Your new manager is a dud. Now what?

If it’s been said once, it’s been said a thousand times—too often employees are promoted into management because they possess quality technical skills—not because they’ve demonstrated leadership ability. The end result? Lots of managers who aren’t very good at their jobs.

That’s a problem, because the relationship between employer and manager is often key to employee satisfaction, which affects employee loyalty, productivity, and creativity, or, in other words, all those qualities that influence level of employee engagement.

And now you’re realizing your new manager is the kind people are thinking of when they say stuff like “People leave managers, not organizations,” but you’re darned if you know what to do about it. Should you give the manager more time to get it right? (And how much time is enough time anyway?) Should you ignore the problem and hope it goes away? (Um … no.) Should you send the manager to training? (What kind of training?) Should you demote the manager? (For some reason that seems a little extreme to you.) What??

Here’s what.

Unable or unwilling?

Is your new manager unable to do the job or unwilling to do the job? There’s a definite difference, and the difference is important to know as you develop a strategy for tackling the problem.

A manager unable to do the job may not possess the competencies, or perhaps, the specific knowledge to lead effectively. He or she may lack either the hard or soft skills needed to manage well and for the long-term. This manager may be unaware of how his management negatively impacts his employees’ performance yet be all too aware that work isn’t being done to his satisfaction. On the plus side, the manager may have a genuine desire to build a high-performing team and is willing to make changes to his own style (if only he knew how) to see that it happens.

On the other hand, suppose your manager is very aware—yet indifferent to—her negative effect on staff? This manager may believe that her employees have the responsibility to meet her demands on demand and that any employee who balks needs an attitude adjustment, because the manager’s … just about everything … is A-Okay. While you, as a more objective party, can see where this manager would benefit from changing her approach, she either can’t see or refuses to see—much to her staff’s discomfort.

Intervention first steps

Fortunately, first steps needed to address less-than-ideal managerial performance are the same regardless of whether your employee is unwilling or unable to do the job, and that’s because the first steps always assume your manager wants to do a good job.

Early intervention includes teaching, coaching, and counseling, and in that order. If the manager needs to learn how to give feedback effectively, he has to be taught. Ditto for delegation, giving clear directions, holding staff accountable, planning, organization, and so on.

Teaching should be combined with coaching. A coach’s job is to provide resources while being encouraging—an advocate, if you will. If your employee doesn’t respond well to your coaching, you might want to hire an outside coach to add greater weight to the process. If the employee’s performance still doesn’t improve with the outside coach, then you might have to move on to counseling, which is more consequence based (i.e., “If ABC doesn’t happen, then we might have to do XYZ”).

The point of coaching and counseling is to (a) make it very clear to the employee that there’s a deficiency in output you need addressed, (b) give the employee every reasonable opportunity to improve, and (3) determine whether this is a “willing or able” issue.

When early intervention doesn’t work

When neither coaching nor counseling results in measurable improvement, well, now you’ve got a decision to make, because this individual is a manager and ought to function with a certain degree of independence. At some point, you’ve got to ask yourself how much time and energy you can justifiably devote to managing your manager. You also have to consider the long-term affects on your employee’s direct reports. Frankly, it sucks to have a bad manager, and I guarantee you work is suffering as a consequence.

So if early intervention fails to have the desired effect, the next step is a serious heart-to-heart. If you’ve determined that the manager is unable to do the job, this conversation includes a transition-out plan that ends in a demotion or separation. (Listen, I’m serious here. People who are unable to manage shouldn’t manage. It’s harmful for all involved.)

If the manager has been unwilling to change, then that heart-to-heart ends with presentation of a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), which is followed to the letter.

I’ve counseled many a manager who claimed ambivalence about her manager’s performance. Nonsense. If you imagined that manager giving notice and your reaction is relief, then you know what must be done. Now do it.


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