A Dalton TL;DR Rant, #2

The Manager’s Manual, Revised Edition

A friend of mine noticed that his manager had a recent change in behavior, from a fine, upstanding manager to a disrespectful, condescending jerk. In passing he mentioned that the owner had him read a manager manual on how to manage. I would like to speculate, based on his attitude and treatment of employees, on the tips this manual offered. I would also like to argue these tips and provide some useful information to managers in regards to how to properly treat employees to not merely develop better morale and employee relationships, but to actually improve the heart of a company. Let me preface by saying that this is based on years of various experiences and stories and does not represent the managers I have had in the past. I have had several managers that I highly respect and they have no need for this satirical reference. But also, to those pompous managers out there. Just because this is written by a “lowly employee” does not discount the pertinence of its words. By discounting it you are further proving my point. With a little tongue-and-cheek, let’s continue.

10 Tips a Manager Manual (Apparently) Teaches that Managers Shouldn’t Follow:

1. If one person does something wrong, address all other employees on the problem.

When an employee makes a mistake that is detrimental to the company, it is important that everyone be aware of it to prevent it from happening again. This does not include insubordinate or personal wrong behaviors such as talking back to a client or boss, or being tardy. These are personal issues that should be sorted out with individual employees. Every employee knows not to yell at customers. Every employee knows not to be late to work. This is common knowledge/logic. An employee with immaculate attendance for over a year does not need to be reminded of their need to be to work on time because of another employee’s tardiness. Such lectures, especially from a frustrated manager, backfire in the worst possible way. You are discouraging your employee from continuing good performance because, not only is it going unnoticed, but the employee is essentially being punished  for the good behavior. On top of it, the manager is bringing up personal issues with another employee with all the other employees. This drops the morale and trust of that employee. Now not only have you essentially ostracized the employee, you have made all other employees feel guilty by association. All that for a matter that could have been resolved privately. Now morale is down across the office, congratulations.

2. The more you delegate, the better a manager you are.

Arguably the most common misconception a manager follows through on. The determining factor of a great manager is not asking, “can I delegate to the point that I don’t have to do anything?” but asking, “what can I do in order to assure my employees and I are supporting one another in carrying the load?” I am convinced that some managers believe that delegating all menial tasks and responsibilities makes them a better manager. This couldn’t be further from the truth. It is important for a manager to delegate, it is one of their skills and responsibilities, but the delegation is to the efficiency of the company, not the laziness of the manager. Delegating too much can lead to an estrangement from manager to employee and develop a habit of laziness with the manager. The most resented manager is one that sits around watching everyone else do all the delegated tasks. Participating and leading by action is a powerful and respectable way to get the efficiency and response you need from your employees.

3. Acknowledging your mistakes shows weakness, don’t do it!

A manager that is willing to admit his mistakes is not disrespected, but revered. Believe it or not, but most of your employees are competent and aware of their surroundings and duties. They know how the workplace operates. Managers aren’t the only ones able to determine where a mistake came from. The employees know when it was you. If you aren’t willing to own up to it, not only do your employees not trust you, they respect you even less. They are less inclined to own up to their mistakes when they see how you handle them. The quickest way to become the lead subject in grumblings in the break room is your employees thinking you’re not only incompetent, but incapable of recognizing it and owning up to it.

4. Acknowledging the efficiency or good actions of an employee will cause them to work less and not try.

Is it not that the exact opposite is true? When has negligent management towards outstanding work ever been the answer? And, no, handing out the cliche plaque for employee of the month doesn’t count. Is it nice? Sure, but it has become such a common practice that it feels more like a forced formality than an honor that is actually acknowledged by higher-ups. Recognizing and encouraging good work ethic directly is a powerful tool that just isn’t used enough in the workplace. Do you work better depressed or happy? Happy, you say? Then how do you expect your employees to work efficiently depressed, or feeling like they are walking on eggshells, or that their good deeds go unnoticed? Let’s take baby steps. Say please and thank you. I can’t believe I just typed something out you should teach a toddler! You are not weak and you are not establishing a culture of laziness by acknowledging the good work of your employees. The more personal and engaging you make these compliments, the better the results. If you continue to ignore their efforts, you will quickly find that work that goes unappreciated is then work that is not done.

5. Encouragement is less effective than negative reinforcement.

I think this is a difficult hole for managers to avoid, and an even more difficult hole to climb out of. Once a manager develops the behavior of negative reinforcement, it becomes the only way they can manage. It certainly doesn’t help when higher-ups don’t attempt encouragement or positive reinforcement or when employees ignore that method as well. But, ethically, is that an excuse to treat employees poorly? Positive reinforcement is just as effective as, if not more effective than, negative reinforcement. So why is it so hard? The stress of the work environment can take its toll on managers as much as employees, but it is imperative that we avoid taking the stresses out on one another. By encouraging one another we establish relationships set on helping one another instead of squabbling over fault and priority. Encouragement develops a relational work environment that introduces a whole new dynamic of efficiency with everyone feeding off each other’s energy rather than off each other’s corpses.

6. Team meetings improve efficiency.

Because we accomplish so much when we are sitting in a meeting being lectured about wasting time, right? There is nothing in the workplace quite as counterintuitive and contradicting as team meetings about efficiency. Team meetings are also not a helpful device for tip #1 on this list. Don’t use team meetings as a method for attacking employees, as a whole, but especially individually. If there is a universal problem that needs resolved, address it. If there is a new product or change in policy, address it. But there is nothing quite as condescending as talking down to a group of employees like they are sitting in the principal’s office. Don’t make team meetings into team lectures. Perhaps try making the meetings interactive. Take feedback, answer questions. Even if you don’t have the answer or the answer is no, at least they know you are listening, care, and respect their opinion.

7. Condescending talk establishes your superiority.

What are we, dogs? Let’s growl and bear our teeth until the alpha male is established! The only thing worse than condescending words is a condescending tone. It’s crazy what tone can do. Have you ever had a higher-up ask you to do something, then another higher-up asks you to do the same thing, but the first time it sounded significantly more rude and condescending than the second? Your real message to an employee is not in your words, but in your tone. Perhaps you don’t even realize you are doing it, but that only means it is time to start paying attention to it. Talking down to employees doesn’t establish respect for you, it further alienates you from your employees. This further stresses the work environment, drops morale, and often leads to a decrease in work efficiency rather than an increase. Perhaps the underlying theme of this whole thing is this: Managers think that fear leads to efficiency. And to extent, maybe they’re right. But it is no where close to the efficiency achieved through respect.

8. The more frustrated you are, the more you are showing how hard you work.

This is perhaps the most idealistic of the tips, because it is a cultural issue in America that is instilled in the way that work is conveyed. This is not merely a manager issue, but an employee issue as well. Even outside of work it has become a problem. The more upset and frustrated we seem by our work, the harder we appear to be working. Believe it or not, but you can work just as hard with a smile. Unfortunately for you, managers, the change in behavior starts up top and you are responsible for a great deal of this behavior. When you threaten someone with an increased workload for appearing cheery, you are instilling the behavior that if you don’t look miserable, they will make you miserable. It is actually developing the most unhealthy workplace culture imaginable and it is so commonplace we don’t even notice it’s happening. It has to change. But the first step to recovery is admitting we have a problem, which is unlikely to happen, let’s be honest.

9. Always respond frustrated to an employee bringing more work to you to ensure they are less inclined to increase your workload in the future.

This is crippling to a business, but is a common habit of managers. I think it is often subconscious, but when a manager becomes frustrated by an employee bringing up an issue, he is discouraging the employee from addressing issues in the future that could either improve the company or help it maintain the status quo. And I’m not discussing issues here in which the employee makes an error. Sometimes it is a simple message that marketing on the third floor is running out of paper and we need to order more. By sighing, grunting, and shooing the employee away, he feels like he has now hurt is own job security by trying to do his job. Now…think about that, managers… If your behavior is encouraging the thought process of “I’m afraid I’m going to be fired for doing my job”, do you think you might be doing something wrong? Pay attention to where and when your frustrations come out. Don’t take unnecessary frustrations out on employees when they are trying to do their jobs and have to go through you to do so. Don’t shoot the messenger or you may not get a message you needed direly.

10. If a higher-up is treating you poorly, be sure to trickle this stress down to your employees to ensure they feel the pressure.

Have you ever noticed that you come out of manager meetings particularly grumpy? Often they can be stressful, frustrating situations, in which higher-ups just aren’t listening, they don’t understand how the target market dynamics have changed, they ignore your ideas, push their inefficient ones, then condescendingly discuss how you could improve your bottom line. It’s hard to not leave those meetings pushing the stress and pressure onto your employees. But your employees dread manager meeting day too. They know what’s coming. As the saying goes, the @*&! rolls down hill. But it doesn’t have to. Employees notice when you don’t let the outside pressures affect your attitude and behavior. Many employees will fight for a manager that has this kind of compartmentalization.

11. A bad apple or two is enough reason to avoid the advice of this manual.

Every manager will have employees that are lazy, selfish, grumpy, or just simply don’t get it. They will manipulate some of the idealistic tips in this manual to benefit themselves. But guess what? They were going to attempt to manipulate anyways! Their goal before even being hired was to do as little work as possible. They have a preemptively crappy attitude that is going to contradict your methods no matter what you try. These are not the employees you wanted on staff to begin with! This is not an excuse to ignore the strong tips of this manual and lower the morale and efficiency of the workplace by flip-flopping the tips. Hang in there, be respectful and respectable, and you will earn the trust, respect, and efficiency of the employees that are worth keeping!

TL;DR – Managers can be @*!*#, but they don’t have to be !#@*#.

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