when you manage a bad manager

A reader writes:

I own a beauty supply business. My problem is that the manager I’ve hired doesn’t seem to be doing a good job with managing the employees. I work on his days off and admit that the workers are a bit lazy. When I do tell them what it is they have to do, they do it. I don’t really have a problem with them. It seems that he has a problem telling them what to do. I think it has to do with his personality. He seems to complain but then doesn’t do anything about it. Maybe he doesn’t know what to do. If he just tells them what to do, they would do it. He expects them to just know what to do. Isn’t his job to “manage” them? How do I tell him that that’s what it is he needs to do? He complains to me about them. What does he expect me to do? I can’t just fire them because he doesn’t know how to handle them. There will never be a good employee because he’ll never know how to manage anyone. What should I do?

Why did you hire him? Ideally, when you’re hiring a manager, you’re looking for someone with a track record of successful, effective management, and someone whose philosophy on management aligns with your own. But you wouldn’t be the first person to have hired a manager because you liked him or because he had experience doing the work he’d be overseeing (without realizing that doing the work is different from managing others in doing the work).

So what to do now? At the core, a manager is there to get things done — to get results. This guy sounds like he’s failing at his job. Your first step is to talk with him candidly about what a successful performance would look like from him and how’s he’s falling short of that bar. Make it clear exactly what you need to see change.

Be wary, though, of sending him to the opposite extreme — when put on notice that he’s not doing a good job, he might start behaving like a real jerk to your staff, since he might think that’s the only way to get them to work. And that’s not acceptable either — he’s not allowed to be a wimp and he’s not allowed to be a tyrant. So you’ll want to get a sense from him of what he’s going to start doing differently, and you’ll want to observe it in action yourself to make sure he’s being assertive without being a jerk.

But realistically, be prepared for the possibility that this guy isn’t the right man for the job. You might end up needing to hire a manager who knows how to manage, and who doesn’t think his recourse is to just complain to you when his staff isn’t doing their work.

And by the way, if you’re unsure what specific behaviors he should be using as a good manager, here’s a very basic list of what any manager should be achieving. But more helpful will be to read one of the many good books out there on how to manage well. It’ll help you make your assessment of whether or not he’s giving you the performance you need.

{ 2 comments… read them below }

  1. DrJohnDrozdal*

    I think your question of why the owner hired the manager in the first place is a great one. The most important question when hiring a manager is one that you ask yourself as the hiring manager and that is, "Could I work for this person?" If the answer is "no" the how can you in good conscience ask others to work for that manager when you've admitted to yourself that you could not.

    Very timely topic!

  2. The HR Store*

    Agree with your advice. Especially on sending the manager on either extreme!

    Also I see that the poster seems to in the same spot as the manager. Both of them not knowing what to do next. The only difference is that the poster is asking for advice and the manager should have done the same. That's the way to go!

    Great post!

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