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How to win at work even with a ‘Horrible Boss’

A 'horrible boss' can make life difficult in the office

Horrible Bosses! Bad Managers and less than supportive colleagues. Most of us have, at some time, had to endure them and the way they make us feel about work. Being stuck with a bad boss isn’t great for moral or productivity. In the 2011 and 2014 films on the subject, (Horrible Bosses 1 and 2) the issue of horrible bosses is explored through comedic attempts to get rid of the bosses of three friends who try to work out how best to deal with their respective overbearing, abusive bosses.

The three victims in the movie can’t just leave their jobs. They need them! Instead, they compose elaborate, farcical plots to eliminate the bosses. Of course in reality, getting rid of a bad boss isn’t always possible. The sad truth is, horrible bosses are a huge part of many employees’ lives! A second truth is – Horrible Bosses = Bad Managers = productivity and moral issues = Poor services!

Horrible Bosses are not good for the subordinate or the customer of your services.

Bad Boss Traits

Bad boss traits; these include but are not limited to:

  • Control – Expecting subordinates to be on call 24/7 and to hit unrealistic deadlines with limited resources
  • Imposing falsely urgent timescales – Even when the requested work is completed within deadlines it is ignored for long intervals, making it clear that the deadline was artificial and the stress unnecessary
  • Ignorance – Failing to acknowledge, let alone reward good work

In our own real worlds, there are many horrible bosses, doing similarly horrible, often worse things. Such issues can be overcome. The correct levels of governance, teamwork, performance management, definition of roles, responsibility and good process can help, but only if they are well conceived and fairly and accurately measured.

The key to eliminating horrible bosses is cultural change that forces individual change. It’s a case of step up or step out! Dr. John P. Kotter (born 1947) is the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus, at the Harvard Business School and a well-known thought leader in the fields of business, leadership and change. His international bestseller Leading Change (1996), is considered by many to be the seminal work in the field of change management. He outlined a practical 8-step process for organisational change.

The Guiding Coalition

Step 2 told us to ’form a guiding coalition’. In the case of the Horrible Boss it is important to build your army around you. Having a diverse range of supporting colleagues can be both enlightening and empowering. Organisations that foster strong, multidimensional relationships among colleagues weaken the control of a single autocratic boss. They make it more likely that the sins of horrible bosses will be exposed to others who can stop them…”

Team relationships, support and empathy can drive positive changes in group dynamics within an organisation. In short positive ‘pack’ behaviour is a must!

Positive Pack Behaviour

Another good way to neutralize horrible bosses is to focus on the mission, the vision of the organisation and help others around you succeed. This was Kotter’s step 1. I’ve had to deal with some very ‘anti’ senior managers and push on with change regardless. My tactic; ignore the manager (outwardly at least) and forge ahead with building the pack. Looking for the high performing people and measuring performance to direct activity and focus. Faced with positive results quite often the shame faced horrible boss either changes allegiance (and all of a sudden the change initiatives were actually horrible boss’s idea) or they know they have lost so move sideways or disappear down a crack somewhere.

In the movie, the three beleaguered victims help one another, and the horrible bosses fall on their own swords.

Positive Relationships

W Edwards Deming teaching on the Service-Profit Chain supports these principles. He suggested that two-thirds of customers who defect do so because of poor service. In order for customer service to drive profits, every link in your service-profit chain – employee capability, job satisfaction, productivity, employee loyalty and customer satisfaction must be strong.

The service-profit chain stressed the importance of people, employees and customers – and how linking they can leverage corporate performance. The service-profit chain is an equation that establishes the relationship between corporate policies, employee satisfaction, value creation, customer loyalty, and profitability. This supports the principle that positive relationships are a must in any successful business.

The cure

I’ve had some horrible bosses, I’ve had some excellent ones too. If you have ‘horrible bosses’ you do need some real ambassadors, indeed philanthropists to unseat them and take the army forward.

The message then – The best cure for horrible bosses is vision, collaboration, teamwork and wonderful colleagues. If you want to take your organisation forward and establish a positive service oriented culture, focused on continual service improvement you need to overcome the curse of horrible bosses; in the most part common sense and good practice guidance will help. Not forgetting, of course a pinch of bravery!

Jason Skidmore
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