Sat 10 May, 2003 10:03 pm
Workers can train their bosses to be better managers
Jane M. Von Bergen - Knight Ridder Knight Ridder Tribune
Here's a question:
Can bosses be trained to act like human beings, to manage wisely and to create a happy and productive workplace?
And can the workers do the training?
In the business press, it's called "managing up."
Rosanne Badowski, executive assistant to Jack Welch when he ran General Electric Co., recently wrote a book with just that title: "Managing Up: How to Forge an Effective Relationship with Those Above You."
Her idea of "managing up" included rummaging through Welch's wastebaskets, making lightning raids on his office to straighten his desk and color-coding his files so he would be able to figure out his life at a glance.
But the book's main theme is one that experts say applies whether managing up or down:
Understand what motivates the other person, and then work to help that person achieve, while forwarding your aims in the process.
The wise manager understands that well, as does the wise employee, experts say.
"Followers promote or fire leaders. The boss only delivers the news," wrote Matt Dugan, a top manager for Tozour-Trane, a King of Prussia, Pa., air-conditioning company. "I only had to be fired once to learn this lesson, and the experience has promoted me many times since."
When Dugan landed his first management job out of college, he said he wasn't able to command the respect or allegiance of his employees.
He thought -- wrongly -- that he had to please his bosses or they would fire him. But he learned that "if you don't treat the people who work for you well, they will get you fired. They will not perform, and if they don't perform, you'll get fired.
"It takes a significant emotional event to sear in the lesson," he said, describing his firing. He said he has moved up the ladder since then, making it his business to gain the support and assistance of those he leads.
Overall, workers would like to train their bosses to listen, to recognize and reward good behavior, to provide direction and to be consistent in applying rules and standards, said Debra Besch, a senior consultant at Mercer Human Resources Consulting's Philadelphia office.
Her organization's research bears out these basics.
In a 2002 survey of 2,600 working adults from a broad cross-section of industries, 81 percent of the employees who said their good work was recognized and rewarded also showed a strong commitment to their companies and had no plans to seek other employment.
By contrast, only 37 percent of employees in workplaces where good performance went unrecognized had a strong commitment to their companies.
In workplaces where goals and objectives are clearly communicated, only 18 percent of the employees said they planned to leave their jobs. In workplaces where goals and objectives were not clear, nearly half the workers were looking for a way out, she said.
"The supervisor is the most influential factor in an employee's willingness to stay with an organization -- either specifically staying" or just showing up for work, but emotionally checking out, Besch said.
Many employees have developed theories over the years about what a boss should or shouldn't do or be, La Salle University management Professor James Smither said.
"The problem is that there are many different theories about what a boss is supposed to do," he said. "That makes it very difficult for a boss, because if a boss only adopts one style, he can satisfy one set of workers, but not another.
"If the boss has only one style, he is certainly doomed to fail," Smither said.
Savvy bosses are able to adapt their leadership style to each individual in their groups, and employees need to learn a similar adaptability, Smither said.
Management consultant Elizabeth Gibson, based in Texas, who helped shepherd the Best Buy electronic retailing chain through a companywide change in processes and attitude, said workers must consider the "head, heart and hands" of their bosses when they want their bosses to change.
"Different things are important to different bosses," Gibson said in an interview. "Some people are motivated by status. They may be motivated by recognition. Some are motivated by the opportunity to be creative.
"Often when we propose something to a boss, we are up against ways they thought about the situation before," she said.
Gibson said the head part means looking and listening to the world through the boss' eyes, trying to see and understand what their terrain, their responsibilities and their pressures are. In her recent book, "Big Change at Best Buy," she describes this as the rational-analytical part.
The heart part means trying to answer the question "What's in it for me?" for the boss, she said. This is the emotional part, having to do with the risks and rewards for the boss' changing behavior. What can be done to reassure the boss that his management boat won't rock, swamp or capsize?
The hands part is actual behaviors. She said an executive she coached once asked her, "I know I need to be less controlling," but how does that actually play out for me next Monday morning? Somehow, workers must let their bosses know what specific behaviors they would like to see, Gibson said.
One phrase she suggests for employees to use to gain understanding of supervisors' reasoning and motives is "I'd like to learn from you."