A Manager’s Dilemma

A while back, I had written about the difficult situation that organizations face as they attempt to rebuild the core structure of their management system after a corporate restructure.The major economic boost pre-2008 had allowed many employees to be promoted to managers. For the majority, this was based on their performances. Unfortunately this didn’t always translate to an appropriate managerial efficiency. It has to be taken into account that due to the overwhelming business successes, there was a-lack of employable talents and people were thrown into such position more often than not. However, that should not exclude the fact that managers were mostly unprepared to handle such role, especially after the economic climate shifted dramatically and forced a completely different approach between company and clients. Now this article wasn’t meant to further explore the need for an improved organizational structure. Instead it is to take and defend the managerial point of view.

Several days ago, I was having a conversation with a friend regarding the complicated position of a manager. His experience at the company had been slowly declining and he was feeling pressured and stressed at work which he credited to the managers new tightening position on work ethics. In fact, the whole team was feeling rather restricted and would easily contemplate looking for a job elsewhere if such opportunities were to present itself (which it did).

Having worked for several organizations, I fully understand the difficult position that my friend and his team found themselves in. The tightening of work ethics, the stronger focus on work performances and results, and the need to limit secondary (or even tertiary) employee benefits meant that employees no longer have the liberty to work in a comparatively casual environment because of the increasing lack of resources available. At 7 years after the financial crisis, hopefully organizations have managed to turn their company around, either through cost-cutting, restructures, reinventions, M&A or financial injections. However that still doesn’t take away the importance of managerial guidance in translating the company’s directions to the bottom-level workforce.

Whenever an environment changes, regular employees are the first to feel it. They are the first to experience the effects that come from each decision made by the upper level. Therefore it would only make sense that they are the first to celebrate or complain. Mostly these opinions are aimed towards the closest person they believe could make a difference for them: the manager. Like the coach of a football team, regardless of the results, they are criticized by players, stockholders, fans and media. They are both the front guard and the rear support and therefore require massive external capabilities and talent to uphold their responsibilities.

A manager has several roles to play inside an organization. Their first responsibility is to the upper management. They are given targets to achieve on a monthly basis and guidelines between which they should function. As a person in that position, they have very little influence in regards to how the organization should be run, however they can provide important feedback on things that can improve within their respective departments. However the spectrums of options are limited relative to the level of structural conservation and traditional hierarchy in the company. Unlike what most people think, managers really don’t have that much to say.

The second responsibility is to the employee. A manager’s role is to create a mutually acceptable and sustainable environment which should allow employees to function and perform in the most proficient and effective manner. It means to provide clear goals, useful and up-to-date tools and a pleasant work environment.

The third responsibility is towards the clients. A manager looks after the quality of services between the employee and the client/customer. Every success or failure as a result of the employee’s performance is reflected back to the manager. Therefore it is imperative that the manager maintains a secure vision and authoritative position above the employee to maintain a secure and healthy service.

As the organization heads into a rebuilding phase, managers become severely limited in the things they can do for the employees. Their role transitions from a guardian to a motivator. Employees have to become more efficient as they are requested to push for the same results with fewer resources and thus require an acceptable replacement for the lost luxuries they previously enjoyed; it is mostly an emotional and mental balance of standards they wish to regain.

At the same time, they are required to consistently make targets and employ the stricter regulations that are set upon them. Maximizing efficiency is a necessity during a rebuilding phase and it puts immense pressure on the limited workforce of capable middle managers. They are now forced to push their employees to the limit until there are more positive changes happening inside the company, but before that, it could mean working for an unattractive, performance-based, pain-in-the-ass manager who cares for nothing but results. It could mean less pleasant interactions, but more professionally-supported discussions about planning and improving work methods. Too bad, that doesn’t always appeal to the average worker.

People are emotional beings. They have a tendency to only consider their own benefits (especially when it comes to work) and rightfully so. There is little benefit in upholding and defending a company’s policy when it negatively influences the workplace when it has been enjoyable in the past. It is understandable to be upset because they feel unjustly treated and are comparatively worse off. But that is why it’s important for employees on any level of the organizational structure to gather and work as a team. Bad performances of anyone in the company – when it’s trying to rebuild – would reflect back negatively on fellow co-workers and seniors turning it into a downwards spiraling effect on the entire floor. People perform badly, they are therefore treated worse because of the lack of performances, talk about the bad treatment, they end up being even less motivated to work and the cycle restarts.

The truth is, people often have problems about how management is run. At the same time, they are unwilling to follow guidelines and see the big picture of what should be prioritized in the long-term. This creates a ripple effect that would go back-and-forth between management and employee. Clear communication could limit such resistance in a manner, but in the end it’s about the internal corporate relation that is of such high value to improve future performance. And if companies are seeing a steady decline in performances and sales or services, perhaps it would be more interesting to look on the inside rather than just the outside for long-term improvements.

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