We have a local work group of 100+ employees in our area who work for a very large national corporation. The manager is a very nice person, well liked and known to be very humanistic. Unfortunately the group is ranked last statistically in similar groups nationwide. They have a long way to go if they expect to gain a competitive and formidable standing among their peer groups. The worst possibility is that their industry suffers a cutback and the lowest performing workgroup is eliminated through an employee reduction. Having seen many similar situations in my career and having been asked to make numerous operational field reviews in similar situations, I know that there are a number of commonalities in cases like this.
Managers must manage
Make no mistake about it. There are many work groups in this country that are not just poorly run but are nonfunctional in many areas. In most cases this can be corrected by changing managers. The displaced manager can have one or more personal traits that prevent him or her from doing his or her job. The traits might include a fear to act, a lack of knowledge of the operation, awareness that they cannot make it in the job and it is just a matter of time before they are fired, or they are trying to be humanistic when real discipline is needed.
In the past forty years I have seen all kinds of poor management techniques but the most common trait is a fear to act or confront a problem. There was a manager replaced years ago that had allowed employees to keep beer iced down till the end of the day. Employees would sit in the company parking lot every afternoon and drink until dark. The legal risks to the company were enormous. The manager had allowed this for many years and the new manager met stiff resistance in eliminating the practice but he stood his ground and ended it. This should have been a “no-brainer” but it was allowed to continue when it should have been stopped the first day it happened.
I was asked to fill in for a middle manager early in my career. The manager’s last Friday on the job before he left, he called me in to review the items that would need to be dealt with. There were a few minor things mentioned and then he told me, “We need to fire Mary.” Mary was a contractor that was hired to write a specific program. The program was finished six months ago but apparently he did not have the nerve to walk over to her and dismiss her. When he finished and left the office to go home, he rounded the corner in the hallway and I walked out to Mary’s office and told her that the job had ended and we appreciated all that she had done. He could have done the same thing six months earlier.
The news media had a report recently that indicated there was an active FAA control tower where the controllers were “playing games” at work. The games would include putting two planes on a collision course for a rookie controller to correct. There are people in the industry probably thinking that “They need retraining” or “Boredom is our real enemy in this business”. I have only been in one FAA control room in my life but I am certain this problem is a total lack of management control. There is probably a history in this control room that would have told a casual observer that problems were brewing. No one took action. Conduct does not deteriorate to this level without some past history indicating that there are problems brewing.
Managing is not just being a “hard case” with employees
I am surprised when I talk to people who believe that good managers are just tough people who can make employees do what they are supposed to. There was a “tough” manager once who called an employee meeting so he could tell the group what he wanted them to do. He brought a baseball bat to make the point that they were going to do what he wanted. None of the employees said anything. The next morning the defiant employees carried 2×4 boards to work to demonstrate that his baseball bat meant nothing to them. The manager was replaced shortly thereafter.
Good managers know how to encourage and do not need to threaten. They know how to support and train an employee but never consider doing the job for the employee because the employee cannot or will not. Good management is a learned skill and not an inherent individual trait. Personal characteristics can be an asset but good management control of a work group is learned.
Employees must play a role in protecting their own job security
It always amazes me when employees attempt to take every advantage of a company, pushing the envelope every way they can and then when there is a cutback they are the first to go. They will tell you they did not see it coming.
Every work group should think of themselves as a separate company in competition with other work groups that are running their own little competitive companies. Common sense will then make them aware that the “high cost provider” or the “low performance group” will be the first to go. There are groups that could be cut because they have a reputation for just being “a real pain in the neck” and everyone wants them out. Did the auto industry workers not realize their aggressive pursuit of benefits and other union demands would someday cause their company to be much less competitive? Did they not know that this would lead to numerous plant closings and layoffs? They now know that there is no such thing as a permanent job in this country (outside of tenured professors and teachers of course) and could have known it years ago if they had opened their eyes to see what was happening.
You and your work group are the first line of defense in job security. There are plenty of other factors at work like outsourcing but why force the managers to make that decision. Do your part with your cooperation and high performance level to ensure that managers will always desire your local workforce solutions first before something like outsourcing is considered. You should not allow outsourcing to be an easy alternative for management.