’s ability to punish others who do not engage in the desired behaviour. A few examples of coercion include reprimands, criticisms, and negative performance appraisals.

nInformation power. Power can also result from controlling access to important information about daily operations and future plans. Access to information is a privilege that has to be closely managed and monitored. Many businesses have learned the hard way where their competitors, having gained information to their launch/re-launch plans, have taken advantage to quickly have strategies in place to gain enhanced market share.

nResource power. Having access to and deciding to limit or share the resources and materials that are critical to accomplishing objectives can provide a manager with a source of power. Managers usually have access to such information and resources and must use discretion over how much or how little is disseminated to employees.

nExpert power is based on the amount of expertise a person possesses that is valued by others. For example, some people may be considered experts with computers if they are able to use several software programs proficiently and can navigate the Internet with ease. Those who do not have the expert knowledge or experience need the expert’s help and, therefore, are willing to be influenced by the expert’s power.

nReferent power. When people are admired or liked by others, referent power may result because others feel friendly toward them and are more likely to follow their directions and demonstrate loyalty toward them. People are drawn to others for a variety of reasons, including physical or social attractiveness, charisma, or prestige. Such politicians as John F. Kennedy and civil society leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., were able to use their referent power to effectively influence others.

nLegitimate power stems from the belief that a person has the right to influence others by virtue of holding a position of authority, such as the authority of a manager over a subordinate or of a teacher over a student.

What are the qualities of a poor manager?

Poor prioritising: Bad managers not only fail to prioritise their own work, they also fail to prioritise yours. Also, managers who consistently work late or arrive early may be demonstrating an inability to manage their time or pace themselves; if so, letting them manage other people’s time hardly seems like the logical next step. It is sad to see how many managers neglect their wives and children for the sake of staying late at office to either finish their work allocation for the day OR to impress their bosses. If you neglect your wife there is always a chance that some other man is waiting to take care of your wife and she might find the comfort and excitement in the other caring man… but who will take care of your children?

Biased action: A poor manager not only flip-flops when delegating important tasks, but changes his or her mind about everything. Ineffective managers delay making decisions (and thus action) as long as possible. This may mean fewer mistakes are made, but nothing risked means nothing gained. Playing safe has become the norm in the Sri Lanka public service and in several private sector companies too.

Lousy communication: In a recent survey of 150 senior executives, one-third of respondents said lack of open and honest communication with staff members tops the list of management mis-steps. Managers withholding information from staff can erode morale and destroy trust, while at the same time, not explaining the meaning of “make it better” is just poor direction. I am saddened when I see persons holding the title of senior manager in government corporations and private sector organisations when the most suitable position they should hold is ‘Clerk’ or at best, ‘Chief Clerk’.

Love for procedure and focus on small tasks: A manager’s fondness for rules and ritual may be indicative of an inability to see the larger picture, to face unique issues with case-specific diplomacy. An unnatural attention to detail and the perfection of small tasks is often meant to distract from the fact that this person is unable to perform their actual job. I blame the top managements of most organisations for the unprofessional manner they run their Performance Appraisals. The Performance Appraisal is to an organisation, like a Bible is to a Christian or the Dhamma Pada is to a Buddhist! At a time when religion is not practiced the way that religious leaders expected, how could one expect the performance appraisal to be practiced in the way that it should be practiced?

I recall an interesting situation where I was contracted to re-launch the Performance Appraisal in the Sri Lankan operation of a leading multinational organisation (Fortune 500 Company), in the 1990s. Well, what I discovered shocked me. The system had rating of 01 to 07 which meant that it is very safe to give a rating of ‘4’ and get away with it (the central tendency). What did 1, 2, 3 or 4 mean? Nobody knew! They were just ratings.

How on earth could such outcome be analysed and evaluated? Above all, how could someone decide on identity, the level or intensity of the training requirement? What is most ludicrous is that persons who had received low ratings for over 4 to 5 years, continued happily getting their usual increments without problem. That organisation today, has changed and the Performance Appraisal has received more serious respect, although still not at the level of performance where it should be.

Over-sensitivity: An inability to address a problem out of fear of upsetting someone is not a reason to shirk responsibility. In today’s economy and resulting work environment, now is the time for strong leadership. An effective manager doesn’t delay addressing an issue, but is able to do so with tact and empathy.

Preference for weak candidates: Hiring someone who is less qualified but also less intimidating than another candidate is a bad move. Good managers have the confidence to hire smart, confident candidates without feeling threatened. One way to judge the confidence factor and capability factor of managers is to see how they recruit. If they resort to taking persons of lower intelligence and capability, then you can bet your last rupee that such manager has insecurity and incapability.

Again, I recall my own experience in hiring someone as my subordinate when I was at Smithkline Beecham International. I had the option of recruiting a ‘dodo’ or remain without recruiting any one. Not only did I create an immediate number two level position to me, but I also ensured to fill that position with someone very smart with common sense (a rare commodity today) and capability.

I then got to the task of teaching and coaching him using my knowledge to the full. Hence, there was accelerated growth in his capability and output. I also encouraged him to take initiative and always applauded him with his successes whilst coaching him whenever he failed. The net result? I was picked to be the Regional Head of Special Projects and Regional HR Consultant, Smithkline Beecham International, Southeast Asia & India (overseeing regional responsibilities under my purview in the nine countries that fell under this region). I was able to get off because there was a highly capable number two to take on the task and run the Sri Lanka operation.

Lack of vision: In order for a manager to create effective plans for the company’s future, he/she must have the vision to see where the company is headed. Basing all decisions only on incidents in the past does not take into account new information and the trends that can dictate the buying patterns of the marketplace. A lack of vision can result in adequate immediate decisions being made, but it will lead to a poor planning process for any decisions that will affect the company’s future.

Hiring unprepared managers or promoting employees to managerial positions without providing proper guidance: “Effective leadership development can ultimately make or break a company’s performance,” Steve Doerflein, Right Management’s Vice President for organisational consulting, said in a statement, “Without the right model delineating the specific capabilities of competencies required for effective performance, it’s unlikely companies will be able to identify the best people and develop the crucial skills needed to achieve their goals.”

I believe in ‘on-boarding’. It must, however be meticulously planned and rolled out for each employee according to the capacity and attitude profile of each candidate. Again, the Induction Programme practiced in many companies is a prime joke. It has become a ‘fad’/‘a style’ to run induction programmes. What is the intrinsic benefit to the employee? Zero.

Poor decision-making: Managerial decision-making affects employee morale and has a direct effect on employee retention. Bad decision-making can not only cause problems with the employees, but it can also have a negative effect on the company’s bottom line. By understanding the bad decision-making processes that have a negative effect on employees, you can create more effective managerial training programs.

Workplace bullying is an international problem that is characterised by consistent acts that involve intentional attempts to harm individuals at work. Managers that bully employees at work assert false allegations about performance, assign work that is well below the employees’ skill levels, assign too much work, and often publicly humiliate the employees in meetings and other group settings at work; to name a few of the harmful actions. The harmful acts have negative effects on targeted victims’ physical health and emotional well-being, and eventually force the targets to quit jobs.

Companies can do a better job of promoting and enforcing legal hiring practices, and implement evidence-based leadership practices that help build an ethical work environment. When hiring officials make unethical decisions to hire and promote unqualified candidates to management positions, the unqualified managers and other employees suffer. Individuals can thrive much better in positions in which the necessary skills and qualifications more closely align with the individuals’ skills and abilities.

Increased competence can improve a manager’s confidence and ability to perform as a valuable employee and successful contributor. An unqualified manager can focus on quickly learning core job and leadership skills. The manager can discretely work on building skills by reading industry-specific books, attending training sessions, participating in leadership and management programs, requesting a mentor, and making a conscious effort to strive toward proficiency as a leader.

Employees have two options for combating a workplace bully that is a direct manager - either quit the job to separate from the bullying boss or make attempts to outsmart the bully. According to Chen and Fast (2009), one way to outsmart a bullying boss is with excessive flattery, which is alleged to reduce defensiveness.

If an employee feels it is might be more frustrating and sickening to play such mind games with a bully, alternatively, answering a few critical questions can help determine if getting a new job is best. The first question to ask would be – is working with the manager worth the psychological and physiological stress and problems that result from the working relationship?

Second, is the situation likely to change? Third, will the manager’s boss protect an employee from retaliation, in the event the manager’s behaviour is reported? If the answer is yes to all three questions, an employee might be able to survive in the less than perfect job. If the manager’s boss is not likely to implement any efforts to support changing the manager’s behaviour, attempts to report the manager or seek assistance from human resources will be unsuccessful. Employees will end up staying and becoming more stressed out, get tired and quit the job, or get fired for being strong enough to fight back.

Worldwide, employees are bullied, harassed, and terminated by bullying managers that are unqualified for leadership positions. Many companies ensure the proper training and mentorship are provided to help new leaders learn essential skills to succeed in organisational leadership roles. On the other hand, there are a large number of organisations that ignore the importance of preparing leaders, and promote and hire individuals based on friendships or other factors unrelated to qualifications and performance ability.

When qualifications and capabilities are not valued, employees suffer from dealing with unnecessary stress while working within organisations where incivility and bullying managers are tolerated and rarely penalised. Within large companies, departments with bad reputations have difficulty attracting valuable internal candidates for vacant positions.

Organisations will eventually be penalised more frequently and severely for unethical practices, such as hiring incompetent managers and tolerating bullies in the workspace. In the meantime, those organisations will continue to lose money, have high absentee rates, encourage social deviance at work, and influence high turnover rates. As more researchers began to focus on workplace bullying and share facts about the phenomenon with the world, individuals will be empowered to recognise and deal with the issue to avoid serious damage to overall health and well-being.

How bad is your manager?

There are many different factors that contribute to negative opinions of managers. It’s not the goal of this essay to list them all, but here are some of the basics:

Inconsistent: Says one thing, does something else.

Arrogant: Always believes they are right, and makes sure you know it.

Egocentric: Makes every issue and decision about them.

Doesn’t listen: is offered advice but ignores it before even considering it.

Self-centred: Doesn’t support, encourage or look out for their team.

Mean/abusive: Makes people feel bad for no reason.

Micro-manager: Refuses to delegate anything, despite what they say.

Coward: Backs down whenever challenged.

Isolated: doesn’t involve others in decisions, and rarely looks for ways to support/encourage the work of their team.

Incompetent: Lacks basic communication, intellectual, or emotional skills needed to for their role.

Checked out: Isn’t committed to their work or their team.

Have you noticed that many bosses spend valuable company time in generation options as solutions to problems, then testing the options and selecting the option that has optimum value as a solution to a problem? Well, if you look a little deeper, that problem was created by this same boss. So, incompetent managers create problems and then waste everyone else’s time to brainstorm solutions to the problems they create. At the end of it, they even get a citation or reward for solving that problem. Do they not deserve crucifixion?

(The writer is the Managing Director & CEO, McQuire Rens & Jones (Pvt) Ltd. He has held Regional Responsibilities of two Multinational Companies of which one, Smithkline Beecham International, was a Fortune 500 company before merging to become GSK. He carries out consultancy assignments and management training in Dubai, India, Maldives, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh. Nalin has been consultant to assignments in the CEB, Airport & Aviation Services and setting up the PUCSL. He is a much sought-after business consultant and corporate management trainer in Sri Lanka. He has won special commendation from the UN Headquarters in New York for his record speed in re-profiling and re-structuring the UNDP. He has lead consultancy assignments for the World Bank and the ADB. Nalin is an executive coach to top teams of several multinational and blue chip companies. He is a Director on the Board of Entrust Securities Plc.)


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