They say that people don’t leave a job, they leave their manager. That’s certainly true in some cases. One of the best decisions I ever made was to leave a bullying manager. He started a performance appraisal with me by saying “You might want to have your back to the window so other people can’t see you crying”; sadly I am not joking. The HR Director of a division in a large company, he was frankly psychotic, a known bully and I couldn’t wait to get out.
Fortunately people as monstrous as him are relatively few and far between, but management styles differ greatly and everybody has their own way of doing things. Some managers are pretty laid back while others are more formal and structured. Most know which way works best for them, but when it’s not working, it can sometimes be hard for the individual concerned to see why.
The subject of management style was considered in a recent case. Mr Kefil had worked for JJ Food Service Ltd for 14 years. During the course of his employment he had been promoted twice; first to warehouse manager and then to stock control manager. In July 2010, a complaint was made about Mr Kefil and he received an “informal” written warning over his management style.
In April 2011, three members of staff gave a letter of complaint to their employer, which was signed by ten others. Although the complaints mostly related to Mr Sitki, who was the warehouse manager at the time, the letter also raised concerns about the behaviour of Mr Kefil.
The employer interviewed the complainants, who alleged that Mr Kefil mistreated those workers who were beneath him in seniority. Although there were some specific dates in relation to some of the unfair treatment, generally they were not tied to any specific date or time. The evidence generally was rather blurred, but after a disciplinary hearing had been conducted, Mr Kefil was eventually dismissed. He was told that the reasons related to the “[abuse of his] position of stock control manager to threaten employees’ job security”. In response to this, he complained of unfair dismissal.
The tribunal concluded that Mr Kefil’s dismissal was “outside the range of reasonable responses” and was unfair. His warning in July 2010 was informal (you should never give informal warnings incidentally) and did not advise that if he continued to manage in the same way he would be dismissed. He was not given any management training to help overcome the difficulties with his style of communication and the main focus of the April 2011 letter of complaint referred to Mr Sitki, not Mr Kefil.
On appeal, the EAT agreed with this, finding the significant factor to be the absence of the warning and the fact that Mr Kefil had not been told (back in July 2010) that what he had done on that occasion was not appropriate.
Managing people is one of the hardest things to do. Warren Bennis colourfully but with a good deal of accuracy describes it as being like herding cats. Each different management style has good and bad that go along with it. A very authoritarian style might motivate employees to work hard in the short term, but when it comes to communicating important issues to you, workers may be afraid to approach the person in charge. On the other hand, managers who are more informal in style might be a little too relaxed and need to learn to tighten the reigns a bit more to get the most out of their staff.
If allegations of this nature arise, it is important that it is dealt with in the correct way. Where appropriate, warnings should be given and the employee should be advised that a failure to improve could lead to dismissal. It is perfectly feasible that a manager with an inappropriate management style does not realise that he or she is doing anything wrong. If that’s the way they’ve always asserted their authority, and it’s worked in the past, then why should they know or expect any different?
Most people find it hard to acquire the skill-set for managing others, so it’s usually advisable to organise training for the individual. Like Mr Kefil, a lot of managers are promoted into the role, and therefore have never had any experience of leading a team before. If they are advised that their management approach is not working effectively, provide support (training, coaching, mentoring, feedback) to get them back on the right track.
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