Saturday, August 18, 2007

Management - Its nice to be nice

In my many days toiling away in a supermarket I learned a huge amount about managers and the different styles they employed to “manage” their staff. I was having a conversation with people about this the other night and it surprised me that they had exactly the same sentiments about what does and doesn’t work when trying to persuade people to get things done.

As far as I could see, throughout my twelve managers that I had over my various stints working for the company, they could more often than not be broken down into two schools of management thought, adhering with some accuracy to McGregor’s theory on the X and Y managers. And although the example I use here related exclusively to Retail management, I believe that these characteristics would be seen throughout the spectrum of jobs where managing/supervising is a feature.

(Mis)Manager 1: Old School
From what I can see, these managers didn’t like a whole lot about their situation.
They didn’t like the way the store ran, they didn’t like customers, but what was made most apparent, and in most cases intentionally, was that they DIDN’T LIKE YOU.
To paraphrase a quote I heard from a bar manager to his new staff member, “I am here to make money for my family, You are here to make money for me, We are not friends, as long as you have that straight we are ok

Manager 2 : New School
Unfortunately this variety of manager is significantly less numerous than its “Old School” cousin. They essentially held beliefs that were a complete polar opposite and that generally brought a much better workplace atmosphere with them.
They liked the potential the store had, They loved dealing at first had with the customers, And what was more, They wanted you to know they liked you and that we were all in the same boat.

From a business point of view it could be argued by some that at a low level, like a supermarket, it really doesn’t make a difference whether the management is nice or nasty, because at the end of the day if someone doesn’t like it and wants to leave, finding a replacement should be rather easy and as long as the shop gets the products on the shelf and out the door, the method by which that gets achieved is irrelevant. However, as I saw first hand, things are not that simple. I can think of a few good examples of the effect of an “Old School” manager.

  • One time a particularly bad manager came to town and prompted three people to leave within a period of two weeks, they in turn weren’t replaced for 3 weeks, so for that time the shop was understaffed, the standards lower, the queues longer, and ultimately the customer less happy. Turnover has a devastating effect on any organisation; people with specific skills are lost and even when new staff arrive there is usually a large amount of lag time before they are able to perform the job with a decent level of competency.

  • Bad managers have the effect of instilling great deals of dislike for the job in their employees, and many practice a sort of “Go Slow” campaign, if there manager is going to be an ungrateful grump, they are going to do the minimum amount of work it is possible to do, and usually if one worker does this, the rest of the staff migrate towards this benchmark of no work. “We could do more…we just don’t want to”

The “New School”, more people orientated managers bring an entirely different reaction in the workforce. Staff enjoy a friendly atmosphere, where issues around work and ideas for how to improve things become a two way conversation, rather than a one way lecture, and by engaging staff on the same level there is a much greater feel of solidarity and staff go out of their way to get things done for the manager who they don’t want to let down.

I have also seen managers that try and mix these two contrasting attitudes, leaving staff in complete confusion when the same manager that was all pally yesterday, unleashes a tirade of shouts and scowls today. The “schizophrenic” style is not one I am a huge fan of.

I personally believe that having seen the consequences of each method and having experienced the atmosphere of both styles, that the “New School” attitude towards management wins hands down, as the old phrase goes “its nice to be nice”

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