Bad Managers Are Bad for Business: 6 Steps to Curbing Management Issues Before it’s Too Late

June 27, 2016

Being a manager is hard and if you’re in the business world, you are bound to eventually encounter a boss whose management style is less than ideal. Sometimes, however, you find that you have working for you an outright nightmare of a manager.

As a business owner or executive, you owe it to your employees and the company to hire and appoint managers who:

  • Possess strong leadership skills or at least the ability and willingness to work on developing leadership skills.
  • Adopt a management style that contributes positively to the company culture.   
  • Give appropriate guidance to help their employees succeed.
  • Use their position to further the company’s goals and mission.
  • Treat their direct reports with the utmost courtesy and respect.

The dangers of horrible bosses
When you employ managers who possess none or few of the above characteristics, you put your business at great risk of:

  • Operating at a less-than-stellar rate. Bad managers decrease morale, create inefficiencies, waste resources and impede company success.
  • High employee turnover. Your employees are your most important – and most costly – investment. They should be treated as such. When they aren’t, they leave – and usually pretty quickly. Worst of all, in this day of social media, word travels fast that your company stinks to work for. This could really damage your ability to hire more talent to replace your flood of exiting staff.
  • Bad publicity. Again, an irate employee – much like an irate customer – has many avenues available to them these days to spread their negative feelings about your business far and wide to thousands, if not millions, of people. If you don’t want your customers to think you treat your employees poorly, then make sure they never have a reason to think this.
  • Lawsuits. It is up to you to make sure that everyone working for your business, whether they report directly to you or not, is treated fairly. It’s not just good business practice – there are several laws that protect employees from harsh and unjust management practices. And there are many more laws introduced all the time. If left unchecked, terrible managers can be cause for really terrible compliance issues.

A case study in how to deal with a bad manager
Consider the following scenario: One of your employees calls a private meeting with you, away from her manager, to share with you that her manager has been very difficult to work with. She tells you that other employees also feel this way.  She shares with you many examples of how this manager has created a hostile work environment. The stress of working for a nightmare boss is taking its toll on her and she knows she won’t be able to tolerate it for much longer.

The ball is now in your court. So, what do you do? 

1) Document everything
HR 101 is to always document everything, especially when dealing with employee relations issues. As soon as someone comes to you with a complaint about another employee – whether that person is a manager, direct report or lateral colleague, grab a pad of paper or open your laptop and get to taking notes. You’ll need to keep these in a secure, confidential, permanent file, alongside documentation of all action you take as part of this complaint.

2) Decide if an investigation is necessary
Your job, first and foremost, is to protect your business by ensuring your workplace policies are compliant. To do this, you need to determine if an investigation is necessary and appropriate.  Ask yourself if there is a potential policy violation. If so, you’ll want to move forward with an investigation. If you decide there is no policy violation, you will still want to work directly with the manager and employee to resolve underlying workplace tensions.

If the issue is large enough that you feel it might cause employee turnover - even if you don’t foresee potential for legal trouble - it might be a wise idea to skip to step #3 and formally work with the manager to improve their leadership style.

3) Open a formal investigation
Once you decide a formal investigation is necessary to protect your business, you’ll want to get the most honest and thorough results from your time and investment in conducting an investigation. A neutral third party, such as an HR person or legal counsel should perform the investigation. Again, care should be taken to make sure all discussions and actions are documented in writing.

All witnesses with relevant knowledge about the claims should be interviewed.  In addition, the investigator needs to document:

  • Each employee’s specific assessment of their experience working with, or for, this manager.
  • Cite specific examples from each employee of the manager’s behaviors.
  • Look for areas where employee complaints overlap and make note of these areas.

Knowing exactly what the issues are from the beginning is key to nipping problems in the bud quickly and effectively.

4) Create a performance improvement plan
If, after seeking professional advice, you decide to work with the manager to become the type of leader your company deserves, you will need to collaborate with them to create a performance improvement plan (PIP). This is another very important piece of documentation that is crucial to protecting your business during this sensitive situation.  

A PIP is an action plan that includes detailed steps and expectations for helping an employee improve their performance. It can include opportunities to take classes, work with mentors and even re-evaluate job duties to develop better work skills. Your PIP should include a timeline for regular check-ins with you to make sure the manager is progressing as desired. Set an end goal for when you will decide, once and for all, if the employment relationship can be salvaged.  

 5) Keep the manager’s direct reports involved
As you and the manager work through their PIP, don’t forget to keep checking in with their direct reports.  Do they notice a difference in the manager’s performance?  Are they satisfied with the progress?  Are they happier with the company and their job than they were before?  If the employees are seeing improvement, continue with the manager’s professional development, providing them with the support they need to be successful.  If employees are still having the same amount of trouble, re-analyze the plan to ensure that you are targeting and supporting the real issues. 

6) Make a final decision
Finally, if progress is not being made, it may be time to re-evaluate whether the manager is in the appropriate role.  Maybe they would be more successful in a different, non-managerial role within the company. It could be that it’s simply time to part ways.  This is a difficult decision that should be made only after consulting with your HR partner.  There is always risk in termination but these risks can be reduced if you carefully documented everything, took the appropriate steps and you have the support of professional HR services.

Preventing terrible bosses in the first place
Of course, the best way to prevent bad bosses from harming your business is to avoid the situation in the first place. Here are some tips for creating a workplace where great leaders thrive and bad bosses are prevented.

  • Have – and use – the employee handbook. Make sure all your employees and especially your managers are familiar with it. The employee handbook should contain your organization’s policies regarding conflicts, employee conduct and harassment prevention.
  • Take responsibility for your employees’ experience with your company. As the leader of your company, you are ultimately responsible for how each employee interacts with your business and the feelings they take away about your company. This is true whether they report directly to you or are removed from you by several middle managers.  
  • Provide continuous training and coaching, either internally or through the opportunity to attend outside conferences and lectures, so that your managers are always learning how to improve.  
  • Lead by example. You set the tone for the behavior of all your managers and their direct reports. Use your position to create a culture of respect, hard work, teamwork and constant improvement. These traits will trickle down throughout the organization.  Always demonstrate professional demeanor and conduct. Your actions represent your organization, so hold yourself to a higher standard.
  • Remain vigilant for potential issues that may arise as a result of horrible bosses. Monitor the behaviors of your managers around their direct reports. Watch how colleagues interact with each other. Have and enforce an open door policy so employees are comfortable coming to you with any feedback or issues on their experience working for you.
  • Don’t forget your EAP. Offering an employee assistance program gives them any-time access to valuable information they can use when a horrible boss – or other workplace issue – comes up.

This communication is for informational purposes only; it is not legal, tax or accounting advice; and is not an offer to sell, buy or procure insurance.

This post may contain hyperlinks to websites operated by parties other than TriNet. Such hyperlinks are provided for reference only. TriNet does not control such web sites and is not responsible for their content. Inclusion of such hyperlinks on TriNet.com does not necessarily imply any endorsement of the material on such websites or association with their operators.

By Annick Miller

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