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Business/Economy

We have 2 problem managers. Which one should we promote?

  • Author: Lynne Curry
    | Alaska Workplace
  • Updated: November 10, 2020
  • Published November 9, 2020

Q: When our general manager announced his early retirement, our corporate board considered hiring a new GM from outside our company but decided we can’t afford the additional salary. Instead, we plan to promote one of our two secondary managers to the top role. We’ll then promote one of their understudies who will absorb the manager’s former duties. We believe these two promotions may help morale.

Both secondary managers have flaws. One is a micro-manager and the employees under him chafe. Those who can’t or won’t get used to his style leave, and the ones that remain do well but aren’t hard-chargers, and his division isn’t doing well.

The other is more laissez-faire and allows her employees free rein until one of them gets too far out of line. Our GM regularly needed to step in and handle the problem employee, and it invariably led to a necessary termination.

While we have more faith that the micro-manager can run things well, he doesn’t have anyone under him who can step up into his position. We’ve discussed having these two co-manage, however, we’ve decided we need to promote one of the two managers and be done with it. We’re quite nervous and can’t agree on our choice. Can you help us out?

A: Don’t promote either manager unless you fix them first. Both may cost you employees. Here’s what to understand about each manager’s downsides, and a potential strategy for fixing them.

Micro-managers

Micro-managers attempt to control their employees' actions until their employees become so accustomed to being told what to do that they await direction before making decisions. Action slows. Initiative dwindles.

When you need employees to make judgment calls in a dynamic environment where situations change rapidly, micromanagement fails. As you have learned, action-oriented employees resent micromanagement and leave. You’re then left with employees willing to wait for a manager’s decision.

Laissez-faire

Laissez-faire managers allow team members to develop their own leadership capacity, which can work when employees act with integrity and accountability. When managers combine a hands-off style with being “easy,” problem employees often step into the power vacuum and take advantage of the situation for their own benefit.

While accountable employees generally appreciate the autonomy laissez-faire managers allow them, individual team members do their own thing and as a result the full team lacks cohesion.

Co-managing

Two managers with complementary skills who trust and respect each other can handle co-management. Your two managers, however, have such divergent styles that your employees may feel pulled in contradictory directions or learn how to play one manager against the other. Your micromanager will probably take over and your “easy” manager may allow it, but then undermine him with employees.

A strategy that may help you fix this

Here’s a potential path forward. Ask your employees to fill out a confidential 360-degree review on each manager. Include in the survey questions concerning how each manager makes judgment calls, leads, functions as a role model, solves problems and handles conflict, along with a section that allows your employees to describe each manager’s strengths and weaknesses.

When the owners of a local construction firm asked us to conduct a similar survey concerning four strong mid-level managers the owner-partners considered as potential partners, we conducted a similar survey. Based on the results, we provided the two strongest candidates fast-track, intensive management training and coaching. Both absorbed everything presented, thus enhancing their strengths, and remedying their weaknesses.

The process worked because the candidate’s employees identified where to target the coaching and the candidates took the training to heart. In the process, both developed a high level of camaraderie that exists today as they co-lead their company.

In your case, you may find that one of your two candidates applies him or herself more seriously to the training and emerges as the clear choice. Alternatively, the review results may so shock you that you realize you can’t afford not to bring in a GM from the outside.

You’re not ‘done with it’

Your corporate board also needs to step to the plate. You can’t promote a manager and “be done with it.” You owe it to the promoted manager and your employees to stay involved. Further, you need to succession plan, so you’re not again thrown into a similar situation.

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