Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Hiding In Plain Sight

How Management Can Make A Bad Situation Worse

If part of management's job is to help the staff get along and keep a company running smoothly, then implicitly there should be an understanding of intra-office politics inside each manager's head. This will allow them to understand who is who in the office pecking order (because offices, like life, have their orders) and how best to navigate these waters. When a situation arises that involves multiple personnel a wise manager will be able to see how the group as a unit is and will be affected which allows them to make the best decision as to what actions need be taken to rectify that situation.

It should go without saying that to divide the office into separate camps is not good policy. People are clique-ish enough, they don't need much encouragement to break into warring factions. Yet, when a manager lauds an employee or group of employees for doing exemplary work it immediately does just that. Of course, this can't be helped and the manager may just be trying to motivate people to follow what they feel is a good example. Fair enough.

This is all fine and well until we factor in office politics. As a general rule birds of a feather flock together, that is to say: water finds it's own level. If you've got an office of similarly capable folks and you throw accolades at one person over the other it is only natural for the others to inspect this individual to see what they are doing differently to receive such praise. When the group as a whole fails to see the same things as management does (ie., they can't figure out why Frank gets so much positive feedback) then management has a problem of credibility. What you're then left with is an authority figure without the respect of his underlings.

For instance, in my office we have an individual that came onto the floor not too long ago and almost automatically alienated their self from the rest of the floor through their social backwardsness. If that wasn't enough, this individual immediately began to have management close their accounts, and because it was best for the firm my manager more or less had to do it, but what angered everyone else on the floor was that this individual began to receive monetary benefits from the deals they had failed to close (the deals a manager had to close for them). Normally this would not ruffle feathers so much if the individual in question had any tact or humility in them by at least acknowledging the fact that they were not doing much work at all in not securing the accounts. Instead, this person took it upon themselves to strut around the office with even more bravado as if they actually had done the work themselves. (This is where things start going bad)

Flash forward a month, and now this individual has managed to close only a third of the accounts they have on the board but they're still getting full commission and their ego has grown by at least that amount. To make a bad situation worse, at the next Sales meeting management holds this person up as a model that everyone else should aspire to be. If their inability to function socially in the group wasn't bad enough, now they're ineptitude at their job is being held up as something the others should strive for.

You can only imagine how many people were steamed at this. In effect management has just slapped the rest of the employees in the face by rewarding what is essentially inability on the job. Then, as if on cue, this would-be employee of the month proceeds to take a nap for an hour and a half in the back of the office, and then take his lunch upon waking. Mind you, if that's not crazy in and of itself, you should know that it's not the first time: they have actually fallen asleep at their desk in front of management.

What you're left with is a demoralized rest of the crew who is still angry at and disrespecting of their coworker and now questions management's decisions as well.