Why bad bosses still happen to good staff

bad boss

People leave managers, not companies. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

At work, what is the dominant factor that impacts your productivity and emotional health?

Is ‘command and control’ management - dating back more than 2,000 years to the Romans - the best way to tap into staff’s skill and knowledge?

In Kenya, it is hard to find an industry that is not being disrupted. The only response is to feel the rainfall of organisational ‘climate change’, and adapt, or go the route of the long-extinct dinosaurs.

In an age of artificial intelligence - and heaven knows what is coming next – ‘engage and align’ is a better approach to management -- which can be a bit like trying to herd cats.

Look to your boss

"People leave managers, not companies," write the authors Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. "So much money has been thrown at the challenge of keeping good people - in the form of better pay, better perks and better training - when, in the end, turnover is mostly a manager issue."

If you have a turnover problem, look first to your supervisors and managers. Are they driving people away? Beyond a point, an employee's primary need has less to do with money, and more to do with how he's treated and how valued he feels. Much of this depends directly on the immediate manager.

And yet, bad bosses seem to happen to good people everywhere. A Fortune magazine survey some years ago found that nearly 75 percent of employees have suffered at the hands of difficult superiors. You can leave one job to find – but you guessed it, another wolf in a fancy suit, may appear in the next one.

One of the largest studies undertaken by the Gallup Organisation surveyed over a million employees and 80,000 managers. It came up with this surprising finding: If you're losing good people, first look to their immediate supervisor. More than any other single reason, he (or she) is the reason people stay and thrive in an organisation. And, they are the reason why they quit, taking their knowledge, experience and contacts with them.

Career possibilities on ladder

In a network, anyone can communicate with anyone. That’s the power of the internet, there are no gatekeepers. No command and control. One Kenyan influencer can have 4.2 million followers on TikTok, with a far greater reach than traditional media.

In the last decade, everything has changed [and will again]. Yet, unless you work at Google, modelled on the free-wheeling intellectual stimulating atmosphere of Stanford University, you may feel blocked and inhibited.

Perhaps your boss is not listening to you and blocking your bright ideas from being implemented. It is easy for your boss to say: no. Your idea may be a threat to their image and ego. It’s much easier to push perky ideas to the side, or suffocate them in bureaucratic paperwork than risk putting them forward, and have them fail. And, heaven forbid, your boss does not get the credit.

“In most workplaces, opportunity exists on a ladder. The person immediately above you is in charge of decisions about your growth. Your direct boss sets your job description, vets your suggestions, and determines your readiness for promotion. If you can’t get your boss to hear you out, your proposal is toast.

The system is simple. But it’s also stupid – it gives one individual far too much power to shut creativity down and shut people up. A single no is enough to kill an idea - or even stall a career,” writes Wharton organisational psychologist Adam Grant, in his new October 2023 book, Hidden Potential.

Nothing is black and white. It may be a mistake to see the boss as the bad guy. The real question is how can one learn from the situation, and reimagine the ladder, and leapfrog ahead. Get creative. Nothing lasts, companies are constantly in a state of flux, and the unimagined opportunity may pop out from the most unlikely of places.

But one fundamental snippet of truth remains -- Much of a company's value lies "between the ears of its employees". If it's bleeding talent, it's bleeding value.

David is a director at aCatalyst Consulting. [email protected]