I expect most of you have experienced poor management in your career. It can leave you feeling bewildered, undervalued & demotivated. I have and I’ve seen others close to me undergoing it as well. I’ve had the privilege of coaching some people through it until they come out to the other side. So why does it happen, why does it matter and how can you as an organisation try to minimise the likelihood of poor staff management occurring? I have found that size of the organisation does not necessarily make any difference to how well they manage their staff. Huge blue-chip companies can do it very poorly, whereas micro-businesses do it very well (& vice versa). Here are a few thoughts and suggestions.
Why does it matter – how can it affect your bottom line?
Setting the character of the team: this issue goes to leadership, which I have written about before. It is difficult to overstate the importance of leadership in setting the character of an organisation. That is replicated in management at all levels. We are social animals and how we behave in an environment will be influenced by the leader. If the behaviours of the leadership reflect and support the achievement of the goals and strategies decided for the organisation, then it is likely that it will work more smoothly to achieve them. If the management, at any level, is operating at odds with them, then their staff are also likely not to be fully aligned to achieve them and the organisation will underperform.
Staff retention/talent acquisition: if you have poor management it is likely to affect morale. Whilst a certain amount of churn in staff is inevitable, if it is too high then it will drag back the organisation. In my department we worked out at one time that there was a £60,000 dip in fee production over a year each time a member of staff left and a new one started. Conversely, if morale is good staff will often go the extra mile, stay even though the pay might not be the best in the local market and word will spread into the market place that yours is a good organisation or team to work for. That will help with bringing in new people.
Productivity: You will want your most expensive resource (people) to be as productive as possible to maximise the return on your investment and as quickly as possible. Low morale, as mentioned above, will affect productivity. So will lack of clear instruction, support and guidance for junior staff to enable and facilitate them to meet the needs of the organisation. Poor management may indeed mean that it is unaware of the effect of decisions, as no targets or the wrong targets are set and/or data measured.
Goodwill: the goodwill of your staff will not alone save a business but it will certainly help it. You are unlikely to have much goodwill with poor management. The goodwill is likely to lead to a nicer working environment, stronger bonds within the team, more cooperation and mutual support.
Additional Benefits: Your workforce is a potent source for innovation and unexpected benefits. They may have connections of which you are unaware that might open up opportunities for new work or partnering. They are often the people with the greatest knowledge of how to do their job and then, if encouraged to share, how to do it better.
Why Does it Happen?
Ego: There is no doubt that in some businesses the manager is on an ego trip. The manager feels that everything reflects on them and their image. Why is a whole exploration in itself, which a business coach might investigate or I might explore when I am mentoring someone. However, it might arise from inherent insecurities, from a management style learned beforehand or handed down through the culture of the organisation. It can result in every interaction being personalised, every analysis, turning it into an assessment of how it affects and reflects on them. It can end up as a corrosive
Pressure from managers above: people have said that being in middle management can be the most pressurised position – pressure from above and from below, but often without the power to make decisions that relieve the pressure. Decisions of top management will need to be implemented by middle management. As will fear for their own career development or how their actions and the performance of their team are perceived by their superiors.
Inexperienced managers: if your manager is new to managing, they may be out of their comfort zone. They were trained to do a particular job but now have to take on managing people, perhaps because that is what is perceived as what comes with the territory as they become more senior. Just because they were good at one particular job doesn’t mean that they will be good at running a team.
Lack of discipline: sometimes it comes down to poor self-discipline – they are just poor at managing their time, keeping to commitments, making time and head space to manage. So, appointments with their junior staff are missed, they forget to do things they promised, they seem to lurch from one crisis to another.
Lack of time: this could be a feature of lack of disciple, as set out above, but it could also be that their superiors have not given them time to manage, just expecting them to fit it in around and on top of the rest of their work. It could be that there is just too much work coming in – which is great but should only be a temporary issue as this will be processed if short term, or if long term then other resource should be added. It could be a failure to delegate, which could have a number of reasons, for example: it could be part of their nature, lack of trust in their junior staff, lack of infrastructure to facilitate this.
How to improve staff management
Training for Managers: I have always believed that it unfair to someone to put them in a position but not give them the training to do it. It’s a poor investment and can look as though you are setting them up to fail. At the very least give them clear instruction on what you want them to do and how you want them to manage their staff. This should not just be a one off. The best organisations will have a structure of mentoring or coaching (either informally or formally) right down the management structure, which would then be replicated through the team members as well. Remember that the manager will influence the whole team they are managing. They have the potential to do a lot of harm or a lot of good.
Good measurements/Data: be scientific – measure the appropriate data and then make informed decisions on it. Then keep measuring the data and adjust when necessary. That can help to keep things less personal and steer away from prejudice, favouritism and nepotism. The best people delivering the best results is likely to maximise performance.
Communication & Regular Reviews: you almost can’t communicate enough! I’ve found in management that you think you’ve told everyone time and time over and yet there are people who say they didn’t know. Sometimes it is their fault. Sometimes it is the method of communication. You may be saying something in one way but that doesn’t get through. They prefer another method. For example, sending out email which everyone ignores. There’s a whole article, maybe a book to write on this! I’ve also put in here regular reviews. These I have found to be so, so important to managing staff. It is a subliminal message to them that they matter. It gives them a space to ask longer term questions about their progress, your expectations of them and their career. It should build trust and allow for a light touch on the tiller to guide them rather than a drastic shove.
Honesty, Humility & Curiosity: I’ve recently finished reading Eddie Jones autobiography. These are aspects that he wants to see in his players. This resonated with me, as they are traits I admire and believe help people succeed. Honesty – because you look at the data and your own performance as it is without excuses or rose-tinted spectacles. Humility – because if you don’t have that you are not open to analysing, reflecting on and learning from your own mistakes. Curiosity – because open to outside influences and ideas, learning from others, always facing outwards to innovation. Then you have managers who are interested in improving themselves, their performance, that of their staff and of the whole organisation.
These are just a few thoughts from my experience from working in a law firm for 24 years at all levels from Office Junior to Equity Partner, Board Member and Head of Department and subsequently through my consultancy with over 300 SME’s. I have found that size of the organisation does not necessarily make any difference to how well they manage their staff. Huge blue-chip companies can do it very poorly, whereas micro-businesses do it very well (& vice versa). I would welcome other people’s input as comments to this article. No-one has all the answers but some do it a lot better than others and reap the rewards. If you like to talk more about implementing some of these thoughts into your organisation then please contact me.