Listen boss- You’re fired!

So the organization has lost talent over the last 2 years. Some of the loss was expendable. And like any other resource investment, some of the attrition was ‘regrettable.’ Talent loss, like any other capital investment, is part of the cost. True?

Maybe not! It’s not about the cost of replacement being 2.5-3.0 times the cost of the employee. The organization can afford it. The job market has shrunk, which means more skilled people are fighting for fewer jobs. Great, the organization will replace the loss with equally good (maybe better) talent! It’s also not about lost productivity or time to train a fresh hire. The organization has sufficient resources for contingencies. If all of that is true, does the organization really need to worry about some lost (and perhaps, easily replaceable) talent? The answer is an emphatic―yes, in a big way.

Let’s find out why. In times when talent scarcity has become a real problem, organizations have started realizing that when people leave, they take with them not just their aptitude but also a great deal of organizational knowledge. Tacit knowledge retention is never an easy task. And on top of that organizational knowledge means not just knowledge about systems and processes, but also about what’s not going right with the organization. An organization lets go an employee, not worrying about what word s/he will carry to the talent market outside, oftentimes ignoring the fact that every present and future employee is a brand ambassador. In the era of Glassdoor and professional social networks, such an attitude can potentially have a devastating impact on the organization’s employer brand. The potential long-term implication of a bad employer brand extends far beyond short-term attraction and retention. A bad employer finds itself difficult to gain access to key talent in critical markets thereby hampering the overall growth strategy and revenue.

Much too often, exit interviews are merely seen as a formality by HR and the organizational leadership. The leadership is not serious about investigating the real reasons for employee departure. A few days back my colleague and good friend who is an HR industry observer wrote an article on why people leave jobs. It is common knowledge that people don’t leave organizations; they leave managers. The key question for the organization remains― is there a way to identify bad managers who contribute to loss of reputation of the employer brand?

Identifying a bad manager is not an easy task. For an organization’s HR, knowledge about an individual is oftentimes limited to the annual performance assessment report. Behavioral studies reveal that it is human tendency to avoid skewed feedback and a manager’s direct report will more often be inclined to balance bad feedback by outlining some good attributes. The performance assessment gets even more “normalized” when there are multiple direct reports providing feedback to one manager. The consolidated assessment report, therefore, is a normalized aggregated report that smoothens out any alarming spikes reflected in individual feedbacks.  To add to that, most often the manager’s boss is responsible for aggregating individual feedbacks with the final authority to regard/disregard any individual feedback. If the manager has a good rapport with the boss, there is a further chance of dilution in the performance management process. It’s not an uncommon occurrence to see a manager flourishing professionally under a patronizing boss who covers up red flags and highlights successes. Oftentimes, teams with higher attrition rates show instances of a patronizing manager-boss association.

It is human nature to have favorites and develop positive biases. Managers usually develop favorites based on previous experience where an individual demonstrated stellar performance. A bad manager, however, is one who fails to acknowledge that business challenges and situations change and therefore past successes cannot be accurate indicators of future effectiveness.  A manager, however may bias his decisions about individuals based on biases and gut feeling, rather that accurate mapping of individual skills and project requirements. Such decisions include selection of individuals for high-profile critical projects and nominations to the HIPO pool. Bad decisions can have adverse effects on team morale and engagement, where individuals feel cheated and powerless.

Some typical commonalities exist among bad managers. An organization can look for the following characteristics to identify signs of a bad manager.

Early career advancements under remote leadership― If an individual has served most of his/her early career under a remote manager, the weak exposure to everyday management might imbibe in an individual a strong sense of invincibility. Most employees remark that a bad manager is one who regards his/her decision as final and is averse to questioning.

Remarkable personality difference between professional and personal life― Many remark that it is common to notice a remarkable difference in personalities between a bad manager’s professional and personal lives. The otherwise stern and bullying manager at work transforms into a docile and amiable personality outside of work. The difference in personalities is often driven by a professional approach that heavily conflicts with the manager’s personal characteristics, such as insecurity, acquired perceptions of effectiveness, and prior exposure to management styles.

Less diverse experience in 2 or lesser organizations― A common attribute among bad managers is the lack of professional diversity. Owing the lack of experience and exposure to different management styles and organizational cultures, a bad manager has uni-dimensional and siloed views about performance and professional effectiveness.

Restrictive associations― A bad manager is usually inclined to restrict his/her associations to people at the same or at higher levels of the organizational hierarchy. S/he is not usually seen having lunch with his sub-ordinates, sharing a light moment with the team, or participating in non-work discussions with his/her direct reports.

Organizations fervently look into engagement surveys and other forms of corporate forensics to identify the bad apple that leads to disengagement and turnover, oftentimes overlooking the possibility that a manager, in fact, can be the bad apple. While there are numerous research studies indicating that managers are the single largest reason for people leaving an organization, there are very few that outline the organizational response of having a bad manager. Many believe that there really is one organizational response― fire the manager! And make a big deal out of it. Not just because it eliminates the bad apple, it sends out the right message to the organization― of empowerment, of equality, and of corporate integrity.

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3 thoughts on “Listen boss- You’re fired!

  1. Brilliant! Very well captured…especially the bullets at the end are accurate word by word. But I feel that organizations don’t care about high attrition as much as they care about firing the manager. Times demand a mind-set change, I guess.

  2. What creates bad managers in the first place? Many organizations (more Indian, I guess) find ‘delegation’ an alien concept; so much so that managers even at the highest rungs in the organizational hierarchy are no more than mere employees – albeit the more glorified and costlier ones. I have, therefore, reasons to believe that managers are fired more for saving costs, rather than grandiose purposes such as ’empowerment, equality, and corporate integrity’

  3. I think there is a point worth mentioning about managers can be bad managers if they micro manage thier direct reports because of insecurities. Managers should give sufficent breathing space to his/her direct to develop skills and groom the person. Manager can move to the next level only if s/he develops a direct report to do effectively do this current job.

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