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Poor Management: Laundry Style!

It’s a sad fact that people management is an under-developed skill in many organisations. The organisations that get it right tend to be the successful ones, so there’s a message in there somewhere.

Here’s a checklist of management practices that rarely (if ever) prove successful.  If you are an employee, how many of these have you experienced? If you are a manager, how many of these practices have you or do you demonstrate?

  1. Focus on ironing out the creases

  2. Put them through the wringer

  3. Put people in a spin

  4. Peg them down

  5. Bleach out all colour

  6. Hang them out to dry

Focus on ironing out the creases

Poor managers are more interested in the imperfections and weaknesses of their people than in utilising their people’s strengths. Poor managers struggle to identify the strengths of their people, or take these strengths for granted. Instead, they pick over the things that people can’t do or can’t do well, and pour their energies in trying to ‘correct’ these deficits.

This approach is demoralising and wasteful. If the focus moved to what people can do and can do well, and the role was constructed to allow people to play to these strengths, the benefits are enormous.

Put people through the wringer

Poor managers want to squeeze out every ounce of effort and good will from their staff. They fail to recognise the value of ‘quiet time’ where people reflect, evaluate, dream and re-focus. If an employee isn’t constantly moving; doesn’t have a backlog of work to catch-up on; isn’t exhausted by the end of the day; the presumption is that they’re not working hard enough. So poor managers pile on more and more , expect more and more, but give less and less by way of support.

This approach has a short shelf-life for each employee. It contributes to burn-out and the quality of the work rapidly suffers. What is more, it stifles innovation, creativity, and engagement.

Instead of bleeding employees dry, good managers help their staff prioritise what is truly important, don’t overburden their people, and recognise the enormous benefits that arise when you ‘cut a bit of slack’.

Put people in a spin

Poor managers are inconsistent, volatile and unclear. They appear to be making it up as they go along and their people never know where they’re going or what they’re doing from one day to the next.

These managers lack a strategic approach, clear purpose, and standards. Everything is up for grabs as they weave their way through the challenge of every new situation.

People are left feeling very uncertain, confused and out of control. They feel shunted from pillar to post as their manager changes direction as a matter of routine.

The effect is that people stop making longer term plans. They focus only on what’s happening now, rather than preparing for future events. They don’t invest in ideas and improvements because they don’t expect that they will have the opportunity to see them through.

It’s a rollercoaster ride with a manager like this. And it makes people dizzy.

Good managers have clarity about where they and their team are going over the short, medium and longer term. They articulate this to their people and take steps to maintain this course. Changes in direction are rarely thrust upon employees, but evaluated with them.

Peg them down

Poor managers like to exercise high levels of control over their team.  They don’t like the idea of employees ‘getting ahead of themselves’ or ‘having ideas above their station’. God forbid that a direct report should have autonomy and be able to think for themselves!

These managers feel entitled to power by virtue of their hierarchical status. They feel they’ve earned their stripes and the right to be in charge.

So people are kept in their place. Their roles are tightly regulated. Instructions on what the manager wants are also supplemented with ‘how’ the manager wants it done. There’s little freedom available for the employee to exercise their own judgement.

These managers also like to know where people are at every minute of the day: preferably stuck at their desk or machine. They become nervous when people move about because it’s harder to keep tabs on them! I’ve even seen some managers time how long their people spend on the toilet!

When people are straight-jacketed like this they tend to go mad! Either they stop thinking for themselves and become zombies, or they become more and more dependent on the manager, or they rail against it and eventually leave.

Good managers realise that people need freedom to operate and stretch themselves. Good managers believe that people who are given this freedom, have the capacity to use it well. Good managers make themselves available to their people but not indispensable to them.

Bleach out all colour

Poor managers want homogenised teams. They feel safe if they have a bunch of clones (preferably a less capable version of themselves who offer no threat to them).

These managers expect every person to operate in an identical rather than unique way. The job roles are constructed so that everyone is expected to do the same things, be good at the same things, and work in the same way.

The result is a lifeless and dull team which lacks diversity in terms of skills, capabilities, approaches, temperaments, preferences, and results.

Teams like this are never high performing. And they are extremely limited in what they can take on and deliver. However, the poor manager feels comfortable with these teams because he/she is dealing with people they recognise and understand.

A good manager recognises the value of diversity and embraces it. They become skilled at handling the frictions and tensions that can arise with increased diversity, and they use these tensions to positive effect. A good manager is not afraid of working with people who think, act and are capable of doing things differently to themselves.

Hang them out to dry

Poor managers take no responsibility for their team and fail to back the team up. People within the team rarely or never feel that their manager is on their side or that their manager would support them if something went wrong. They’re on their own!

These managers are particularly partial to blame, and are great at distancing themselves from situations and events.

The result is that team members don’t trust their manager. They don’t confide in their manager, and are more inclined to ‘bury’ mistakes than share them with their manager. Alternatively, people become so risk-averse for fear of ever making a mistake for which they will be pilloried by their manager.

A good manager realizes that they are reflected in the performance of their team. A good manager has the best interests of their staff at heart, and works tirelessly to ensure that they are adequately resourced and supported. A good manager focuses more on learning than apportioning blame, using every failure as a chance to improve.

Managing People doesn’t have to be like doing the laundry! It’s time to freshen up our approach. But let’s leave the bleach, detergent, pegs and laundry machines out of it. 

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