Managers: The High Cost of Making Exceptions

Two issues prior we looked at manager motivation, especially in larger organizations, which tells us why Need for Power and Need for Achievement result in different management styles that perform best within different job contexts. Both are leadership personalities, and despite the relative differences, have the ability to channel the energies and motivation of other people.

“Nice Guys Make Bum Bosses”

This phrase was the title of an article that appeared in “Psychology Today” sometime ago. The article described a third management style, which as common as it seems to be, too often sews its own seeds of destruction. We call the style Management by Exception and describe the motivation as “affiliative”, meaning that being liked by others is the strongest drive the person possesses. The symptoms are generally quite visible – can’t fire, can’t deal with unpleasant situations, can’t be the bearer of bad news, blames head office and the nameless “they” for every jolt of discomfort.

None of us are particularly enamored with consistency for its own sake, especially when it seems to conflict with common sense. But we also realize that in larger, more centrally controlled organizations rules need to be applied consistently and exceptions, even with the best of intent, create a string of messes, some of which can be very expensive, for management to clean up.

The manager who has a strong need to be liked wants to stay on good terms with everyone, keep everyone happy, and draw no criticism. He or she tries to accomplish this by being considerate of individual needs and making exceptions to accommodate those needs. There is also some unstated hope that, by being so nice to people, they will work harder for the manager.

Theory and research both point out the folly of this management strategy. The actual result is 180 degrees the other way – low morale! Employees interpret exceptions as being unfair and beneficial to others but not to themselves. In this environment they perceive little incentive to perform to their maximum potential. None of us would doubt that the largely unmeasurable costs of “disengagement” are very high.

A Leadership Vacuum…

What about smaller, less centralized organizations – is the problem as prevalent or as obvious? Yes and no in that order. If anything, with less sophisticated means for measuring the various dimensions of performance, with fewer financial resources to make problems disappear, and a kinder, gentler view of the employment contract, these companies are more likely to employ affiliative managers in upper levels and keep them there. Adjustments are made, activities are re-allocated, and the problem remains.

However – large or small doesn’t matter with respect to one particular consequence – an affiliative manager in a senior operations role responsible for a sizeable staff creates a leadership vacuum. From various studies we know that a) employees feel a lessened sense of responsibility (not as committed), b) employees perceive less clarity about the organization’s purpose and goals, and c) there is a diminished “team spirit” that results from the lack of single-minded focus and direction.

In our decisions about affiliative managers, as with all placement decisions, it is important that we realize that “right” or “wrong” is not at issue. Only occasionally do people turn sour and trigger their own failure. Far more prevalent is the bad decision made with good intentions about a good person.

With OMS, and through the JAX  job analysis methodology, your organization can identify the management style necessary for each situation and clearly understand the implications associated with filling a management role with a personality whose motivation is not aligned with the purpose and objectives of that role.

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