Surveys Can Heal Companies Plagued With Bad Management

Surveys Can Heal Companies Plagued With Bad Management

Poor management doesn’t just drag down employee morale; it has consequences on the bottom line. Through the use of employee surveys, senior management can diagnose the problem, identify the poor supervisors, and make sure profits and productivity stay on course.

Hollywood has never been shy about dramatizing the bad boss versus beleaguered employee characters. From Dabney Coleman’s portrayal of a sexist, egotistical manager in “9 to 5,” to Meryl Streep’s recent performance as Miranda Priestly, a ruthless and cynical magazine editor in “The Devil Wears Prada,” there seems to be no shortage of insufferable people at the top of the corporate ladder.

But are these stereotypical characters part of fiction, or does the film industry draw on something that’s more symptomatic of the real world when creating hollow and soulless bosses like “Office Space’s” Bill Lumbergh?

According to human resource executives, the Miranda Priestlys and Bill Lumberghs may be all too common in the workplace. In a recent survey conducted by the California Job Journal, 73 percent of HR executives said that poor leadership was the No. 1 cause for low employee morale, outnumbering workload and salary by a wide margin. And, in a recent report in Forbes magazine, 19,700 exit interviews revealed that 80 percent of employees left because of poor management or a “dysfunctional company culture.”

It’s nearly impossible to put a dollar figure on the exact cost of bad management, but one thing is certain. When sub-standard managers go unchecked, employees tend to check out.

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“Bad management creates a negative ripple effect on the company,” said John Anderson of a Chicago Consulting firm. “First, top talent leaves. Next, groups of employees disengage and view customers as a transaction or even as a bother, and then finally, a significant gap between financial projections and results occurs.”

Poor management decisions over the years can even cripple one-time giants like Ford and General Motors. The automakers pressed on for 30 years with an unflappable arrogance, unreliable cars, unyielding union contracts, and an unworkable strategy. The results have left today’s current executives at Ford and GM slashing thousands of jobs and restructuring their companies just to stay alive and competitive. Ford expects its workforce to be cut from 130,000 to 92,000 by 2008. Similarly, GM gave more than 34,000 workers buyouts or early retirement this year and cut 2,000 salaried workers.

Bad management certainly isn’t exclusive to the American auto industry. Harvey Hornstein, author of the book, “Brutal Bosses and Their Prey,” concluded that at any given time, 4 million or more people in the U.S. are working for an incorrigible boss. After studying 1,000 working men and women, 90 percent said they had encountered at least one “brutal boss” during their career.

“I’m not surprised by the outcomes of these [statistics], as it supports the axiom, ‘People join companies and leave their boss,'” said Anderson, who has held several senior human resource management roles, including a stint at the Walt Disney World Company. “The value of a good leader continues to increase due to the shortage of good managers and because other elements of a company’s reward offering seldom differentiates between employers. …Top talent realized that they possess capabilities that are valued across multiple industries and employers. With this understanding in mind, they are not interested in working with a poor manager for an extended period of time.”

Other than moving from job to job, it is possible for employees to make a difference when combating poor management. If leaving isn’t an immediate option, communication is the key. And, for the company who suspects a bad manager is having a negative impact on employee production, there’s the employee survey.

Surveys, like the ones conducted by Texas-based National Business Research Institute, can be extremely valuable in identifying employee sentiment and exposing poor management performance.

“Employee surveys help in identifying and remedying bad management because they collect information directly from the people who are most affected by either good or bad management,” said Tom Agnew, a Ph.D. and consultant at a Philadelphia-based consulting group. “Because they are impacted by either good or bad management practices on an on-going basis, employees are usually acutely aware of what changes in their work environment and management practices are needed in order to allow them to be more effective in their job. Surveys are very effective tools to gather this information from employees in a way that allows the organizational leaders to quickly identify problem areas and take corrective action.”

Employee surveys become so effective when a company is plagued by poor management because the questions focus on a manager’s skills at communicating the department or organizational strategy, and hone in on his or her decision-making abilities. Results from these surveys pinpoint the trust and confidence employees have in their managers, holding bosses accountable for their actions, or lack thereof.

Surveys, however, are not necessarily designed to target the bumbling boss and poor performer. They are a tool for companies to improve leadership and management performance, not just identify the bad apples.

“When you are driving a car and you want to speed up, do you stare at the speedometer or press on the gas pedal?” said Anderson. “Bad management stares at the financial reports as they do not understand that engaged employees are the fuel for improving results.”

If you would like to learn more about how employee and customer surveys can help you “see inside the crystal ball” contact NBRI at 800-756-6168.

Dr. Jan West, Ph.D.
Organizational Psychologist
National Business Research Institute, Inc.