Suppose your employees are grumbling about one of your senior managers, the director of a key department – he’s much too harsh and turnover is high.  What should you do? One option, the easy way out, is to ignore it.  This option may be especially appealing if productivity is decent, despite the grumbling.

To read the rest of this article from the Business First of Louisville, see: What to do when complaints are about a senior manager

But suppose you look deeper and the evidence is clear:  Your senior manager is a critical perfectionist.  He micro-manages with sarcastic criticism and put-downs, browbeats staff relentlessly, never gives compliments and hogs the credit and shovels the blame.  He harasses, bullies and abuses his staff.  Even long-term stars want out and productivity is merely OK.  Unhappiness has spread to other departments that have interacted with him.

You can still find easy explanations to avoid getting involved: You have other worries, there are no red flags on balance sheets, he treats you OK and he hasn’t thrown anything, hit anyone or blown up in public.  Employees always complain about hard-driving leaders and why open a can of worms?

Leaders who still gloss over these situations are merely conflict-avoidant.  They’ll ensure years of hard feelings, declining performance, scorn behind their backs and, eventually, increased costs to clean out a bigger cesspool.  Or maybe they think they’ll be long gone before it backs up to their door.

Another option is often chosen by leaders who think, “We’re all good people here. If we got together we’d agree on an effective compromise.”  They hope the politically correct approach of facilitated negotiation will manufacture a solution that works for everyone.

But in this situation that’s just a band-aid.  It won’t lead to long-term, productive change because the problem is a brutal manager, not a lack of understanding and acceptance of different styles within a reasonable range.

At this point, there’s little incentive for the senior manager to make consistent, lasting change.  During negotiations a lot of talk will happen, fingers will get pointed, people will get argumentative and defensive, hopes will get raised and dashed, and people will become even more polarized, antagonistic and litigious.  You’ve simply delayed a real solution and upped the pain and cost.

I recommend a third option: To give the problem manager a chance to turn things around and mend fences, give him an ultimatum - “change or else” - backed by short timelines, close monitoring, effective support for the changes you want him to make and repeated praise from you for any progress.

Get a coach-advisor the manager can respect, accept and trust.  He will need to learn a new managing style and new communication skills.  Expect stepwise progress as he learns whether his new approach can keep productivity, quality and kudos high.  Help him maintain leadership credibility by requiring training for the whole department hand having him participate.

How do you know when to quit dodging your responsibility and to use the third option? A truthful and global costing out is crucial.  See original article for details.

Take into account the effects of his behavior on:

  • Productivity.
  • Time spent by HR, staff and supervisors in all departments talking about incidents and dealing with complaints and hurt feelings.
  • Effects on inter-departmental interactions.
  • Transfer and turnover of good employees, especially outstanding young people who would be the next generation of leaders.
  • Monetary and emotional costs of facilitated negotiations that fail.
  • Costs for litigation, lawyers and buying silence from many employees.
  • Lost respect for you and lost passion for your mission and goals, which will infect the organization.

You may have heard the expression, “People don’t leave organizations; they leave bad supervisors.”  That’s much too simplistic.

Once you have competitive benefits, great people leave bad environments – including poor supervisors, peers and coworkers, and systems that thwart accomplishment.  The most effective way of keeping the best employees and managers is setting high standards and standing up for them.

Remember, your leadership is on trial also.

Often, individuals need coaching and organizations need consulting to help them design and implement a plan that fits the situation.  To get the help you need, call Ben at 1-877-828-5543.