Ugh. This is the kind of management horror story that keeps me up at night.
Tracy had enough.
She decided to turn in her resignation after nearly three months of frustrating conversations with her new boss, for despite her best efforts to adjust, compromise and empathize, she knew they’d never see eye to eye on how the company business objectives were best served.
Everything had become such a struggle. There was no more joy in the job for her, and it was time to move on. She’d once loved it there: Tracy was coming up on her 3rd anniversary with the company, and she’d easily passed the million dollar mark in her sales for them just past her 2nd year. Her boss was new to management, a transfer from another division, and it wasn’t that the rules were changing; they seemed to have disappeared altogether.
This wouldn’t be a surprise to him, for they’d already had the verbal conversation about her decision, yet when Tracy prepared her written notice she asked for a private meeting so she could deliver it personally. She was appalled when her boss responded, “You were serious? I’m not sure we’ll be in a position to accept this.” and then off-handedly picked up his Blackberry to begin texting someone on it.
Hadn’t he listened to her at all, in any of their previous conversations? Well, he obviously wasn’t going to start now.
Tracy waited for another moment, then turned and walked out the door, incensed, yet oddly reassured that she’d made the right decision. Her only regret was that she’d decided to give him three weeks notice instead of two, for these next three weeks would be hell. No job was worth working for a manager you had no respect for, or for a company you felt didn’t appreciate you.
Same old story
Tracy told me her story when we ran into each other in the market. “Rosa,” she asked, “of all the managers in the world, why does it seem that I end up with the newbie jerks?”
I’d love to tell Tracy that it seems that way, like some great mystery choosing her lap to fall into, but the truth is that her story is all too common. Research data (and the sampling of my own coaching practice) repeatedly illustrates that job requirements aren’t the problem in dysfunctional workplaces: Most of the people tendering resignations do so because they’re leaving bad bosses and/or companies they’ll describe with words like ‘faceless’ ‘unappreciative’ ‘clueless’ and ‘inhuman.’
Work culture, or the absence of it, has soured the quality of the work itself. While Tracy did take issue with the new direction the company was pushing in regard to aggressive, hard-push selling, she knew she’d easily continue making her quotas without having to change her customer service approach: She loved sales. Management wasn’t wearing her down as much as the absence of it: She missed their old working-together culture under a previous boss, and could not see that a new one would be created, none at all.
It seems no industry and no generation is immune: This is a very, very old problem which isn’t going away.
So what’s the problem?
Well, another word that comes up a lot is ‘untrained.’ Many employees feel their managers aren’t ready for the job at hand and are winging it, with no planned training, coaching, or mentorship in their future. Hence their ‘on the job training’ means that employees become guinea pigs, sometimes over and over again. Management is a revolving door, and people feel like they’re starting all over every time someone new walks in. It’s that deflating “Here we go again”” sigh of returning to square one, and not the growing, evolutionary start-ups of a strong culture that continually flexes its muscle inventively with new projects.
I believe the problem stems from management being underestimated, not as any specific person or higher echelon, but as a critically important job within the culture.
The biggest requirement we seem to make of new managers is that they have ‘common sense,’ when in fact, the sensibility for worthwhile and meaningful work isn’t common at all: It requires comprehensive training and development (remember that phrase?)
We’re still stuck in that subconscious belief that management is little more than babysitting, supervisory and mid-level managers in particular. Yet even if there consciously — let’s call a spade a spade: scores of organizations are constructed with babysitting — we’re nonchalant, unconcerned and clueless about at least getting a good sitter. Our ‘babies’ are fussy and grumpy, for they aren’t doing well in the sitter’s care.
They’re all adults, right? Can’t they do better in fending for themselves?
The sitter isn’t doing so well either
Okay, so we’ll admit that management matters…
Expected to learn on the job, and pay some dues while there, disillusionment is high among new managers. Basic mistakes occur often because scrambling runs rampant, and failure is virtually guaranteed. It hurts like it does because people are failing, and we take our failure very, very personally.
We hide things. Tracy discovered that her boss didn’t turn her resignation letter into HR until her last week on the job, when he realized he had to do so before he could replace her.
The recent recession made our vicious cycles clear, and made things worse in that we lost ground in quarters which had seemed to be advancing. Training and development at all levels was an early casualty as budget belts were tightened. When executives were forced to reckon with labor dollars, management positions were easier lay-off targets than messing with unionized jobs initially, and as manager’s tasks were reassigned to the remaining survivors their importance was disparaged even more.
Unions were not good business partners: They remained silent, muttering “Well, at least our members still have jobs.” and went into a self-protective survival mode of their own, even as those members cried foul, readily admitting that, “Hey, we still need our managers! Things are falling apart here on the battle lines!”
We’re learning that recovery is difficult too
Returning business isn’t served well by burned out workplace survivors. There’s no one possessing that assumed “common sense” to pick up any slack, for there are no mid-level, go-to managers to turn to. Warm body placements begin, just as they did where Tracy works. New managers good at texting, but with workplace conversations? Not so much.
And who is expected to handle the training and development so sorely needed? In most cases, those same burned our workplace survivors — like Tracy was.
Only it isn’t necessarily a survival of the fittest: Tracy was a high performer, and one of their top sales people. That was her job; handling customers with her exquisite care, not training the “newbie jerk managers” who were supposed to be taking care of her. So she walked away.
Cycle, or root cause?
I know I paint a terrible picture here, but honestly, am I telling you anything you don’t already know?
Like the cruel stupidity of expecting young managers to “pay their dues” as a way to learn, we assume that what I’ve described is a business cycle that’s the nature of the beast. Wrong, wrong, WRONG! Root causes can be corrected. It’s the only way to fix the cycle.
We are all part of the problem in some way, and can’t say we aren’t.
The bigger question for me, is exactly what it will take for us to finally fix it once and for all. Our ‘common sense’ just ain’t cutting it. We need to do more. Common sense must come with commitment, character, and culture if it is ever to become common in our workplaces.