Monday, October 22, 2018

Research Shows Your Boss May Indeed Be Setting You Up to Fail

Does your boss set you up to fail?

Two decades ago, Jean-Francois Manzoni and Jean-Louis Barsoux wrote about their research showing that bosses often have a part in an employee's failure to succeed. It's not that the bosses do it on purpose -- and may even have good intentions -- but they still are responsible for "creating and reinforcing a dynamic that essentially sets up perceived underperformers to fail."

Let's say you have a bad day or week or quarter. Maybe you miss your sales target, or a project goes off the rails or you miss a deadline. Or, perhaps you don't quite "gel" with the boss or someone badmouths you to the manager. Any of these can serve as a trigger that causes the boss to be concerned that you're not a great performer.

So, she decides to put you on her radar and see if she bring up your performance. You now have to run your activities past her, cc her on all emails and face daily feedback from her on everything from how you acted in a meeting to how you fill out paperwork.

While the boss sees this as helping you improve, instead you feel demoralized. You starts to feel like you have nothing worthwhile to contribute and become more withdrawn. The boss sees this and doubles her efforts to help you.

The bottom line, Manzoni and Barsoux write, is that it becomes a situation that doesn't help either the boss or you. Eventually, you quit or are fired.

This, of course, hurts the company and other team members as your talents and energy leave and must be replaced. (With unemployment at about 3.7%, I don't think any company can afford to let a boss set an employee up to fail.)

How to break the pattern of "set up to fail"? The authors give some ideas:

1. Recognize the problem exists.
2.  Higher ups stage an intervention that involves a candid conversation with the boss to point out the unhealthy dynamic with the employee.
3. A conversation between the boss and the under-performing employee where the boss acknowledges that she may be partly to blame for the problem and she wants to have a fair and open conversation.
4. An agreement between the boss and the employee about the specific areas of the performance leading to contention.
5. An understanding between the boss and the employee about what is causing the weak performance in certain areas.
6. The boss and the employee agree about their performance objectives and commit to moving the relationship to a more positive footing.
7. An agreement for more open communication in the future.

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