In the day to day life of a team member the most significant relationship that team member has is with their immediate supervisor.

By Steve Moran

I have a neighbor who works as a maintenance guy for an acute hospital.  A few months ago the hospital was looking for ways to operate more efficiently (which is mostly a code word for cutting costs). With little to no consultation of the line maintenance team they made the decision to outsource their maintenance department.

In my year long relationship with Sodexo I have come to believe that in many cases, outsourcing can be a win win for everyone including the line team members. So this is not a case against outsourcing.  Sadly in my neighbor’s case, this is not the case.

Only One Person Counts

In the day to day life of a team member the most significant relationship that team member has is with their immediate supervisor. If that immediate supervisor is great then life is great. If that immediate supervisor is even mediocre the whole organization will pay a huge price.  In my neighbor’s case the whole organization is paying the price.

This particular immediate supervisor has a management style that is all about making sure everyone knows that “he is the boss”. He looks for ways to reprimand rather than encourage. He sends subtle and not so subtle messages that he does not trust his team members.  

The Result

There are three reactions to this and none are pretty:

  1. Wasted Time and Energy –  Because these team members are so unhappy they expend massive amounts of time and energy talking about what a jerk their boss is and how management just plain doesn’t care about their team members. That all they care about is saving money so they can keep receiving their big fat salaries.

    This all means less work gets done and  they only care about getting the work done to minimum standards not excellent standards.

  2. Getting Back –  While my neighbor never said this, there is always a sense of wishing bad things to happen to bad supervisors. This does not particularly mean sabotage but it does mean not watching your leaders back. Actually worse than that. Looking for things to happen that will make him or her look bad.

  3. Recruitment and Retention Hell –  In the case of my neighbor he has been doing what he is doing long enough that it is very unlikely he would quit. But it is equally likely that he would tell his friends to stay away from any job openings. And while he might not quit, if something came along at equal or even a little less money — yet had a great work environment — that could easily change.

Where is Upper Management?

This is really the big question?  Do they not know there is a problem?  Do they not care that there is a problem? Or something else . . . it doesn’t really matter what the right answer is, by not knowing or reacting they are still sending a big, fat, loud, clear message to this guy and his team mates:

We Don’t Care

And if management doesn’t care, why should the team members?

Don’t Let This Happen to You

It does not have to happen to you and your organization. If you have crummy managers, train them or fire them (I suggest train, because sometimes they just don’t know a better way). Spend time talking to your line staff. Listen to what they are telling you. If things are not happy with their supervisor, they will let you know.

Look for patterns, the biggest being lots of turnover, sick-time, problem with care under a single manager.

Mostly though, talk about how to manage the right way. How to encourage and coach and mentor. It will make all the difference in your organization.