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Management Fail – Active Disengagement

A recent blog post from one of my favourite bloggers, Robin Schooling, really struck a chord with me the other day. In her post, Robin shares a conversation she had with a friend about how he felt marginalized in his role. She shares several examples of how the management at his company operates and creates this feeling of him being marginalized. I am not going to summarize the article here as it is a quick read, but I encourage you to check it out.

FailFor my blog post, I wanted to pick up on this theme a bit more, (thanks Robin!) and expand upon this reality of how/why managers marginalize their employees and employ this approach. I too have seen, and have had shared with me, many tales similar to what Robin’s friend shared. As a quick FYI, in her blog post, Robin cites examples such as the following that contribute towards the feeling of marginalization:

• Command and control style of management – no input, no discussion and no questioning.
• Business decisions are made while management team members operate in a vacuum

In my experience, I would categorize this approach by senior managers as active disengagement. What I mean is that I don’t believe that the majority of senior managers in an organization are ignorant of what they are doing in terms of their approach to management. This type of management approach is learned and applied by design. Perhaps they have had success in previous environments with this style or maybe it is all they know; however, the damage that is done by not involving your management team/staff and having them operate in a vacuum is often irreparable.

I have seen/heard this tale of woe far too often and in fact, I hear about it on an almost daily basis. It is a common practice in far too many organizations. Robin is right, companies utilize this approach and then wonder why their staff is not engaged, or they have high turnover/absenteeism, they wonder why they can’t attract new talent, etc. As Robin indicates, the typical approach is to then blame staff – the problem must be with them, it certainly couldn’t be the management approach that the company leadership uses!

I chock this all up to a complete management fail. This is not a by-product of something that was done that had a different intended outcome. Senior management that employs command and control style, that tries to control communications and that make business decisions (i.e. 1 or 2 people) in isolation from the rest of a leadership team, are doing so by design. They don’t WANT to involve their management team. Perhaps they fear the questions that will be asked, the concerns that will be raised, or perhaps they feel that if someone raises a suggestion on doing something differently, that they didn’t think of, they will be perceived as being weak or incompetent?

Other reasons for not engaging with their management teams may be that they don’t trust them (knowledge, skills, abilities, etc.) In which case, I say you either have an inherit trust issue (in your personal DNA) or you have a performance/accountability issue. Regardless, those are both just excuses for poor management and ineffective leadership styles. Other reasons for this approach (command and control) are that you have senior leaders with a lack of confidence (in their own knowledge/abilities) so they use this approach to show more control and exert power. They place to much emphasis on short term thinking and success that they receive using this style vs. looking at the long(er) term.

The moral of this blog post is that these approaches are by design – there is a purpose and a reason for employing them. This is active disengagement (effect) and is most certainly an epic management fail. As leaders, managers and HR pros we must be aware of the cultural impact of this and work on coaching up or coaching out managers that utilize this approach to actively disengage staff. They must be accountable for their actions vis-à-vis their turnover results, engagement measurements, etc. Organizations must stop rewarding managers who use this style but get (short-term) bottom line results. The companies that “get” this are the successful ones that you hear about as employers of choice, the ones that are “winning the talent wars” and the ones that have a solid employer brand. The companies that don’t get it are the ones that continue to wallow in the horrid hire/replace cycle and their growth ultimately stagnates…or the organization fades away.

What about you? Have you seen this style employed? Was it with success? Do you believe it is used by design and is not a mistake? Do you feel it is active disengagement? As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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