Denis Leonard has a degree in construction engineering an M.B.A. and a Ph.D. in quality management. Denis is a Fellow of the American Society for Quality, a Certified Quality Manager, Auditor and Six Sigma Black Belt. He has been an Examiner for the Baldrige National Quality Award Board of Examiners a Judge on the International Team Excellence Competition and a Lead Judge on the National Housing Quality Award. A former Professor of Quality at the University of Wisconsin, he has experience as a quality manager in the homebuilding industry as well as construction engineer, site manager and in training, auditing and consulting with expertise in strategic and operational quality improvement initiatives. His work has achieved national quality, environmental and safety management awards for clients.

Denis is co-author of 'The Executive Guide to Understanding and Implementing the Baldrige Criteria: Improve Revenue and Create Organizational Excellence'.

Full listing of blogs

Learning from the dysfunctional

October 22, 2011

The vast majority of what is written about management and business is about excellence, those people and organizations that excel. Little is written about the dysfunctional side, which frankly we see so much of in our daily work lives. A great reflection of this is the reason why Dilbert, the cult classic Office Space, The Office and the latest in the genre Horrible Bosses are so popular.

Two books written by Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University, Bob Sutton are clear about the fact that dysfunctional management is very common and that we can stop it, avoid it or work around it. His two best sellers ‘The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't’ and his most recent ‘Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best... and Learn from the Worst’ both address this.

Other interesting best sellers that allow us to learn from the negative are by Jim Collins, ‘How the Mighty Fall: and Why Some Companies Never Give In’ and his latest ‘Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos and Luck: Why Some Thrive Despite Them All. Both ideal reads in this economy.

Another interesting book is ‘Doing Good Work Matters' by William H Murphy which takes a positive slant on dysfunctional management from the workers perspective.

Studies show that 70% of people leave their jobs not because of the job but rather their boss.

An ongoing US Gallup survey indicates that poorly managed workgroups are an average of 50% less productive and 44% less profitable than their well-managed counterparts. 

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence in the UK found that the cost of work related mental illness was £28bn - a quarter of the UK's total sick bill. Bad managers were the single biggest cause of problems.

Dysfunctional situations are often deliberately created by dysfunctional managers however sometimes it is not deliberate and yet the situations are accepted or ignored. We become oblivious to them. What do I mean?

A company that considers itself to have a great employee culture, yet despite having a canteen at lunch many staff go outside and eat lunch in their cars in the company parking lot. Those that do use the canteen sit apart with no one talking to each other. Yet management truly believe they have a happy company culture.

Every morning metrics are reviewed from the previous day, the amount of orders and the amount of product going out the door. When the orders made were high there are lots of high fives. When large quantities are processed and shipped out again lots of high fives. When the numbers are low it is taken matter of fact and not noted. What is the value of these metrics? The orders made were from customers, the orders vary every day and none were a direct result of a particular sales event.  So why high five on one day and have no reaction the next. As for processing, the metric is based on dollar numbers. Therefore, the processing could have been for a small number of high dollar product which were all processed before noon. The metric doesn’t consider how many were in the department that day, so did 5 process the shipping or 1? So what exactly do the metrics tell us, why even meet to discuss them?

Then there is the infamous vague guidance. ‘Go do stuff’ or ‘not sure how to track this why don’t you outline something. A week later. No that’s not what Im looking for. What ARE you looking for. Im not sure? But see if you can come up with something better.’ Then there are the ‘Im always open to new ideas… hmmm no we already do that …..ah ok yeah we don’t do that, but it wouldn’t work here (1 hour later) that IS a great idea!’

OR, ‘I have a solution to this teams problem…….. why don’t you like this solution….. implement it anyway, glad to have helped.’

Head of HR becomes head of Software Development and the VP of Finance adds VP of IT to their responsibilities, obvious transferrable skill sets.

All in the above situations those involved in them are also oblivious to them. 

Ok so if you have a passive aggressive, narcissistic controlling personality as a boss there is no help for you beyond the obvious question of why this person is kept on in their position.

BUT as Collins and Sutton show us we can still learn from what does not excel!

Overlay Init