This weekend, I read a 2017 article from The Ladders talking about how a lack of direction and a lack of specificity about goals is the cause of a lot of toxicity in the workplace.

They blame managers.  I don’t disagree that some measure of the blame lies there, but I think there’s a more significant factor that is not the manager’s fault at all: the people who stuck good employees into managerial positions without any training.

Every day, some people get managerial jobs because they are high performers in their departments.  It’s a reward for a job well done and can be either a great thing for a company–or a disaster.

With the manager role, these individuals get invited to some important meetings, sometimes a better parking spot, maybe get an expense account or a car allowance, and have some administrative help for all the paperwork that comes with being a supervisor.

But the one thing many managers often don’t get?  Any training on what a manager is supposed to do.

In an April 2018 survey by West Monroe Partners, the results were overwhelmingly shocking/not shocking about how many managers are essentially ‘winging it.’

  • 59% of managers with 1-2 reports said they had no managerial training
  • 41% with 3-5 employees reporting to them said they had received no training
  • 42% of managers said their management style is copied from someone they had seen previously, in place of any formal management training
  • About half of the survey’s 500 respondents who had 10 years or more of management experience say they had received 10 hours or less of training
  • 43% of those with less than one year of experience in management said they had received zero training.

What are some of the results?

  • Lack of direction
  • Unclear expectations
  • High turnover (A 2015 Gallup survey showed approximately 50% of respondents had left their most recent job because of a bad boss)
  • Mistakes and accidents
  • Problems in resolving conflict
  • Poorly trained staff among the new direct reports to the untrained manager

All of the above contributes to precisely what The Ladders article references–tense interaction between employees and managers–two groups who are equally confused about their roles.

Managers will usually drift in one of a few directions without guidance.

  1. One group will attempt to manage like nothing has changed, as they adopt the mindset that they are a friend first and manager second. This will work well until the first sign of conflict comes, and managers or employees hold back from having real discussions.  The results are similar to why many people believe it is a bad idea to do business with friends: you can’t work with them or manage them in the way you would an employee.  Exceptions, of course, can apply here, but the principles remain. This is a tricky stance to take.
  2. Some managers swing in the opposite direction from the managers who are ‘friends to all’ and become tyrants within their kingdoms.  The classic bully emerges.
  3. Somewhere in the middle is the manager of #1 and #2 who has no idea which way to turn and is a bit detached and lets the department manage itself. It’s a management style that creates its own rules, which can lead to some successes and some spectacular flops.  Laissez Faire doesn’t work so well, especially if people have no idea of what’s expected of them.
  4. Finally, you have the managers who are able to find a balance among the wide swings within examples 1-3 and find a way to be a supportive friendly face at the right times, a leader who needs to correct at other times and someone who provides a measure of independence for employees in order to create productivity and innovation, not chaos.

But if you don’t get the management level right, you can expect conditions to become toxic pretty quickly.

Finally, businesses make a mistake when they assume all top performers can be managers.  Some can, but others have skills that would benefit an organization in other ways.  Finding out who belongs in management and then providing them the proper training gives all parties–including the employees who will be managed–the best opportunity to succeed.

If you’re not training your managers, it’s time to start.  Unless you want to continue to roll the dice and hope that you luck into proper management. The odds aren’t good.

It’s not a strategy–it’s a problem. A problem you can fix.

Let me know what you think.

Pete Havel is the CEO of the Cloture Group, a Change Management firm focused on developing positive organizational cultures, and the author of ‘The Arsonist in the Office: Fireproofing Your Life Against Toxic Coworkers, Bosses, Employees, and Cultures.’ He can be reached at 855-NO-ARSON (855-662-7766) or  Copies of ‘The Arsonist in the Office’ can be purchased HERE.

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