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What to do About Problem Supervisors

If you have ever quit a job because you didn't get along with your boss, you are not alone. A Gallup Poll of over a million employees found that how long workers stay at companies and how productive they are is determined by their relationship with their immediate supervisor. 

While "bad bosses" make for good Dilbert cartoons, the reality is no laughing matter for most businesses. The consequences of poor management can seriously damage a company's bottom line. Replacing even one employee can cost six months or more of that employee's salary when all costs are taken into account.

On top of recruitment expenses, such as newspaper advertising, losing an employee costs a company time spent by other staff interviewing, training, and doing the work of the former employee until a replacement is found. It can also result inlower morale and productivity as employees discuss the situation around the water cooler. In some cases it can result in lost business when customer service or product delivery is disrupted.

Employees who remain with a poor supervisor rarely go the extra mile for their employer. Gallup found poorly managed workgroups are an average of 50% less productive and 44% less profitable than well managed groups.

If your organization has a problem with "bad bosses" the good news is that most supervisors and managers really want to do a good job. In most cases, if a boss isn't doing a good job it is because they don't know how

Many supervisors have been promoted to a leadership position because of their technical skills rather than an ability to manage people. Being promoted to supervisor is often seen as a reward for someone who has done well on the manufacturing floor, in administrative support, or in the field. 

Senior management may think: "Sam Supervisor did a great job on the front line. Sam should be able to show a team how it's done." However, being a good worker doesn't necessarily mean someone will automatically know how to get good results from others. 

For some people, being promoted to supervisor can actually be a fearful experience. A new supervisor may fear losing control, losing face, and ultimately losing their job. The new supervisor deals with these fears by using tactics they think will work.

Not knowing any better, they may be overly controlling. Or they may try so hard to avoid being controlling they don't clearly communicate what's expected. They may be demanding and critical, thinking they need to act that way to get things done. Or they may be so afraid of conflict or the appearance of favoritism they avoid giving employees any feedback whatsoever. 

Any of these behaviors can result in dissatisfied employees, higher turnover, and lost productivity. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to deal with bad management no matter where you are in the organization:

If you have a problem boss

Recognize that your boss's behavior is probably due to ignorance rather than malice. If you can see your supervisor as someone who is working with limited knowledge about how to manage, it may be easier to let their behavior roll off your back. 

For as long as you choose to stay with your employer and work with your boss, do what you can to support him or her. You will be seen as a team player and may be able to advance in the organization with or without your boss. As a bonus, many employees who start supporting a boss rather than rebelling find the boss's behavior improves.

Stand up for yourself. Supporting your boss is not the same as being a doormat. Don't tolerate being yelled at or otherwise treated badly. If your boss does something you find unacceptable, say so as directly and unemotionally as possible. Being assertive can often put a stop to unacceptable behavior. Some bosses have no idea how they have been treating someone until that person speaks up.

If you think your own management skills could be better

Spend time observing what successful managers in your organization do differently from other managers. Notice in particular the way successful managers communicate with the people who report to them. 

You will probably notice that good managers communicate expectations clearly without micromanaging. They tell employees the results they expect, but give them some freedom as to how they achieve those results. They notice what employees do right, and give them immediate recognition for doing a good job.

Chances are you will find managers in your organization who are doing things right. Consider asking one of those successful managers to mentor you. A mentor meets with you at scheduled times to discuss your challenges and offer advice. 

Use every opportunity to develop your management skills. Take advantage of company sponsored management training programs or take classes on your own. You can also find some excellent advice in books ranging from Dale Carnegie's classic How to Win Friends and Influence People to Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman's First, Break All The Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently.

What companies can do

Senior management can serve as role models of the behavior expected of supervisors, including setting clear expectations and giving plenty of positive feedback. When it comes to giving feedback and rewards, senior management can recognize supervisors who reduce turnover while maintaining productivity.

Consider implementing a system of 360 degree feedback to replace the traditional system of performance reviews. With 360 degree feedback, a supervisor's performance can be evaluated, and areas for improvement identified, by employees who report to that supervisor as well as the supervisor's manager and peers. 

Companies can also provide formal and informal opportunities for supervisors to learn how to be better managers. Effective management techniques can be shared and learned through mentoring as well as management training programs.

With proper feedback, training and support, a company can go a long way to making poor management a thing of the past.

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