THE PRICE OF BAD MANAGEMENT

There are quite a few professions where the consequences of mistakes, bad professional practices, or serious errors in judgment are quite easy for us to imagine.  Air line pilots, surgeons, dentists, criminal lawyers, structural engineers, cruise line captains, and school bus drivers readily come to mind.  Most of these professions require some form of insurance to cover the possibility of their errors.  But what of managers?

Sad to say, I cannot recall a single instance during my management career where a group of us managers sat down to discuss the consequences — price tag if you will — of our mistakes and occasional acts of poor judgment.  The failure of many managers, in fact, to ever come to grips with what bad management actually does to an organization and its workforce is even more egregious when you consider — thanks to the law of large numbers — the ubiquitous nature of poor management practice.  So let’s take a brief look at the most obvious consequences of bad management  in these two areas, in the hope that it will help all of us who adopt this profession to work even harder to make as few mistakes and judgment errors as possible.

ORGANIZATIONAL IMPACT

Most individual management mistakes, acts of poor judgment, and simply bad management behavior usually take place in a small piece of a larger organization.  Consequently, it is almost impossible to realistically assess the negative impact of an individual poor manager on an entire enterprise.  The problem is, that often bad management practice and behavior is widespread in many organizations, perpetuated by the fact that the practices in question have become a part of the organization’s overall management culture; infrequently punished and frequently rewarded.

Whether a byproduct of a poor selection process for managers, inadequate supervision, too little attention to management training, or upper management’s failure to insist that the practices taught in management training courses are concurrently demanded in daily manager behavior throughout the organization, the broad impact of poor management is measurable and observable in the characteristics of an underperforming organization.  Any manager — senior or junior — who argues that their organization functions at its best despite bad management practices, is only fooling themselves.  I suggest they seek a more objective observer’s opinion and demand some hard evidence to support their claim.

We are all creatures of what we observe in practice, and are not easily persuaded by contradiction with what we are told.  This is why in the best organizations, management itself takes ownership of every part of the management selection, development, training, evaluation, and assignment process to ensure consistency and harmony of philosophy and practice throughout.  In top performing organizations, management fully comprehends the essential link between good management practice and a highly motivated, creative, and productive workforce.  Insisting on good management becomes almost an obsession, as does the frequent monitoring of actual manager performance on a daily basis and the tangible results.

HUMAN IMPACT

But a negative impact on organizational performance and productivity is far from the only toll bad management practice and behavior inflicts on an enterprise.  The human toll is often equally — if not more — destructive.  At a minimum, it is a demoralizing, dis-incentivizing force as well.  Where bad management is endemic within an organization, it is a safe bet that many of the most talented and potentially productive members of a workforce will beat a hasty path toward the exit doors as soon as  they can.

The human impact of bad management is relatively easy for most of us to understand, because so many of us have been the victims of it at some point in our careers.  The symptoms — what we feel, experience, and do — run a wide gamut:  stress; headaches; disgruntlement; frustration; depression; periods of complaining to anybody who will listen at work and often our significant others at home; that churning feeling in our stomachs both on the way to and from work; difficulty sleeping because we simply can not let go of our unhappiness at work; a tendency toward distraction when we are with our families, loved ones, and friends; and perhaps occasionally taking out our frustrations inappropriately on the innocent around us.

If, as a manager, the above sounds like a rather horrible series of consequences to inflict on someone else, then it bears constant reminding that your mistakes, errors in judgment, and poor professional practices carry a potentially serious, negative impact on the human beings around you, whether you see and experience the results first hand or not.  I believe the more frequently any professional reminds her or himself of the potential damage they can do both to their organization and the talented individuals for whom they are responsible, the more likely they are to dedicate themselves to being the very best possible doctor, lawyer, pilot, school bus driver, structural engineer, cruise ship captain, and YES MANAGER.

As I have written elsewhere, the best managers never believe they are good enough, never assume they always get it right, never think they have all the answers, never lose sight of the fact that their next mistake may lie just around the corner, and always assume they have more to learn about their demanding and difficult profession.  That is why we all want to work for them.


2 comments

  1. I agree, Terry, the consequences are usually bad, but unfortunately these tend to be under-reported. I think the issue biols down to measurement: first, it is difficult to measure this impact, even though you describe it so well; second, it is difficult, politically and practically, to embed these metrics as part of a performance management process; and third, senior management underrates this impact due to a belief that people will just deal with it adequately on their own.

    In my experience I have met a lot of sceptical looks when I have tried to focus on this area through a Change Leadership program as part of a Business Transformation initiative. If you have any successes of how to get senior management to buy into the importance of this, I would love to hear.

    Peter

    1. Peter…I have been struggling for years with the very same challenge: how to get senior management to see that bad management really does matter. The approach I take is to challenge them to to tell me they actually believe that a poorly managed organization can operate at top efficiency. It is a hard case to make. So I attempt to link bad management with suboptimal performance.

      Still even when I get broad agreement on the consequences of bad management, the effort to launch a comprehensive management training initiative led by, and structured by, them just strikes most senior managers as HRs task not theirs. They are content to let trainers talk theory in management courses and ignore the fact that there is often a wide gap between what is taught and how the organization actually manages itself.

      You might check out an earlier blog of mine entitled “Senior Management, This One’s For You”. In it I place the management training challenge directly on their doorstep. My hope is always to find at least one senior who gets it and that she or he has enough clout to do something that makes a difference.

      I do a workshop for line managers that is designed to help them avoid the most egregious examples of bad management. It is my small way of trying to make a difference.

      Cheers. TERRY

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