Talent Matters: How to Manage a Bad Manager
If you have a bad boss working under you, you are probably well aware of it. You’ve likely heard complaints, or seen poor employee survey results, or simply noticed that her employees are not happy. Managing a bad manager is a particular challenge because poor performance directly affects, and can cause disengagement in, others.
Fortunately, like most bad habits or behaviors, being a bad boss is changeable. In fact, for many, being a people manager is not intuitive and they need to be taught or shown what it means to be good at it.
If you’re managing a bad boss, here are four things you can do:
- Identify the bad behaviors. Understanding exactly what the manager is or is not doing will help you support them in getting better. Take the complaints you are receiving and identify patterns and consistent behaviors that are contributing to the problem. If there isn’t a lot of noise, but you know something is wrong with a manager, talk to his direct reports to get input. Ask for specific examples that you can share with the manager to illustrate the issue. Distinguish between poor management and misconduct, such as bullying or harassing. Misconduct should not be tolerated.
- Provide tailored support. When any employee, manager or not, is failing to adequately perform, it’s your job to provide feedback, counseling, and support. Once you know what behaviors you want the manager to change, sit down with the manager to discuss the specifics of the situation. Ask for the manager’s perspective on what she thinks is going on. Her diagnosis will help identify the underlying issues and generate solutions that she can get behind. Since managing people is not a natural strength for some, you may need to provide her with training or coaching.
- Make expectations clear. It may be that managers are unaware of their responsibilities for people development. Perhaps they are overly focused on achieving targets or snowed under with other tasks. Make it clear that managing his people well is an important part of the job. Be sure to put your measurement where your mouth is and incorporate assessment of management skills into the formal review process. Garden Ridge, a home decorating retail chain, uses a People Development Scorecard that distills employee survey results, associate interviews, store managers’ own perception of people development quality, and HR managers’ observations into a single performance score. HR uses the scorecard to guide individual store managers’ development as well as cross-company up-skilling initiatives.
- Document progress. Make sure to keep a record of your conversation and confirm in writing with the manager what she has agreed to do and how you plan to help. Check in regularly and document any progress. Hopefully the situation will improve. If not, you will need a record of it to protect against any allegations of unfairness.
Avoid Hiring or Promoting Bad Bosses in the First Place
Bad bosses don’t need to be an inevitable fixture in the workplace. Yes, managing people is a skill that many people need to learn and develop but organizations and leaders often make the first mistake at the hiring stage. This is especially true with internal hires. According to a survey of HR professionals, 35% of internally hired leaders fail, usually because of a lack of interpersonal skills. To avoid this, select people according to their motivation and ability to succeed as people managers, not on prior individual performance. Here’s how FedEx has done it:
- Clearly define managers’ skill sets and responsibilities. FedEx engaged high-performing managers to translate the typical manager job description into the daily realities of the managerial position. These responsibilities were combined with the company-wide competency model to develop a concrete manager skill set that could help
- Assess for those skills when promoting or hiring. In response to a high rate of turnover among their managers, FedEx created a one-day program for employees considering applying for managerial positions. The program, facilitated by high-performing frontline managers, orients participants to the responsibilities and pressures of those positions. This permits individual contributors to “self screen” themselves out of the process if they feel they are not prepared for, or suited to, the job.