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Breaking the cycle of bad management madness

Dr Tim Wiles shares his personal experience of how poor leadership is not only not bad for morale but is also bad for business. In his article, Tim looks at the benefits businesses will gain when they learn to adopt a culture of trust and empowerment and value the individual contribution each employee can make.
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“That’s a stupid idea”.

Those words echo in my memory, reminding me of a previous employment, where my manager once told me “humiliation is the best form of learning”. Reading this phrase now sends a shudder down my spine! Hopefully it does the same to you – however, at the time, I knew it wasn’t good, yet I still accepted it and continued with my work (not entirely) embracing this individual’s enlightened micro-management style.

Organisations flourish on creativity, taking novel ideas and implementing them to ensure their continued success as customers, expectations and preferences change with time. If an organisation, or part of an organisation, relies on the ideas of just one individual, it is surely doomed to failure. This individual’s ideas will soon become outdated and irrelevant if they are not prepared to listen to others around them.

Many of us are likely to experience a difficult manager at some point in our career. We spend a large proportion of our time at work so it’s important that we take enjoyment from it and feel like we are making a valued and worthwhile contribution. So as an employee what should we do in this situation? Pack our bags and head for the hills or tough it out? Why should an organisation look to tackle this problem and embrace the trust and empowerment of its staff? In this article I’m going to look at the problems caused by bad management and what organisations should do to ensure they get the best out of what is often their most significant investment – their people.

Creativity will be stifled

When you are being micro managed and any opinion other than that of the manager is deemed wrong, bad or ridiculous, it’s impossible to be creative. The fear of presenting anything original or innovative usually means that employees churn out what’s expected of them, without discussion or debate, thus stifling any ability to be creative.

I fail to see how a yes man adds any value to an organisation, yet this is what people become, as it makes their work life easiest to tolerate.

An organisation stifling creativity is just like a car being driven with no adjustments to steering. A crash is coming! In contrast, an organisation embracing creativity will safely navigate the winding road of changing circumstances and will strive to be ahead of the competition.

Staff morale and productivity will be low

In an environment where you have a manager who doesn’t show respect for those who they are managing, a culture of blame will ensue. In this situation people avoid at all costs having to make an actual decision, handing even the smallest decisions up to their manager for fear of the response if they make the decision without consultation. If one person is having to undertake all decision making, down to the ludicrously microscopic, you have one significant bottleneck to progress.

No manufacturer would dream of building a supercomputer with a single CPU. Parallel processing is the way to go. Organisations who trust their staff are able to parallel-process their tasks. The organisation is a well-oiled machine, with the pressure on managers significantly reduced and the output improved.

Staff retention will be low

Put simply: why would staff want to stay in a job where they are constantly undermined, where they don’t feel respected or trusted? If a manager does not trust those being managed, staff will rapidly pick up on this, resulting in extremely low morale and commitment. It is clear that any individual with low morale is going to despise the prospect of going to work, will struggle to focus on the work in hand and will have little desire to be productive – where is the reward?

I’m sure that anyone who has been in this situation would gladly move on if the opportunity arose, probably even if a cut in pay would occur. Money doesn’t solve this problem. Don’t fool yourself into taking money in place of your dignity – which surely is the realm of Big Brother and I’m A Celebrity… contestants! Is that what you aspire to?

Staff who are empowered, not undermined, will want to stay. Retaining experienced staff is a huge benefit to an organisation, as the longer people stay, the more efficient they become at their job, retaining tacit knowledge within the organisation. Costs will also be significantly reduced, due to the reduction in the need to recruit and train new staff.

Reputation of the organisation and manager

One disgruntled employee has power. Using only words, they have the power to damage the reputation of an organisation or its management – think “six degrees of separation”. People have the power to tell their friends and family in private about their experience at an organisation, who, in turn, could share that information with a whole host of other people.

Today social media provides an individual with a platform to very quickly vent their frustrations with management. This can be particularly damaging for an organisation if the individual has access to its social media accounts. Cast your mind back to January 2013 and the PR disaster that befell HMV when it went into administration, informing various employees that they would no longer have a job at the company. At least one of these employees had access to HMV’s Twitter account and began sending tweets that management would have been extremely unhappy with. I’m not going to try to form an argument about what should happen in the situation where a company goes into administration – that would be an entirely different article. However, I simply want to demonstrate the power that a single person has in these days of social media.

Above we have only mentioned the power of one individual, but a bad manager can breed many disgruntled employees, each of whom has the power to damage the reputation of an organisation and its management. Having happy employees makes good business sense. Wouldn’t it be much better for employees to be speaking about the organisation positively in private and on social media? Think of the difference this would make.

A good reputation can result in referrals becoming an organisation’s main source of new custom and customer retention will also be high, both of which will encourage the growth of the organisation. In addition to this, more people will be knocking on the door asking for employment, giving the organisation an opportunity to be more selective on who it employs, being able to recruit very talented staff.

The difference a good manager can make

I know that managers have the ultimate responsibility for the projects that are being undertaken and that, as such, they have the final say. I wouldn’t dispute that point for a second. However, I don’t believe this gives a licence for a manager to immediately assume that any ideas other than their own are idiotic or simply wrong. I believe that being prepared to admit you are wrong, or that someone else has provided an improved solution to the one you had proposed, is the hallmark of an excellent manager. You can’t always be right!

While your personal goal may be to progress up the ladder, your actual role is to deliver value, improvement and to drive the organisation forward. Don’t make prideful decisions, but investigate your decisions in the context of the bigger picture – how it benefits the organisation.

Thankfully, my current role is a significant improvement from the experiences that I had previously. The environment here in the office is very positive, actively seeking creativity, valuing the opinions of everyone. I’m measured on my output, not for how long my backside is on my seat, which motivates me to be creative. What’s more, employee friendly policies such as flexible working and unlimited holidays that Waterstons has been practicing for the last 20 years, which some larger forward-thinking organisations are only starting to catch up with, leads to motivated and contented staff who are in control of their work-life balance, whilst still delivering the best outcome for their clients. I’m pleased to see that Waterstons’ People First ethos has earned them an Investors in People Gold award. The organisation that looks after both its staff and its clients is one that is sure to succeed.

Humiliation is not the best form of learning – let’s break the cycle of bad management madness. So if you’re not being valued and are in the IT sector, come and see a different way of doing things!

Technology in M&A Event

22 January 2020

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