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Can managers be problem employees?

September 20, 2018

By Anthony Kaylin, courtesy SBAM Approved Partner ASE

Although cross functioning teams are the rage, and at times rightly so, it appears that too many bosses are like the adage too many cooks.  According to a Gartner survey, more than two-thirds of employees around the world say they have to consult with more than one boss to get their jobs done.  What does that mean?  It means that these employees waste significant amounts of time waiting for guidance from senior leaders.

According to Gartner, 35% of employees think that their bosses do not understand the day-to-day work they do.  And that is significant.  Although managers don’t know what employees are doing, they still are making decisions from workflow to possible layoffs.  These decisions can negatively impact the entire organization.  The Gartner survey also shows that managers on average have nine direct reports, up from five in 2008.   Managers, besides doing their own jobs, have less time to understand the work of their subordinates.

As the daily news changes, managers’ goals also change, and that causes havoc for employees.  Being flexible is one thing, but constant change seems like running in circles with no end in sight.  “Managers should set clear goals, learn to clearly communicate their priorities, and know the work their employees are performing so that mindless ’never minds’ are unnecessary and overloading never happens,” states Roxanne Allen, a former director of communications with American Express. “Alignment starts at the top.”

But workers in a cross-collaborative environment get bogged down not in details but in meetings, discussions, emails, and conference calls.  There is not enough time in the day for individual contributors to contribute, and they are the ones most likely to burn out.  Organizations recruiting for talent today have to know that work-life balance is one of the top reasons people choose jobs. 

Dr. Rob Cross, a professor of leadership at Babson College identified four areas which bosses generally get wrong.  First, bad bosses expect people to know all the answers in the moment.  Good bosses will expect their reports to find out answers quickly and not push to overprepare for every meeting.  Second, bad bosses have a hard time with ambiguity.  Good bosses recognize that ambiguity is a daily part of the job and allows their reports to grow in their jobs. 

Third, bad bosses want everyone in every meeting.  Good bosses don’t.  They recognize who should and shouldn’t attend and ensure that their reports have time to do their individual contributor jobs.  Per Dr. Cross, “Leaders can get overwhelmed with collaboration and then they’re not sufficiently accessible to others. People who report to an overloaded boss are as much as 200% more likely to leave.”

Finally, bad bosses create a climate of fear.  Per Dr. Cross, “People who create a context of fear consume enormous amounts of time because their people feel like they have to be bulletproof. They don’t speak up and they burn out on the command that they be perfect all the time.” Good bosses accept fallibility and make them learning moments. Using agile performance management techniques, good bosses build worker capacity and capabilities.

Therefore, given the talent wars and the impact bad managers have on attraction and retention of employees, for organizations to grow, they need to invest in manager abilities.  2019 should be the year of investing in leadership training, and when bad times come, and economists are expecting it in 2020, that management team will be better prepared to continue the successes of the organization.

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