I was asked to assess and help a production manager of a B2C (Business to Consumer) manufacturer who was experiencing high employee turnover in one critical department. As I observed the department’s manager, I was puzzled. She was a good manager and leader. She led by example and not only by following procedures, but how she approached her work. When someone on her team asked for help, she was there. When needed she jumped in and did the work side by side with her team. Her door was open to her staff. She was a boss they could talk to, and she believed in continuous education for her teammates. She seemed the antithesis of a toxic boss.

They have everything they need, right?

The staff was well-paid, had decent benefits, and the working conditions were good. So, what was the problem? I didn’t learn until I chatted individually with a few of the staff. Their department manager had become a toxic boss.

More than one member of the team expressed an “us versus them” attitude towards upper management. Eventually, I learned this belief came from their boss. For example, if upper-level management asked her team to work overtime she complained to her staff about the management. She’d rant about the corporation not understanding what her department did, how important their work was, and how difficult it was to complete. She’d continue venting about how unappreciated her department was, how unfair they were treated, and how management didn’t care about them.

Be careful what you create

I discussed this with her. At first she was defensive, telling me everything she said was the truth; management didn’t care if her team had to stay over. I told her she might be correct, but asked her how her derogatory remarks towards corporate leadership affected her team? Did she think her staff accepted her as one of their own because they had a common enemy or it was possible her behavior fostered job dissatisfaction among her team?

Instead of spewing anger I asked her if she’d considered how production could be increased to avoid overtime, or how her department could be more efficient. Next, I asked if she ever offered her input to management as too how much overtime was needed to complete a task. Did she need her entire staff or less? How many hours would it take to get the job done?

A different approach

The truth is she had little control over leaderships demand for overtime. However, how she approached her team with the information was her call. “The bottom line is that whenever we allow circumstances to prevent us from achieving our best we give ourselves an excuse. And here’s the difficult thing. Our excuse may be real, it might be out of our control, but does that mean we accept it as a reason to give up? Or do we look for a way to improve the situation, because if you’ve tried waiting for others to change to fit your needs, how’s that plan worked for you so far?” — Are You Waiting for Others to Change? How’s that Working for You?

I offered her this suggestion. Rather than angrily blame management for overtime, be proactive. Begin by determining how much OT would be needed. Once that was established she could approach the staff from a more positive and engaged perspective. Here’s the example I gave her.

Be careful what you wish for 

“Somebody once said business is always a problem, there’s either not enough, or there’s too much. The former cuts hours and creates lay-offs, and the latter, means overtime. I’d rather have the latter, wouldn’t you? That’s where we are. We need to finish this job tonight. I talked with management and told them we could get it done if half of the staff stayed over two hours. I’m going to stay, and I can assign who’s going to work but I’d rather have volunteers join me. Who’d like to volunteer?”

Would the above example work every time? No. Is it possible she’d still have to assign teammates to work OT? Maybe. Probably. However, by taking a non-blame approach, she’s not creating an angry, siloed, environment and losing employees over the toxic culture she helped create.

Be the opposite of a toxic boss be employee-centric 

Most of us have heard Sir Richard Branson’s quote “Happy employees make happy customers.” At Virgin Airlines those aren’t just words.” What makes Virgin particularly wonderful is the wonderful group of people who believe in what they’re trying to do,” Branson says. “Who are appreciated, who are praised, not criticized, and are given a chance to do a great job.” — Forbes: Sir Richard Branson’s Five Billion Reasons To Make Your Employees And Candidates Happy

So, have you become a toxic boss?

How Can I help You?

I like to help people and organizations, but I have three criteria I consider before taking an assignment – I believe in what the organization stands for, I know I can help, and it looks like fun. If you have any questions, Contact Me. 

Does your business have a  management training plan? Many organizations, large and small, use my book, The New Manager’s Workbook a crash course in effective management, as the basis for their leadership development program. I’m also available to conduct training.

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