Who Was Your Worst Boss?

Put it out there during Happy Hour, and almost everyone has a story that goes along with “Tell me about the worst boss you ever had.” These Bad Boss Stories cause reactions ranging from disbelief to belly-breaking guffaws. However, hiring the wrong person into a management position is nothing to laugh about.

Research by James Harter of the Gallup organization shows that companies fail to choose the right candidate for managerial positions over 82 percent of the time. This bad selection choice has significant impacts on an organization’s bottom line. It is estimated that the disengagement of employees resulting from bad managers costs U.S. businesses up to $450 billion annually and that employee performance can suffer for up to five years.

So how do these bad bosses cause so much damage? One reason is that many new managers (over 25 percent according to research by Career Builder) say they simply were not ready to lead. They were technically competent in their jobs, but did not fully appreciate what would be expected of them in their new roles. Another reason bad bosses have so much impact is a lack of organizational investment into building their skills. In that same Career Builder survey, 58 percent of managers said they had not received any training on being an effective supervisor, manager, or leader.

What can HR and training professionals do to mitigate (and hopefully reverse) the Bad Boss Effect?

  • Communicate Expectations – What do you expect of your supervisors? Be sure you are setting expectations about employee relations, conflict management, communication, and respectful workplace practices–even for your supervisors. These are often left out and thought of as common sense.
  • Give Feedback – Whether it is feedback for reinforcement or feedback for improvement, supervisors need feedback just as much as every individual contributor does.
  • Offer Development Opportunities – Whether it is training, coaching, or other development options, have the boss play a part in identifying areas for development and selecting a developmental intervention that can help support them. This involvement creates buy-in and increases your odds of success.
  • Examine Your Selection Process – If you don’t want bad bosses creating havoc, try not to hire them. Technical competence in one area is rarely a good predictor of supervisory performance. Hire for competencies like communication, collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving, and interpersonal-relations skills. These are the hallmark of every competent supervisor.