Ten habits of bad management

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If you’re looking to run a “high performance organization,” or ‘HPO’, it’s imperative to be able to recognize the signs of bad management. If non-HPO managers are not checked and dealt with, an organization will never be able to become an excellent. Here are 10 habits to look out for, that HPO managers will never put up with: 

  1. Bad managers clean up the mess of their predecessors -- even when there is no mess.
    When appointed in a new position, the bad manager claims that the predecessor has made such a big mess of the department that it will take at least one year, if not more, to get everything in order, and of course the bad manager cannot possibly work yet on achieving the departmental targets this year…maybe next year too.
  2. Bad managers are always busy, busy, busy.
    They are involved in many, many projects; in fact, they’re so busy that there isn’t enough time to work on regular tasks! And because these projects are vital for the success of the organization (or so they say), bad managers cannot possibly be expected to work on their departmental targets. They will get to that when their other projects are finished…which they never are.
  3. Bad managers know how to play the goals game.
    They know that departmental goals should be loose, with lots of slack, which means the targets will be very easy to achieve. Bad managers will never get optimal results from their departments; but that doesn’t matter to them, bad managers would rather have low performance than run the risk of punishment for falling short of ambitious targets.
  4. Bad managers only manage from a distance.
    Bad managers love to use performance indicators because these make it possible to practice hands-off management. This in turn makes it easy for bad managers to avoid the day to day department activities altogether. And of course, if anything goes wrong, they can dodge accountability: they weren’t there, after all!
  5. Bad managers always blame somebody else.
    Bad managers have a host of excuses at their disposal when they don’t achieve departmental targets. They blame the management reports because these do not accurately reflect performance; their own reports show that they did achieve the targets. Bad managers blame the outside world: the economy was going down, it has rained too much, it hasn’t rained enough, whatever — but that is the reason everything was going against the department and therefore it was just impossible to achieve the targets! Next year, they say, will be better. They blame the weakest colleague, it was his or her fault the department floundered. .. So the organization first needs to hire someone new before they can be expected to work on achieving their targets.
  6. Bad managers make lengthy, impressive plans.
    When writing up the latest game plan, bad managers know that expansive, wordy, and complex plans always impress top management because it gives the impression that they are on top of their game and have thought of everything. They also know that you can bury all kinds of assumptions and preconditions in these verbose plans, which function as safeguards when top management starts complaining that goals have not been achieved (“Well, you knew that could happen, we put it on page 237, section 3, line 5 …”). An additional advantage is that employees will not read nor understand these, so it will take a lot of time before the department can actually start working on realizing the plan, if ever.
  7. Bad managers only communicate in one way. Bad managers are all capable of holding an open forum for employees to voice concerns, questions, and suggestions. This sounds like the mark of a good manager, right? However, the bad manager only feigns interest in employee feedback, and won’t actually act on what he or she hears. Instead, bad managers stick to their own plans. If people complain, the bad manager will use open forums against the participants, claiming that any incompetency is the fault of everyone.
  8. Bad managers only have eyes for the shareholder.
    Bad managers know who butters their bread: the shareholder. Therefore, bad managers work diligently on satisfying these shareholders, even if this works to the detriment of the organization’s long-term interests.
  9. Bad managers are real Machiavellians.
    They have Machiavelli’s book, The Prince, from 1513 on their nightstand and turn to it often for advice on how to practice effective “divide and conquer” strategies in the organization: manipulating colleagues, employees, and bosses. As a result, the targeted members in the organisation become preoccupied with guarding their backs instead of focusing on growing the department.
  10. Bad managers have an exit strategy every three years.
    When the organization is on the verge of holding a bad manager accountable for his or her (in)actions, the bad manager moves on to another organization. In fact, the bad manager had plotted his or her exit strategy for a long time, and always has a fallback organization where he could flee.

It goes without saying that these 10 habits don’t exist in HPOs! But as most organizations are not HPO yet, it is good for you to be able to recognize the signs of bad management. This way you can deal with these ‘bad managers’ quickly…which is, after all, also a characteristic of a HPO manager!

About the author

André de Waal is Associate Professor Strategic Management at the Maastricht School of Management and Academic Director of the HPO Center (http://www.hpocenter.com). He started a five-year research project (involving 1470 organizations in 50 countries) examining the factors of sustainable high performance. The result of this research, the HPO Framework, will be published in his upcoming book ‘What Makes A High Performance Organization - Validated Factors of Competitive Advantage that Apply Worldwide’.

More information: www.hpocenter.com

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