If you believe in the idea of “corporate culture,” it would stand to reason that a culture evolves with new leaders and new employees. As the culture evolves, then, wouldn’t bad management styles have to evolve out? Certain characteristics of a population fade over time, right? So ideally, asshole managers would fade over time as well. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen. Bad management styles persist. They fray social bonds, they cost people money, and they straight up kill people. None of it seems to matter. It persists. Managers don’t get better. By some measure, 82 percent of them end up as the wrong hire. That’s an absolutely massive failure rate that would never be tolerated in most areas of a business, but somehow is tolerated when it comes to bad management styles.
So as leadership teams flip and new employees enter at the execution level, the culture changes. But as the culture changes, the bad management styles persist. Why is this?
First up: a quick video
Here’s an article from MIT featuring this video with London Business School professor Freek Vermeulen talking about bad management styles. The video:
Good stuff. He argues that bad management is like a virus in a corporation. Would concur. The other term you hear is “cancer.” Same difference.
So what are some of the root causes of bad management styles?
Could go on for days here. Instead, I’ll keep it somewhat short.
The first reason is that management is not intuitive for a lot of people. What gets you promoted is hitting targets. When you over-focus on that in other people (your direct reports), you become a slave-driving micro-manager. Most people can never make the cognitive leap from “how I executed” to “how I manage.”
The second reason is that companies persist making money despite horrible management, so no one really cares about the management being horrible. (Because the money is still there.) We want to think of ourselves as world-building titans as we toil in our cubicle, but the fact really is: work isn’t that hard, and technology has made it easier. A lot of “management practices” are really just invented hair-on-fire drama designed to increase our own feelings of relevance, self-worth, and having a stake in where we spend 10 hours a day.
So: we over-complicate work, and the management part of it isn’t intuitive. Those are your core issues.
What about the 1911 problem?
Oh yea. We still train most managers according to a 1911 set of guidelines. That was, uh, pre-WW1.
Just how pervasive are bad management styles?
Absolutely everywhere. We’ve all had terrible bosses. Here are 12 types. Want 7 more? There you go. The world is full of KPI-gagging, chest-pounding, target-humping, myopic revenue hounds. We’ve somehow come to deify these people for their income and their “dogged workaholic nature.” In fact, we just elected one such person as U.S. President! (I’m actually sure Trump is considered a good manager, but it’s only because his company is private and family-owned, and most of the execs are his kids.)
Could we do anything about bad management styles?
Of course. A partial list might include:
- Remove management training from HR (execs don’t care about HR)
- Refocus training on working with people as opposed to checking boxes
- Promote people less on “they think like me” and more on “they seem to be well-respected here”
- Tie bonuses to people performance and not just processes
- Have clear lane lines for senior management, middle management, and execution-level
- When people drive outside of their lane lines, they get popped in the wallet
- Teach people to delegate better
Most of these ideas are not revolutionary. But the one thing they have in common is establishing a clear tie between these concepts:
- What needs to be done
- How the executives view the processes and people involved
- Some form of incentive/compensation
If you try to make decisions about management without considering the psychology of the execs or the potential incentive structure, it won’t go anywhere. It’s really that simple. No one is going to shift from being a shitty manager if being a shitty manager is getting that person rewarded. If you think some pie-in-the-sky “thought leadership” is our ticket out of bad management styles, I have a few bridges I can sell you. It’s all about knowing the ecosystem and tying it to the perks. That affects real change with most bureaucracy-mired drones.
What else would you toss on the pyre about bad management styles?