Nice managers finish last

by |

The typical HR manager is often classified as being in the ‘soft’ end of management - ‘the people person, who relates well to others’.

While emotional intelligence is paramount, so too is having a backbone, and CEO Institute member and executive board director, Peter Jollie, said “If you have a whole lot of nice HR people who are too gentle and fair, nothing will happen.”

So how does translate into the bottom line of day-to-day HR operations?

Peter Friedes, co-founder of Managing People Better, a management research firm, said there are common mindsets that limit the effectiveness of HR and management.

Friedes said managers who are experiencing problems with effectiveness commonly cite some combination of the following themes:

1. I am not a ‘bossy’ person. I think of myself as a nice person who happens to be a manager.

2. I dislike conflict and the emotions that result from it.

3. I have a need to be liked and avoid actions that may cause others to dislike me.

4. I don’t want to hurt my relationships with employees.

5. I am uncomfortable judging others.

6. My employees are friends. I don’t talk to my friends in a ‘requiring’ way.

7. I’m oriented to meeting other people’s needs and have a tougher time getting my own needs met.

Problems arise when being too ‘nice’ is translating into accepting mediocre performance from employees.

Friedes said these managers know they would be more effective if they could ask for what they want (without guilt) and insist on excellence (without worrying so much about how their corrections are being received).

The problems arise when there is a misunderstanding about what is actually ‘nice’ and ‘mean’. Friedes provided an example, “Is it mean or nice to withhold information employees need to grow and do their jobs more effectively? Is it mean or nice to let your group suffer because one of the workers isn’t pulling his/her weight? Is it mean or nice to communicate what you want and expect from your people?”

And really, isn’t insisting on excellence ultimately‘nicer’ to employees than accepting mediocre work? At the end of the day, employees want to be on a winning team, not a limping one.


HRM Online forum is the place for positive industry interaction and welcomes your professional and informed opinion.

Name (required)
Comment (required)
By submitting, I agree to the Terms & Conditions