Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Mis-Managers 3: Builder-Upper & Tearer-Downer

In a recent blog post I raised the issue of Mis-Managers and the damage they can cause to not only their direct reports, but to the organization as a whole (see Mis-Managers: How Bad Managers Can Poison the Well). I also discussed how such Mis-Managers typically got promoted into their positions and “reached their level of incompetence”. This blog post is the third in the Mis-Manager series (see also Mis-Managers 2: Janus & Old YellerMis-Managers 4: Micro-Managers - People, Design & Process, Mis-Managers 5: Power Tripper & Turf Builder, and Mis-Managers 6: Mentor, Tactician & Strategist, and Mis-Managers 7: Hands-Off, Wheeler-Dealer, Credit Taker/Thief & A$$hole) that describes some specific Mis-Manager personality types, the ways they create problems, and some suggestions as to how employees can attempt to survive, and hopefully prosper, with such Mis-Managers. The challenge of effectively dealing with Mis-Managers can be daunting, as they typically determine (or significantly influence) their Employees futures. As with my Herding Cats series of blog posts (see Herding Cats: The Art of "Managing" Knowledge WorkersHerding Cats 2: Problem Child & Elitist BastardHerding Cats 3: Boss Wannabe & Social ButterflyHerding Cats 4: "Wally" & Prima DonnaHerding Cats 5: Solid Citizen, Valued Expert & Rising Star, and Herding Cats 6: Complainer/Whiner, Eternal Optimist, Chesire Cat, Loner, Credit Taker/Thief & A$$hole), which discuss knowledge worker (see Knowledge Is Power!) personality types, I purposefully describe characteristics that are more extreme, and that concentrate on one specific attribute, than will normally be the case. Clearly every Manager (and Mis-Manager) is an individual with characteristics that are unique, and most have a variety of personality characteristics. Every situation is also unique and should be treated in a unique fashion.  The suggestions that I make for approaching a Mis-Manager are just one person’s view – mine. Given the position of power that a Mis-Manager may occupy, think carefully about your best approach.


The Builder-Upper:
The Challenge: The Builder-Upper provides positive reinforcement using verbal praise to help build up his/her employees. This can be an excellent type of boss to have. The employees learn what they are doing that is praiseworthy and can use this as encouragement to do more and better work. So far, so good. However, when the Builder-Upper goes overboard, praising everything that every employee does, and providing no feedback on what can be done to help the employee grow and improve, this can have a negative effect. Just as when everything is of the highest priority nothing is really of the highest priority (see When Everything Is High Priority, Nothing Is High Priority!), when every action every employee takes is praiseworthy no actions are really praiseworthy. Further, where such praise really counts is in the actions the Builder-Upper takes – what he/she does ultimately means much more than what he/she says. If he/she rewards praise with actions (e.g. public recognition, more challenging assignments, monetary or non-monetary awards, etc.), then he/she is putting his/her “money” where his/her mouth is. If this doesn’t happen, then the praise may show itself to be empty.  The boss who follows through in some way on praise given, however minor, will be rewarded with loyalty and strong performance. The boss who is all praiseworthy talk with no action actually undermines what he/she is trying to accomplish in giving praise – employees, particularly knowledge workers, will see right through it, and will not always give the job their best. The right kind of Builder-Upper can be a great boss!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mis-Managers 2: Janus & Old Yeller

In an earlier blog post (see Mis-Managers: How Bad Managers Can Poison the Well), I raised the issue of Mis-Managers and the damage they can cause to not only their direct reports, but to the organization as a whole. I also discussed how such Mis-Managers typically got promoted into their positions and “reached their level of incompetence”. This blog post is the second in my Mis-Manager series (see also Mis-Managers 3: Builder-Upper & Tearer-Downer, Mis-Managers 4: Micro-Managers - People, Design & Process, Mis-Managers 5: Power Tripper & Turf Builder, Mis-Managers 6: Mentor, Tactician & Strategist, and Mis-Managers 7: Hands-Off, Wheeler-Dealer, Credit Taker/Thief & A$$holethat will describe some specific Mis-Manager personality types, the ways they create problems, and some suggestions as to how employees can attempt to survive, and hopefully prosper, with such Mis-Managers . The challenge of effectively dealing with Mis-Managers can be daunting, as they typically determine (or significantly influence) their employees' futures. As with my Herding Cats series of blog posts (see Herding Cats: The Art of "Managing" Knowledge Workers, Herding Cats 2: Problem Child & Elitist Bastard, Herding Cats 3: Boss Wannabe & Social Butterfly, Herding Cats 4: "Wally" & Prima Donna, Herding Cats 5: Solid Citizen, Valued Expert & Rising Star, and Herding Cats 6: Complainer/Whiner, Eternal Optimist, Chesire Cat, Loner, Credit Taker/Thief & A$$hole), which discuss knowledge worker (see Knowledge Is Power!) personality types, I purposefully describe characteristics that are more extreme, and that concentrate on one specific attribute, than will normally be the case. Clearly every Manager (and Mis-Manager) is an individual with characteristics that are unique, and most have a variety of personality characteristics. Every situation is also unique and should be treated in a unique fashion. The suggestions that I make for approaching a Mis-Manager are just one person’s view – mine. Given the position of power that a Mis-Manager may occupy, think carefully about your best approach.


The Janus  (named after the two-faced Roman god):
The Challenge: In first blog post of this Mis-Manager series (see Mis-Managers: How Bad Managers Can Poison the Well), using the analogy of a sailboat on the ocean, I described the fact that managements' and subordinates’ views of a Manager are very different. A Janus type of Mis-Manager actually reflects these differences back to these two audiences. To his/her bosses, Janus reflects all the positive things he/she is doing to make his/her group and the company better. All successes are the direct result of Janus’ superb management and/or technical skills, and he/she deserves all of the credit; his/her subordinates don’t really matter or even exist. Any problems are hidden, minimized, or polished over, and Janus is fully in command. If any problems should bubble to surface to become visible to the bosses, Janus will deflect any and all blame to his subordinates, and will promise to use his/her exceptional management skills to quickly correct the problems. To his/her subordinates, Janus claims that he/she is portraying them to his bosses exceptionally well, and that they are all highly regarded by those bosses. At the same time, any problems that are occurring are directly the subordinates’ fault, and must be rapidly corrected to maintain this high regard. Consequently, the bosses never really see Janus’ subordinates or the value they provide (except when problems become visible), the subordinates think they are being well represented while they are not being represented at all (except negatively), and Janus gets all of the glory and none of the criticism.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Mis-Managers: How Bad Managers Can Poison the Well

Every year, the results of contests on “The Worst Bosses of The Year” are published, and it never ceases to amaze me how truly badly some people “mis-manage” others. I wish it could be said that management of knowledge workers (see Knowledge Is Power!) is different from the rest of the world, but, alas, that is not true. Knowledge worker-based organizations have more than their fair share of horrendous managers. 


There is, however, a difference in the impact of bad managers on knowledge worker-based organizations from that on some other types of organizations. Since the managers in knowledge worker-based organizations “manage” knowledge workers, and knowledge workers really are different from other people (see Herding Cats: The Art of “Managing” Knowledge Workers), bad managers can truly poison the well in a knowledge worker-based organization and virtually destroy the morale and effectiveness of that organization. Further, since knowledge workers tend to be in higher demand and are able to bring their skills more readily to other companies without such bad managers, companies with bad managers tend to lose their knowledge workers, and with their loss, the intellectual knowledge and strength of the organization goes out the door with them. With bad management, the best and brightest knowledge workers are typically the first to go, because they simply refuse to put up with the garbage that bad managers hand them; they know they will be in high demand elsewhere. And the remainder tend to lose all motivation.


So, since good and effective Managers are truly critical to knowledge worker-based organizations, the Managers of those Managers must clearly recognize this, right? One would certainly think so, but this is often not the case. How, then, do Mis-Managers find their way into the leadership and managerial roles in knowledge worker-based organizations?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Butterfly Effect in the Workplace

Have you ever noticed that small, seemingly insignificant things done at work, often without any real thought or intent, can surprisingly lead to significant changes over time? These are often minor shifts or changes that no one is even consciously aware of at the time, but which, upon reflection, were the initiating points of what led to substantial changes in direction or outcome. There is an old saying, “When a butterfly flaps its wings in China, it can lead to a tornado in Kansas”, or variations of this, which has become known at the Butterfly Effect, and this can often occur in the workplace. Small changes that are made today, often for seemingly independent purposes, can unknowingly impact the outcome of a program or project you are working on in unimaginable ways tomorrow.


The biggest opportunity for the butterfly effect in the workplace comes during a well-attended meeting where a person in a position of power, most often an executive, makes an offhand comment about something said, and people from multiple organizations interpret this person’s offhand comment as an opportunity for them to initiate actions that they believe will address what the executive desired. They may or may not have correctly interpreted the executive’s comments, but independent and possibly contradictory actions in numerous organizations may commence. These actions may, in turn, promote subsequent actions further down the line, resulting in a combination of butterfly effect and ripple effect as more and more people get involved. Thus an offhand comment (a flap of a butterfly’s wings) may result in multiple changes that were never intended that may affect multiple activities across multiple organizations (tornados in multiple organizations in the company).