Up Your Business is an exclusive GEARS Magazine feature where I share stories, insights, and reflections about business and life.
The theme of this issue of GEARS is “Management.” The term management itself has different meanings and connotations for people. For most people, management is nothing more than a term that describes a role in the structure of a company. It differentiates those who do the work from those who organize and direct the work. However, the term conjures up strong feelings for some people.
For instance, on one extreme, some feel that managers provide direction and support to help them do their jobs better. These individuals view the manager as a leader. But others view management as a necessary evil or even as their adversary. They would probably refer to the manager as the “boss.” Furthermore, many hope to join the management ranks one day, while others would never consider a management position.
Ironically, these opposing perspectives commonly co-exist within the same company. I’ve pondered the question, “Why do some employees view management favorably while others have a negative viewpoint?” I’ve concluded that it’s not so much about the employee as it’s about the management. It’s based on the absurd things that managers do. The resulting unintended consequences are what make these things absurd. While I’ve identified several management absurdities, space allocation prevents me from discussing all of them in one article. Now let’s look at just 4 of the Absurd Things Managers Do.
THE MANAGER REWARDS BAD BEHAVIOR
As absurd as this sounds, many managers do reward undesirable behavior. At least, this is how the misbehaving employee’s peers view it. Here’s one example and a couple of possible solutions.
Joe habitually comes in late. Of course, his fellow employees notice this and wonder why it seems like he’s getting away with it. Unknown to them; however, the manager had privately reprimanded Joe for his tardiness a couple of times. He told Joe that his tardiness negatively impacts the shop and that his fellow employees resent it. The manager was following the guidance of management experts who say to do reprimands privately.
However, one morning, after again showing up late, the manager tells Joe to grab a cup of coffee and come up to his office. After a few minutes, Joe returns to his workstation, and nothing more is said.
To the other employees, it appears that Joe was just rewarded with an extra coffee break and a chat with the boss. What actually took place was Joe was given a final ultimatum that he would be terminated the next time he’s late. What could the manager have done differently?
- One possible solution might have been for the manager to require Joe to apologize to his fellow employees for his frequent tardiness and offer them a commitment to be on time.
- Another approach would have been to discuss it with Joe with the other employees. While this goes counter to the private reprimand philosophy, that approach had previously failed to work.
Since this was Joe’s last chance anyhow, the manager didn’t really have much to lose by taking either of these approaches.
THE MANAGER REWARDS BAD PERFORMANCE
This is like rewarding bad behavior, but this deals with the quality and quantity of an employee’s work. The “Four T’s” for managing an employee’s performance are: train, transfer, tolerate, or terminate.
While training an underperforming employee seems logical, it’s essential that it not appear to be a reward. Be clear about the objective for the training and establish mutual expectations for results.
Similarly, transferring an underperforming employee into a position for which they’re better suited might appear to be a reward or a promotion. One example would be when a poorly performing tech is moved from the shop floor into a support role like parts or front counterperson. The manager intends to put them into a role that benefits the shop, but the other employees might see it differently.
Weirdly, the third “T,” tolerating bad performance is sort of a reward. The absence of consequences is essentially a reward, isn’t it? Also, a manager who chooses to tolerate bad performance is essentially punishing the rest of the team.
Termination is, of course, the last resort, but it does provide a clear message to the remaining team.
THE MANAGER PREVENTS GOOD PERFORMANCE
What? As a manager, I want to promote good performance and do whatever I can to help improve productivity.
Managers often do things intending to improve the shop without thinking about the consequences of their actions. It seems absurd, but some of these things are obstacles to productivity and can negatively impact quality. Here’s one example that I recall from a consulting job I did for a shop that was experiencing declining performance numbers.
It was a large, 12-bay shop that was extremely busy. To improve productivity, the manager had a loudspeaker system installed, so he didn’t have to waste time walking back and forth from the front office to the service bays when he needed to speak with a technician. To his surprise, both productivity and quality went down. Here’s the absurdity of his plan.
The shop needed to boost productivity without sacrificing quality. However, with the intercom system, the manager formed the habit of paging a tech to come to the office when he needed to speak with them. While this saved the manager time and effort, it was an obstacle for the techs.
When the manager called a tech to the office, the time it took the tech to step away from the job and walk to the office and back was lost production time. Also, it seemed like the conversations lasted longer in the office than they used to take at the vehicle. Sometimes the techs would hit the bathroom, grab a coffee, chat ways as they made their way back to their workstations. None of these things occurred when the manager was the one making the trip.
Another unintended consequence of these interruptions was an increase in mistakes. Because there was a break in the process, sometimes, when the tech returned to the vehicle, he’d forget where he left off on the job. The shop began to have more comebacks for simple things like loose or missing bolts, wires melted against exhaust pipes, etc.
By the way, when the manager was going back and forth, it allowed him to keep a closer eye on what was going on and made the employees more conscientious.
From the manager’s perspective, the intercom was a good idea because it saved him time, but it turned out to be an obstacle to productivity and quality.
THE MANAGER PUNISHES GOOD BEHAVIOR
That’s absurd! Why would any manager punish an employee for their good behavior? I was guilty of this one, myself. Here’s the story.
Our shops were in Washington State. The Pacific Northwest is known for being cool/cold and wet most of the year. Three of our shops were strategically located at the base of three popular mountain passes – North Cascades Pass, Stevens Pass, and Snoqualmie Pass. We’d catch a relatively large number of motorhome jobs that were towed to us off the passes. The shop where I spent most of my time didn’t have space for a motorhome lift; so, the R&R was a “flatback” job – often done in wet weather conditions, including occasional snow or slush.
We were blessed to have one of those “eager beaver” R&R techs that would enthusiastically do anything we asked of him. His nickname was “Gooch,” and he aspired to work his way up the ladder to become a rebuilder.
We also had Fred, a more seasoned R&R tech who had become somewhat complacent. He had an interest in progressing, but he wasn’t quite as motivated as Gooch. Fred was inclined to whine and push back on any jobs he didn’t want to do. Of course, “flatbacking” a motorhome, especially in bad weather, was one of those types of jobs. Mind you, Fred was not a bad employee, and he’d do the jobs after trying his best to get out of them. He just wasn’t as willing as Gooch.
Well, rather than dealing with Fred’s resistance, since he never complained, Gooch got most of the crappy jobs and probably all the “flatbackers.”
In retrospect, it was Gooch who unwittingly exposed me to this management absurdity. It occurred during one of his 90-day reviews. You’re probably thinking that he confronted me about always having to do the crappy jobs, but he was classier than that.
During the review, I asked him if there was anything he wanted to talk about. I’ll never forget his question. “I’m wondering, are you happy with my work?” I told him that we were pleased with his work and especially his attitude. To that, he replied, “Oh, I wasn’t sure because it seems like you’re punishing me by making me do all the motorhomes.”
You can imagine how humbling, no, how humiliating it was for me to see it from Gooch’s perspective. That’s the day I realized that I was punishing Gooch’s good behavior just to make my life easier.
By the way, there’s a happy ending to Gooch’s story. He went on to become one of our top rebuilders and eventually got a shop of his own.
As I said at the beginning of this article, I’ve identified several other absurd things managers do. Here’s a shortlist. I’m sure you can think of some fitting examples.
- Managers don’t say what they want employees to do. The employees are left to guess.
- Managers don’t explain why they want things done a certain way. This can result in a lack of commitment to the job.
- Managers don’t listen to employees’ ideas. This stifles innovation and creativity.
- Managers don’t tell employees when they’re missing the mark. So, the employee thinks they’re doing okay.
- Managers don’t ask the employee why they’re underperforming. There might be a valid reason or a personal problem that the manager should know about.
- Managers set employees up to fail. They assign work to employees that’s beyond their capabilities.
- Managers set unrealistic expectations. Expectations should be agreed to mutually.
If this article at least gets you thinking about the possible unintended consequences of the management decisions you make and actions you take, then it’s accomplished its purpose. Next time you have a big new idea, say to yourself, “That’s Absurd!” Start with that premise, and if you can’t figure out the absurdity, it’s probably a good idea.
About the Author
Thom Tschetter has served our industry for nearly four decades as a management and sales educator. He owned a chain of award-winning transmission centers in Washington State for over 25 years.
He calls on over 30 years of experience as a speaker, writer, business consultant, and certified arbitrator for topics for this feature column.
Thom is always eager to help you improve your business and your life. You can contact him by phone at (480) 773-3131 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.