Recruiting – and retaining – talented employees is an ever-increasing challenge for Mississippi businesses. Indeed, recent national studies by big firms such as Sears, MCI and Electronic Data Systems have reaffirmed what many employers already know: That the improvement of employee satisfaction has an indirect but important effect on profit. Not surprisingly, more and more companies are shelling out big bucks on everything from attitudinal surveys to leadership training to team-building to make their work environments amenable to their people.
A big plus emanating from this research has been a continued recognition of work-and-family issues – namely child- and elder-care, as well as flexible benefits. But for all the surveying of current and past employees and rah-rah leadership training, there`s still another de-motivating issue that often goes without action: inappropriate management behavior.
Stories of brilliant executives who exhibit poor – even childish – behavior are surprisingly commonplace. Among the more frequent infractions cited by employees: outbursts of anger, temper tantrums, blatant rudeness and racial/gender innuendoes.
While these behaviors can erode both morale and productivity, they at times go unchecked because the offending manager is deemed a “great technician” or “financial whiz.” More often than not, companies tend to write off these behaviors with attitudes such as “that`s just the way so-and-so is.” But if these occurrences continue without reprimand, companies may lose valued talent. Experts say whether employees are directly or indirectly affected by a poor manager`s outbursts, these behaviors speak volumes about an organization`s culture and leadership development. If getting ahead means putting up with managers who publicly denigrate or humiliate subordinates, then some valued employees may opt for greener fields.
Human resource experts say it`s difficult for companies to come to grips with this type of problem because subordinates may be so intimidated that they dare not speak out for fear of their jobs. Moreover, objective feedback mechanisms may not exist within an organization that uncover inappropriate behaviors without compromising employee confidentiality. Moreover, traditional management advancement tends to favor promotion based on technical versus managerial ability. And if the offending executive`s numbers look good, there`s a tendency to overlook or dismiss managerial flaws.
This was certainly the case at one company that employed me years ago. One top executive – a master at generating superior results – also had a reputation for chewing up and spitting out colleagues, peers and subordinates who didn`t do things his way. During my first month on the job, I got the chance to see him in action when he summoned me into his office and flew into a tirade. While he wasn`t my boss or even my group executive, we did have to work together on various disclosure issues. He was angry because a major news announcement – which he chose to release after 7 p.m. the previous evening – wasn`t in the next morning`s edition of a prominent national business publication.
Though new on the job, I had no intention of tolerating this behavior – even if it meant losing my job. Respectfully, I told him he could yell and scream as he wanted, but if he didn`t get the release out before 4 p.m. – as we had discussed several times before – it wouldn`t make the next morning`s paper. Stunned by my reaction, he never raised his voice to me again and from there on out we got along dandy.
Clearly, workplace personality issues can be highly volatile and subjective. Indeed, managers and subordinates don`t have to be best friends to work effectively and respectfully together. But what can organizations do to remediate inappropriate behaviors? Like most other initiatives, standards of expectation should begin at the top – and should be clearly delineated and communicated as such. Additionally, human resources managers should determine where problems of turnover exist and search for ways to understand where improvements can be made.
Financial writer and consultant Karen Kahler Holliday balances work and family from her home office in Tupelo. In addition to writing this column and a monthly banking column for the Mississippi Business Journal, she is senior contributing editor for U.S. Banker magazine.
If a problematic executive is a proven contributor in terms of performance, coaching may serve as a worthwhile initiative. Also, experts say companies should proactively seek employee input on managerial strengths/weaknesses without employee retribution. Some firms have chosen a 360-degree evaluation mechanism – broadly speaking, where subordinates also evaluate managers – as a means to gauge managerial progress. Other firms have chosen to make managerial ability a part of the formalized performance evaluation that determines professional advancement.
But regardless of what specific strategies companies employ to effect better managerial relationships, experts stress that the most critical indicator of success is the CEO`s and the board`s commitment to progress. If sincerity is not there, they maintain, then companies may simply be wasting a lot of money on a fa