We have ALL, at one time or another, had schmucks for bosses. Yeah, many have questionable attitudes, poor personal demeanor, unfounded arrogance, and are more aligned with being dictators than managers. But personal attributes aside, the worst are the managers who simply are unable to manage. Those are the ones without the ability (or desire) to use effective management skills to motivate, train, and lead… to define achievable goals, or to just plain communicate. So how do people like this even get to be supervisors and managers, or even those who reside in the C-suites?
There’s a general axiom called The Peter Principle, which states… in a hierarchy an employee tends to rise to his/her level of incompetence. Meaning that an employee will be promoted to the point where they cannot work competently. From my experience it seems these employees bump up against some management level to express their incompetence, sadly, rather than smacking into some lower level. But there are many reasons the wrong people get management positions and most have to do with not having demonstrated management skills. Nepotism is a good one (family). Job seniority (time on the job) is a big one. Job performance? Sounds like a more vailid reason on the surface, but good performance at a lower level does not assure management effectiveness (see The Peter Principle above)… this is the biggie.
I will often use the trades as an example of job performance promotion to supervision or management since there’s the union-inspired application of senority in many situations. Joe the plumber has performed in his trade for 15 years, knows the job inside and out and demonstrates that each day he works. His boss recently retired and now the company Joe works for wants to promote him because of his knowledge and experience in the trade. Joe figures this is a great opportunity for more money and everyone knows the supervisor just stands around and directs the other guys to work. So Joe is promoted to supervisor and within a month some projects have been delayed, morale among the other plumbers has declined, and the company is starting to see some business problems as a result. It seems for all of Joe’s experience and knowledge in the trade he has been unable to get the others focused, job scheduling has been a mess because Joe wants to make everyone happy, and guys are showing up late for work. Now Joe feels like he’s failed being an effective supervisor, letting his company down… the emotional stress not being worth the extra bucks he got in the promotion… and he now recognizes that the job is a lot more than just standing around directing others to do the work. He wishes to be back at his old job.. doing what he knows he can do best.
You can apply this scenario to any work industry… assembly line work, clerical work, IT work, etc. The thing is, the employee is not to blame for accepting a promotion to management (although one could argue that it is still the choice of the employee to accept), but rather it’s company upper management who fails to define those elements required for being a manager and if a potential candidate meets those elements. This lack of attention costs companies literally billions of dollars each year in loss of workplace time because of inept departmental supervision and management; constant crisis management, bad morale, and HR complaints.
I came up with a workable solution to this some years ago that likely could be applied to most industries and work environments. In those areas where employees do not have management people skills then hire a professional manager from the outside. In other words, make management a profession rather than a position. The predicate of all this is of course that the management responsibility does NOT require the manager to actually be able to perform the job of the subordinates, or in the least, does not have to perform it with a level of expertise. This is a tough nut to crack for most companies. There’s a natural assumption that a given manager should be able to do the job of the subordinates in order to fully under that job being performed. In many cases this is true depending on the job.. but it’s also equally true that in many cases an outside manager with developed management and leadership skills can engage with his/her subordinates enough to certainly identify with the skill set and and any workplace concerns. After all, one trait of a manager is the ability to identify and solve not only people problems but also process and procedural problems thus creating goals and improvements and greater efficiencies in production and service.
Now, if you look at the want ads you will see that there are indeed companies out there who are in fact hiring for management outside their own turf. You’ve seen the ads, Wanted: inventory manager, accounting manager, customer service manager, call center manager, sales manager, shipping & receiving manager, warehouse manager, quality control manager, etc. These are attempts to get management candidates with specific industry skill sets, and many times a company is not only looking for a management people person but also wants to tap the experience of a management candidate for new ideas and concepts related to the job itself. For example, I could be very qualified to be a manager of an accounting department but if I have not done that specifically in a previous position then the hiring company doesn’t get any knowledge I might possess that could give the company an edge in doing accounting. In the end the company has to make certain decisions on what is important for a given management position. The other thing to consider is what are the measurements that any company defines a good management prospect. Look at the basic professional resume. No job prospect will put on a resume that they were respected by all their subordinates… that their subordinates felt he/she did a great job as a manager… or what their managment style and philosophy might be. What is measured are accomplishments and from that it’s presumed that the job prospect effectively directed his/her staff, using outstanding management techniques, to meet those accomplishments. In fact, those accomplishments could have been made over the “dead” bodies of his subordinates. This is why many managers hired from the outside using accomplishments as a guide to management skill and potential end up being schmucks as well.
Unfortunately, this idea of professional management as a profession hasn’t taken hold on a large scale. Companies that have the types of business that would serve to benefit from outside management are still locked in the traditional mindset that a manager must come from the ranks of those who have done the job… regardless of management skills.
Maybe one day….