Sometimes it's easy to identify a poor performing manager and determine the effect of poor management skills on the company. In other cases, poor performing manager behavior is subtler, but can be equally damaging to employee productivity and morale.
Whatever the case, poor performing managers can wreak havoc on an organization. It's critical to identify the characteristics of these managers and do everything possible to turn the situation around before it's too late.
By "too late," we mean an exodus of talented employees who become so frustrated by their difficult boss they see no option but to quit their jobs. But the risks to your business don't end there. For instance, a disgruntled employee (or former employee) can air grievances on social media, which may cause a serious public relations problem for your business and can tarnish your reputation.
A snapshot of poor performing manager behavior
Managers may often underestimate the impact that their leadership styles can have on employees. They may not see — often until it's too late — how pervasive their influence can be on worker morale and productivity. Here's a snapshot of typical behaviors that poor performing bosses may exhibit:
The bully. This individual believes fear is the best employee motivator, seeking to intimidate and/or threaten staff to continuously assert control.
The absentee boss. This manager-type sequesters themselves in their office, studying reports, and focusing solely on ingratiating themselves with their boss. Employees in their department are left essentially leaderless as a result.
The divider. This boss has their favorites among the staff and typically doesn't care who knows it. If a conflict arises, they may try to play one person against another, causing further disruption in the workplace.
The micromanager. Ever-present, the micromanager is always closely observing and controlling the work of their subordinates. The employees could feel undermined in their actions and may see no point in taking initiative under this type of leader.
Does your leadership style contain negative qualities that discourage employees, rather than motivate them to do better at their jobs? Here are more commonly noted managerial styles to avoid whenever possible:
Arrogant, know-it-all, and bossy. Some managers adopt an outwardly arrogant style to purposefully or subconsciously mask insecurity about their own leadership skills and abilities. They act as if only they can handle the demands of the workplace, or suggest that only they have the in-depth knowledge required to solve problems as they arise. This may manifest itself in a tendency to excessively issue orders, rather than allowing employees to address issues on their own. An unwillingness to invite employee ideas is another symptom of this unhealthy approach to management.
Poor communication skills. A manager must communicate effectively with employees. Poor communication skills can often appear in forms such as:
- Over-reliance on emails: Managers who don't like talking with employees or who are aware of deficiencies in this area too often resort to email messages. In situations where clear meaning is necessary (for example, when offering constructive feedback), emails are usually a poor medium for communications, as they can be impersonal and easily misinterpreted.
- Emotional outbursts: Some managers allow emotions to cloud their communication with employees, and may lash out when they're angry instead of giving themselves time to cool down before talking.
Indecision and lack of organization. Managers who are unable or unwilling to decide on critical matters can trigger uncertainty among those they purport to lead. Employees generally are not motivated by a manager's lack of self-confidence. A manager who's disorganized in both everyday activities (forgetting a meeting, showing up late for a performance review, etc.) is also unlikely to inspire employees to be productive.
Complacency and resistance to change. For some managers, if they don't hear about an issue from their employees, they'll assume that none exist. Employees faced with this form of leadership complacency can be unwilling to step forward and voice a complaint, however urgent or serious. In the same respect, a manager who's openly resistant to change could influence employees to adopt the same attitude — precisely the opposite attitude of what any company intent on meeting change directly wishes to convey.
Willingness to bend the rules. Adhering to the highest standards of ethical conduct is often a key value for a successful company culture. A manager who's open to skirting regulations to ease the process (or for some type of personal gain) will certainly lose the respect of more honest employees. Or worse, this type of "sort of ethical" behavior could suggest to employees that they might get away with bending the rules as well. This may also cause compliance concerns for the company which can be costly.
Never recognizes the contributions of others. Poor performing managers who fail to recognize employee contributions may exhibit some of the worst leadership styles, while those who actively claim credit for job achievements they had nothing to do with may be even more destructive. Either approach can lead to poor employee morale, in which case greater productivity and initiative are likely out of the question.
What employees can do about poor performing managers
It may be hard for employees to speak directly with their boss about difficulties they have with management style. Instead, they should feel free to contact their boss's direct supervisor, or HR department member, and discuss the issues. Alternatively, if a healthy and productive working relationship exists between the employee and manager, the employee may want to speak directly to a boss about the conflict they are experiencing. Unfortunately, many businesses may fail to educate employees on their options if an issue arises with their manager.
Remember, the boss is someone with whom employees regularly interact. There may be too much "baggage" for an employee to talk honestly with the boss. It's important for them to know they can reach out to HR for guidance.
What your HR team can do about poor performing managers
Offering training for managers can be a key resource in turning a bad situation around, particularly in areas like employee coaching and communications. Some managers may naturally resist such training, convinced they're doing "just fine" on their own. It's up to employers and HR to ensure that all managers receive the same training, demonstrate where these managers fall short in their performance reviews, and indicate how poor employee performance may negatively impact their own standing within the organization.
Sometimes the situation demands a difficult conversation with a manager – not unlike the type of conversation a strong leader can have with an underperforming employee. This is where experienced HR personnel can step in and have these difficult conversations. In such cases, keep these guidelines in mind:
Prepare in advance. Don't just call the manager into your office and start pointing out weaknesses. Take time to review employee complaints and other relevant information and establish key points you want to cover ahead of time.
Have a goal in mind. As part of your prep work, make sure there's a key objective you want to achieve as a result of the conversation. This can take the form of setting up a time for further discussions or outlining an action plan the manager can begin working on when the difficult conversation is concluded.
Work together to improve the situation. With any difficult conversation, it's important to defuse tension and focus on how working together can make things better. In this way, HR and managers can look at ways to improve processes, relationships, and performance, and the result can be a breakthrough for all parties to uncover some fantastic ideas for improving workflow.
A poor performing boss can spread discontent throughout an organization and this can spill over into damaging customer relationships. By taking prompt corrective action, you can fix the problem before it becomes a serious liability for your business.
Increase frequency of manager performance reviews
Traditional annual performance reviews tend to focus on past behavior, and may not account for future goals and areas for development opportunities (such as improved managerial conduct). Areas for improvement and growth can be missed over a 12-month period if feedback is held until one designated time for review.
In contrast, having regular conversations about how the company's objectives align with an individual manager's performance and development can change the focus and create a cohesive and tangible relationship between the manager and the company.
A benefit to this style of performance review is a manager can become more aware of and sensitive to any ill treatment of employees. This can be a huge step in effecting managerial change that benefits the entire workplace.
Use learning management systems to address poor behavior and performance
A learning management system (LMS) is a powerful, versatile, and flexible e-learning application that businesses can use to help plan, implement, and assess specific learning processes. An LMS allows instructors to develop and deliver content, monitor participants' efforts and assess their performance. These systems also often offer interactive features, such as video conferences and discussion forums.
These features can be modified to focus on making changes in a manager's leadership style, producing positive change that alters workforce-interaction and motivation.
Features of the most robust learning management systems often include:
Reporting and analytics: Consolidates progress data for a big-picture view of the organizational learning curve.
Skills gap analysis: Pre-course assessment to identify learning goals, allowing developers to design content according to participants' knowledge base.
Collaborative learning: Allows group learners to share applications or documents, follow discussion threads, and exchange knowledge and questions.
360-degree reviews: Permits instructors to assess performance, and participants to give teachers feedback or suggestions.
Learning opportunities like these can promote a manager's positive change in behavior. By making LMS training and e-learning a priority, you can help ensure managers (like employees) are continuously engaged and focus on honing their leadership skills. You may start to see significant benefits in improved employee retention and decreased costs in turnover in your business.
Some business leaders may feel the need for assistance in coping with a manager's poor and ineffective leadership style. Tap credible resources in this area that include on-site training for managers on leadership skills and other ways to get assistance in become the kind of manager who inspires, motivates, and drives employees to peak levels of productivity.