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Hold Your Breath Management Sucks the Life Out of Your Company

There’s a common phenomenon in business that is causing untold damage without any obvious signs of correction. It’s sucking the life out of companies and leaving it starved of oxygen.It’s a style of management that’s recognisable to everyone, causes intense frustration, and yet appears to be actively encouraged by those who make management appointments.

I call it the ‘Hold-Your-Breath’ Management Style.

Is it prevalent where you are?

 If so, you might feel uncomfortable reading on!

Once on that management career path it’s considered professional suicide to stay in any one place or any tier of management for too long.  So apart from the first few weeks in post, most managers are perpetually looking for their next role (preferably up, but sideways can always be explained away in positive career terms). Managers know they won’t be around for long and have often mentally left their current job some time before physically moving elsewhere.

Companies also seem to suffer from a bad case of St Vitus Dance. They just love to keep shifting management populations around. No sooner has a manager ‘learnt the ropes’ in a particular area, it’s time to move on. That might not be such a terrible thing if a proper assessment took place to ensure that the manager was actually competent in post and delivering sustainable results. Sadly, this assessment, if it ever takes place at all, is paltry and lacking in hard probing evidence.

The result?

If you know you’re not going to be around to deal with the fall-out of your work, or to be held accountable for it; and if you rarely get to see the actual outcome of the things you started in a particular department, you have created the ideal conditions for the Hold Your Breath Management Style to flourish.

‘Hold -Your – Breath Management’ is typified by the cavalier way managers dream up and enact change, and manage their people. The underlying premise is that “If I can just hold my breath and hang on long enough, I can get out of here before the s**t hits the fan.” Or to put it another way, “I need to get out of here before anyone notices and pins the blame on me!”

Managers blithely walk away from the scene of the crime before the

‘Hold-Your-Breath Management’ encourages bad management behaviours and rarely delivers positive outcomes.

It’s been like this for a very long time and some companies are particularly good at breeding this style of management. Some have even instigated six-month management rotations, presumably with the intention of causing maximum damage!

It’s hard to see how the personal benefits of such an approach could truly compensate for the assault on company performance. There are so many powerful reasons why this style, and the conditions that allow it to propagate, are wrong.

  1. Evidence shows that teams which stay together (with some notable exceptions that include Creative teams) perform better than those who repeatedly change. Of, course, there are numerous factors contributing to this, but one factor is the presence of a good manager who is an integral, engaged and trusted member of the team.

  2. Managers who stay in post long enough to truly see the fruits of their labours have a chance to modify or develop the way they operate by learning what worked well and not so well.

  3. Incompetence is rewarded and incompetent managers are put in positions where they can wreak even more havoc over larger territories.

  4. These promoted managers who have personally benefited from this regime are less inclined to pull the rug from under their own feet. It’s unlikely they will lead the charge against these practices. So the culture stagnates and companies lurch from one crisis to another.

It could also be argued that some managers stay in post too long, and that they ceased to be competent years ago. This isn’t a counter argument but further evidence that we simply aren’t good enough at tackling poor management performance.

By all means, let’s move people if they aren’t performing and we’ve tried everything else; but let’s also keep people in post and support them until they have proved themselves and seen a programme through to its final conclusion. That doesn’t mean the end date of a project, but at least six months after the end date. It’s only then that you can truly judge the effectiveness of the outcome and the approach that was taken.

I’d like to be optimistic here and hold onto the belief that this turnaround in the way we appoint, support and promote our managers will change over time. Will this happen anytime soon?

Don’t hold your breath!

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