Meaningful mismanagement

Don't you want me to be productive?
Why don't you want to keep me employed by you?
What have you got against employee job satisfaction?
How can you desire high turnover and low morale?

I had these questions in mind whenever I have not been self-employed. Effective management practices appeared good for customers and the bottom line, as well as fellow employees. Getting mismanaged made no sense to me, especially since I was admired for my productivity, cooperation and initiative. As far as I could tell, I was not being singled out. Everyone I worked with was feeling the effects of mismanagement.

Later in my career, I was helping clients manage their staff more effectively. Again, I encountered senseless mismanagement. Even when professional advice from my colleagues and I was readily available, there was profound resistance to managing people effectively. After a decade of management consulting gigs, I was starved for meaning and freedom. At that time, I started reading two non-fiction books a week and have not stopped since. I found the meaning I was looking for and then the freedom. Mismanagement now makes tons of sense to me. I'm free of it upsetting me, puzzling me or disrupting me. It's something that happens for good reasons. Those reasons perpetuate themselves in spite of the obvious benefits of effective management processes.

Here's one of many patterns of mismanagement that take on a life of their own:
  1. The business gets into some kind of external danger: the brand is getting tarnished, a rival is gaining market share, the local economy takes a nosedive due to layoffs elsewhere, etc.
  2. The top executives imagine paranoid scenarios where things are going from bad to worse. Their minds rely on left-brain cognitive strategies. They're poised to take action in order to survive, yet diagnoses or decisions made in this frame of mind will backfire.
  3. It becomes clear to their dichotomous reasoning exactly who is a friend and foe, a team player or prima donna, and who is good for survival or a traitor in their midst. The top executives' fear becomes highly contagious as subordinates catch the drift of their paranoia, intolerance and anxiety level.
  4. Those perceived as internal enemies get treated as second class citizens, outsiders to the inner sanctum and troublemakers. Mistreating them seems justified to gain control of the external situation. Top-down directives are not to be questioned, challenged or contradicted. Messengers get be shot down as they attempt to minimize the harmful effects of mismanagement. Short sighted and misguided decisions undermine the quality of work, reputation, service levels, productivity, cost controls and morale.
  5. The most competent, talented and resourceful employees quit their jobs. The ability of the company to respond to the external challenge is crippled. The original fears of the top executives appear completely justified. The next time an external threat appears, top management will imagine things going from bad to worse and reenact the pattern.
In short, mismanagement becomes extremely prevalent when top management is running scared of external changes they cannot control. The dangers appear real. Their fears seem justified. Their reactions become necessitated by the dangers. The destructive and counter productive effects seem incidental in the context of the company's survival getting put in jeopardy.

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