Friday, 24 July 2009

Bad times; Good boss

For those of you as long in the tooth as me you'll have come across a fair number of bad bosses - they also proliferate in recessions. So, what guidance can be given to those people with people management responsibilities? Try these from Professor Bob Sutton:

Predictability: Studies of people and animals show that the ability to predict pain not only makes experiencing it much more bearable but also offers sufferers the ability to enjoy relative calm when they can be sure the pain isn't imminent. Bosses who can give employees definitive warning of when the ax will fall and when it won't can help make the process of making cutbacks less disruptive. In the article, Sutton presents as models managers who guaranteed to employees that no layoffs would be made "for at least three months'' or others who made deep cuts up front but with the guarantee there would be no more for at least six months.

Understanding: People are also much more able to tolerate adversity if they know why it is upon them, Sutton says. Bosses therefore probably cannot go too far in offering a sincere and informative explanation over and over again.
"Your job as boss is to design messages that will get through to people who are distracted, upset and apt to think negatively given any ambiguity," Sutton wrote for the journal's decidedly managerial audience.

Control: Few bosses are likely to give the rank and file control over cutbacks, but they can give employees some hope that their hard work to keep the company afloat will be successful. Citing the research of University of Michigan organizational theorist Karl Weick, Sutton advises bosses to engage employees in the process of breaking down the company's big-picture challenges into manageable parts. That exercise will help ensure that the work gets done, and will give employees a sense that they can have a positive impact on their situation.

Compassion: In the article, Sutton describes an Ohio State University study in which manufacturing employees who were treated callously by their boss during the process of closing their plant stole more from the company than workers at a nearly identical plant who were given a compassionate and detailed hearing by their boss during the same process. Respecting the dignity of those laid off, Sutton says, will help preserve the loyalty and productivity of the workers who stay.
Sutton emphasized that managing during rough times challenges even the most experienced bosses, but "the best find ways to preserve the dignity of everyone affected and look beyond the immediate crisis, often asking themselves, 'When I look back on what I did, will I be proud or ashamed?'"

"How to Be a Good Boss in a Bad Economy," Harvard Business Review June 2009

1 comment:

Harry Paul said...

Being a good boss doesn't call for much effort. It just requires a little understanding of what your employees or juniors need from you.