Why good managers are poor at dealing with bad behaviour

Why good managers are poor at dealing with bad behaviour

Going to work exposes us to many different people and a wide range of behaviour.  Mostly the people we work with are decent, hardworking people and many times the people we work with we feel close to and they might even become our friends.  Most people come to work wanting to do a good job but not everyone at work is easy to deal with and this can range from the mildly frustrating right through to the outright harmful.

Good managers, leaders and team members

  • At the most basic level, good managers work hard to build a team, focus on their customers and clients, get the work done and support individuals in the team; and they do this with a minimum of fuss.
  • Good team members do the same.

Bad behaviour

  • Bad behaviour can range from a one-off situation, for example an angry outburst if under pressure through to the person who engages in a series of destructive behaviours against one or more staff members.
  • These destructive behaviours can include putting their energy into ‘monitoring’ other team members and complaining about them, creating cliques/in-groups, complaining informally and through formal processes about a range of issues, not doing work they are specifically asked to do, challenging requests made of them and seeing requests to do work as victimisation (and many more!)
  • Some people cause harm to others unintentionally or with little or no awareness. Others actively seek to manipulate situations and have a negative effect on others. These people are bullies and harassers, unpredictable and prickly people and include the downright cunning and trouble makers.

Why managers don’t recognise the badly behaved

  • It is not usual to see it so it is surprising, and often shocking, to come across a very badly behaved person.
  • Managers find it hard to hard to believe that someone has bad intentions because they see other people from their own view of the world and value set. Good managers often find it hard to come to terms with the fact that others can behave so destructively.
  • Some bad behaviour has covert elements and the person may be very good at hiding their behaviour from the manager so it can take time to see what is going on. Some of these badly behaved people ‘manage up’ very well (and they know how to take and keep the power) and are destructive to other people in the team or to customers.
  • When managers do recognise there is a problem, they often think it will get better, feel intimidated and unsure and don’t want to face the potential escalation of conflict they know will come with addressing the bad behaviour.

What to do with the badly behaved

  • We have seen that even when the manager of a person with bad behaviour recognises what is occurring, they often don’t know how to respond in an effective way.
  • Many times people faced with this situation maintain the misguided belief that they can assist the badly behaved, change their behaviour or save them from themselves. For those committed to their bad behaviour, this does not work.
  • Most practices for developing a good workplace culture and employee policies are designed around committed and talented employees. Good workplaces make a big investment in employees to realise their potential and perform well and this makes sense for the majority of staff who are good performers.
  • However, once it is clear that the person is not working well with others and is causing harm at work a new approach is needed. Good management should continue and be tailored to address the behaviour.  It is important to remember that allowing these destructive behaviours to continue unchecked has a devastating impact on other staff and teams.
  • Some actions that work are:
    • Very clear conversations about expectations and standards of performance and behaviour at work
    • Regular, scheduled meetings to discuss work progress and behaviour
    • Speaking up about all instances of poor performance or bad behaviour as they occur. This includes seeking clarification of understanding of expectations (are you clear on what is expected?), reasons for the behaviour (is there any issue that is effecting your performance?) and confirmation of what is expected of the employee (so are we clear on what we have agreed and the next steps?) and follow up when behaviour does not change or bad behaviour continues
    • Document (via email or notes) the conversations about the performance or conduct
    • Use formal processes to support improvement as soon as reasonable.

We have seen that these actions when consistently applied will achieve a result.  We have worked with many managers and teams to support and build a positive performance culture.  Contact us if you and your staff are suffering because of particular people at work, if you have a team that would benefit from improving their performance culture or a person whose performance and conduct at work needs improvement.

Robyn Mercer 0408 703 344 or Tulsi van de Graaff 0423 300 590.