ON THE JOB by Nancy Clark

The short of it is that the majority of us are working for a less than ideal manager.

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Making capable managers is often up to the people working for them
From SCAN's Print Edition

If you have worked for a few managers in your career you have probably encountered bosses who have caused you to spend your time job searching. Luckier ones may be inspired by the boss to be fully engaged and enjoying their work, but why is it so common to have a manager who you simply think is a jerk? It’s not as if there’s any shortage of books written and seminars delivered on the principles and practice of management.
The simple fact is that there are too few good managers today. Ottawa has seen many companies dramatically expand their workforce. We have also seen many companies suffer layoffs and workforce reductions. In times of reorganization we have seen the layers of middle management essentially eliminated, administrative staff reduced, workloads that are out of control and spans of control increase. Yet in even some of the most chaotic and unstable environments some managers are still able to have a loyal, dedicated, productive workforce.

Dr. Linda Duxbury is one of Canada’s leading workplace health researchers. Her extensive research has categorized managers into three types. About 45% of managers are supportive and if you work for one of these you are indeed fortunate. Close to 40% of managers are mixed. The mixed manager tries to exhibit the right management behaviours but is not consistent. Working for this type of manager will leave the employee highly stressed, as one never knows how they will react. The remaining 15% of managers are non-supportive. It can actually be less stressful to work for a non-supportive manager than for mixed. Non-supporters at least are consistent and therefore one knows what to expect (poor behaviour) from them.

Good managers are consistent in regularly providing feedback, both positive and constructive. They are effective communicators, which includes the ability to listen. They are respectful of employees and ensure employee development through coaching, mentoring and training. And they focus on the outcomes that employees achieve not just the hours they work or the metrics to track results.

Every manager could probably recite the above list of behaviours that they should be exhibiting yet more than half of today’s management fails to measure up. There are a number of reasons why poor management continues to abound in our workplaces.

Many managers (especially in our high tech and engineering sectors) simply do not know how to be a supportive manager. They were promoted because they were technically superior in their job. Instead of remaining as key resources in a technical capacity many were moved into the management ranks without so much as a workshop to attend for training.

Being a supportive manager takes time. Dr. Duxbury’s research has shown that a supportive manager typically works 22 hours per month more than the mixed and non-supportive managers.

However, most bonus and compensation programs do not reward supportive managers. The goals and objectives set for managers almost always focus solely on output and results and not on how supportive of their employees they are.

The culture of the organization is part of the problem and does not encourage supportive managers. Many organizations are obsessed with policy and procedures to measure output and productivity and they are regularly in reactive or crisis management mode.

The short of it is that the majority of us are working for a less than ideal manager. But where there are problems there are also opportunities. There are many things one can do to be a supportive employee. Start by recognizing that 85% of managers really do want to be good at it and only 15% are basically hopeless. If your manager falls into the latter category, move on for your own sake.

Otherwise, if you are committed to try to make it work with your boss, start by modelling the desired behaviour yourself. Provide feedback and information to your manager on a regular basis. Suggest ways to improve efficiencies and to reduce workloads. Explain the type of support and training you need. Encourage your manager to participate in training as well. Ensure when work is given to you that you fully understand the requirements and deadlines and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Then deliver the results and ask for feedback. Be appreciative when your manager has spent time with you. They need to hear that you noticed and it’s another nudge toward influencing their reciprocal behaviour.

Nancy Clark, president and CEO of Enavance Consulting Inc., is an HR development professional who has been through every mill from the explosive growth of JDS Uniphase in the late '90s to a government agency in reorg mode, with stops at Marconi, Iogen and other hot spots in between. She can be reached at nancy_clark@primus.ca

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