Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Management clichés: ‘I’m not here to be liked!’

Being a manager involves making tough decisions, especially when the economic climate is as gloomy as it is at the moment.   Many of these decisions will be unpopular – nobody likes to hear about job cuts, pay freezes or pet projects being put on hold.  Although it’s difficult to do what’s best for the organisation and remain everyone’s friend, being universally hated is not good.

While gathering enemies is an occupational hazard that few managers can totally avoid, it can be risky as enemies have a habit of making life difficult in the long run.  Even if they’re not deliberately out to sabotage or get their revenge, it would be naive to expect the wholehearted co-operation of people who don’t trust their manager to have at least some basic consideration for their interests and feelings.  

But what’s the alternative?  Whenever someone describes a manager as ‘nice’, there often seems to be an underlying suggestion that their effectiveness is somehow compromised.  It’s easy to view niceness with suspicion, equating it with weakness.   It is perhaps the fear of appearing weak that drives some managers to the other extreme, justifying an aggressive thoughtless approach by saying ‘I’m not here to be liked’.   

Being liked is a valuable asset to a manager, because it helps develop loyalty and commitment even in the face of the harshest management choices.  The problem arises when the need to be liked gets in the way - making a decision just because it would be popular is clearly not appropriate.  The need to be liked can also lead to anxiety over how to avoid making an unpopular decision or how to make it more palatable.  Dithering and indecisiveness however are qualities that are completely incompatible with effective management.    

Whether a manager is liked or disliked is perhaps not the important issue, but it can be a useful indicator of whether or not people will co-operate with implementing tough decisions.  Using consultation to inform decision-making, thinking about other people’s feelings and communicating in a thoughtful way, far from being signs of weakness, actually make good business sense.   

Tim Schuler is a coach, facilitator and business partner. He specialises in bringing out the very best in managers, whether it’s their first management role or something they’ve been doing for a while. More information is available from

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Like it or not, morality is a management consideration

Raising the question of morality in business is all very well as an academic discussion, or something that makes for an interesting feature on BBC Radio 4, but should the moral issues underpinning day-to-day management decisions be more frequently and openly discussed within organisations?

The morality of big business periodically claims the headlines, usually prompted by a notable case of fraud or institutional wrongdoing.  For some time now the focus has been on the financial sector, with growing worldwide protest against corporate greed.   

The recent publication of the St Paul’s Cathedral Institute report, Value and Values: Perceptions of Ethics in the City Today, seems remarkably timely given the uneasy relationship between the cathedral and the protesters camped on its doorstep.  The report gives a fascinating insight into ethical issues within the financial services sector.  Although these precise issues may not necessarily concern businesses in other sectors, there will nevertheless be ethical issues that managers at all levels need to consider.

Morality is often seen to be a matter of personal choice.  People for example have different views on acceptable levels of bending the truth, and in many circumstances it may be appropriate to leave individual employees to act in line with their own conscience.  It could also be argued that certain things go without saying, and it might seem patronising to spell these out.  Managers however need to consider at what stage they should intervene.  The impact of being caught telling fibs to a colleague may be just a little temporary personal embarrassment, but if it establishes a culture of mistrust, this can have a lasting effect on teamwork.   Managers also need to set the standard about whether it is acceptable to provide misleading or false information to customers, given the potential damage this can do to the company’s reputation.

A particular challenge arises when inappropriate behaviour is clearly linked to achieving results.  It can be tempting as manager to turn a blind eye and allow the behaviour of a star performer to go unchecked.  Although there is an argument that the ends justify the means, short-term profit needs to be considered in the wider context. 

Following the phone hacking allegations that forced the closure of the News of World, further claims are emerging about the newspaper’s regular use of covert surveillance of celebrities and their families.  The private detective at the centre of these new revelations justifies his action on the grounds that if he didn’t do it someone else would.  Like the ‘everyone does it’ argument, this is a common excuse for questionable business behaviour.   While individuals may have their own views about what they are and aren’t prepared to do, it is down to managers to set and maintain the organisation’s moral climate.

Tim Schuler is a coach, facilitator and business partner. He specialises in bringing out the very best in managers, whether it’s their first management role or something they’ve been doing for a while. More information is available from

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Do senior managers really know the concerns of employees and customers?

There are times when a television programme can give you ideas to help improve the way you work.  One show that consistently delivers a useful message is Undercover Boss, which originated in the UK on Channel Four and has now been rolled out to many other countries.   Each episode follows a senior executive working undercover in their own company as an entry-level employee.  The experience usually highlights systems that need to be improved and practices that stop people from being as effective as they could be.  At the end of the experiment, the senior executive makes the necessary changes, rewards their most dedicated staff and provides training for those who need it.

There is an argument that suggests all senior managers would benefit from periodically spending time working alongside junior colleagues.  In this way they can keep in touch with operational issues that seriously affect both staff and customers.  It is debatable however whether many would get an accurate picture of what really goes on in their organisation without the anonymity provided by the Undercover Boss experience, and replicating this in your own company may not be possible.

There are however important lessons that managers at all levels can learn.  In most cases, the shortcomings of certain processes, practices and facilities are already well known.  The problem is that the people who know about them do not have the power to make the necessary changes, and either have no mechanism for raising their concerns or are not listened to if they do.  Effective managers however create opportunities for people to share their experience and ideas, because good decisions rely on such information.  Naturally, some of what these managers hear may be inaccurate or biased, or there may be organisational constraints that prevent action being taken; however it is not productive to ignore what’s being said just because the message is uncomfortable or inconvenient.

As well as identifying where operations can be improved, the senior executives in Undercover Boss usually learn something important about the people that work for the organisation, their personal challenges and the commitment some of them show in the face of adversity.  Hard-working employees are sometimes richly rewarded, and while it is true that big gestures make for great television, all managers need to think about how best to recognise the contribution their people make to the success of the organisation.  While formalised reward schemes have their place, it is often a surprisingly simple act of kindness, showing genuine understanding of what’s important to that individual, that is most valued. 

Tim Schuler is a coach, facilitator and business partner. He specialises in bringing out the very best in managers, whether it’s their first management role or something they’ve been doing for a while. More information is available from