Bad bosses are a necessary evil, as every HR professional knows. (Istockphoto art)

Can You “Fix” a Bad Manager? There Are Only 3 Choices for HR

If you’re interested in management, improving your management skills or the like, I strongly encourage you to add Wally Bock to your daily reading list.

Among others, Wally’s 3-Star Leadership blog is on my daily list. I particularly enjoy round-up posts in which he lists and summarizes several articles or insights from the media and other bloggers.

In this recent example, Wally pointed to a Washington Post article, highlighting the insights of the author as more valuable than the research being discussed. He’s right. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

We all know the old saying: People don’t quit bad jobs, they quit bad bosses. But how much is a good boss really worth? A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research attempts to quantify just that. The paper, written by Edward Lazear, Kathryn Shaw and Christopher Stanton, found that removing a poorly performing boss and replacing him or her with a top performing manager is roughly equal, in terms of productivity, to adding an extra person to the team. This implies, the researchers say, that the average boss is about 1.75 times as productive as the average worker. …

But quantifying how much good bosses actually do affect performance — especially outside of an experimental setting — could help managers make smarter decisions. More people need to understand that they’re better off firing a poorly performing boss and replacing him or her with a better performing one, rather than adding more workers to their staffs. Once that happens, the productivity push should shift from getting more out of people on the front lines to first getting more out of the ones who lead them.”

3 choices for HR

I see three legitimate choices for HR in such situations:

  1. Keep the current bad managers and try to work around them;
  2. Replace the bad bosses with those proven to have good managerial skills; or,
  3. Work to develop and train “bad” bosses into “good” ones.

The first two options are straightforward enough. The third option gets a bit sticky.

I think we can all agree some people in management are the result of the Peter Principle. They may have been strong individual contributors, but cannot (or don’t want to) manage others. With these people, the kindest and most effective approach is to have an honest conversation around what they want to do in their careers and ensure they have a path to career advancement outside of management.

Investing more in building good managers

Others have the potential to be good managers, but never received the necessary training to help them develop and appropriately use this entirely different skill set. In this situation, it’s up to HR to ensure these people are appropriately developed into the good managers they can be. I’m encouraged by this news that HR globally plans to invest more in HR technology in the coming year, with some focus on training tools and the like.

Additional investment in strategic, social recognition tools are also effective as they remove the manager as the “single point of failure” in providing the frequent, timely and specific feedback all employees need to know they are on the right track and what they do every day is appreciated and valuable to success of the organization.

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What are your recommendations for improving “bad” managers?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at irvine@globoforce.com.

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