How to stop managers ruining talent!

Case Study for people management: encourage talent, don’t strangle it

I met up with Jeff recently at an industry seminar.  After the usual pleasantries, I asked him how his job was going.  A cloud passed across his brow. “Not so great at the moment”, he said, “I’ve got a new director and I’m really not enjoying work any more.  I’m considering my options”.

My friend looked very glum at this point and we went for a coffee where he spilled out his heartache.

talent management over coffee
talent management coaching

Now, I’ve known Jeff for a good few years.  He had an enviable reputation  for being highly skilled in his field, loyal, widely experienced.  I knew that he was not someone who is easily upset.  So I was concerned to hear his story and I will share it with you as a cautionary tale.

(I wish could say that this was an unusual situation but, sadly, I am coming across it frequently in different guises).

Jeff’s story

You would probably describe Jeff as being in the middle of his career.  Technically hot and well qualified, he had spent some years as an independent business consultant. That was before he got his ideal job in a senior position with a small manufacturing company. They produced expensive luxury goods and Jeff worked hard, expecting a bright future.

He ran a small department successfully for a number of years and was looking forward to gaining a position on the board.  However, the global recession went into full swing at that time and the company went into liquidation. So, my friend and his colleagues suffered redundancy and needed new jobs.

Jeff worked in several temporary jobs until he landed a job at his current company.  Whilst he knew that it wasn’t at the level of his previous permanent role, he saw it as an opportunity to join a company that was growing and securing world-wide contracts.

The CEO decided that he would strengthen the board and brought in an external person to head up Operations. This  included Jeff’s growing department.  Deciding not to advertise the position, the CEO engaged local head-hunters.  They eagerly introduced the CV of an external candidate  who  showed extensive board level experience in international companies.  On paper it looked that she would excel at handling the new international growth.  Jeff had little international experience, however, he hoped to learn this from his new boss, whilst continuing to grow and nurture his UK operation.

Trouble ahead

Reality kicked in within a couple of months as Jeff found himself under more and more pressure.  He was no longer included in strategic meetings where he had previously contributed ideas. Neither was he instrumental in planning.  Instead, he received instructions from his new boss as a series of random tasks.  Constantly micro-managed, he had to undertake re-work frequently because his boss changed emphasis erratically. These tasks were often given to him late in the day being described as “urgent, urgent, urgent”.  He seldom saw his boss at other times.

Increasingly,  the new boss took over major areas of his UK operations as part of “stream-lining”.  Frequently, his attempts to offer suggestions and request for involvement in project work were turned down.  He endured comments from his manager that his suggestions were “Not really in your pay grade”  or “haven’t got time to discuss it right now”. Insult was added to injury when his boss took over a project that he had painstakingly progressed.  He found out later that she had presented the results as being her own, with “a little help from her team”.

Not surprisingly, Jeff was feeling stressed. He had lost his confidence and felt not a little insulted by the lack of respect for his capability.  However, he acknowledged that his boss might still be finding her feet.  Perhaps she was uncertain about whom she could trust?  He admitted that he didn’t have the expertise to handle the international work.  However, his requests for training and development in that area had fallen on deaf ears.

What to do?

I asked him what outcome he wanted and what he planned to do?

He said that he would leave “tomorrow” if he could, but the salary and benefits package was very good.  He worried about “having to start again” in a new company.  Clearly, he was still haunted by his previous experience of unemployment and anxious about being able to provide for his family.

We talked some more and looked at the choices that he had.  By the end of our meeting, he felt strong enough to look at his situation face on and start making decisions.  We agreed to meet for some more sessions.  He wanted to review his CV, discover his true career aspirations and not least his perceived barriers and opportunities. Additionally, he wanted to look at ways of boosting his confidence levels.

What lessons are there in this true cautionary tale?

First let’s look at the new manager’s situation.  Why had she “strangled the talent” in one of her team? Was she even aware of the effect that she had?  Was she a “good fit” for the company culture? See if you agree with my list below.

Had the CEO done sufficient homework into her background? Had he really thought about developing the talent that already existed in the firm, not least considered succession planning?  Was this an isolated case or were there other people about to jump ship, taking their experience and special company knowledge with them?  As the company grew, had the CEO thought about the impact on his workforce? We’ll explore the CEO’s actions under another case study as I want to discuss the actions and attitudes of Jeff’s new manager.

You may already be familiar with this quote (and it’s painfully true):

“People leave managers, not companies”

― Marcus BuckinghamFirst, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently (available on Amazon as Kindle, Hardback, Paperback and Audio)  http://amzn.to/2fC35Dw

I’ve listed 13 pain-points this new boss could improve:

  1. Understand the capability of your team (respect)
  2. Allow skilled people to do their job without interference (trust)
  3. Understand current departmental and company culture
  4. Plan and properly delegate tasks/projects
  5. Share as much information with your team as possible (inclusion)
  6. Involve your team in decision-making
  7. Welcome suggestions and consider implementation
  8. Adopt a collegiate style with team; understand the human dimension
  9. Publicly acknowledge work done by your team; never take the credit for other people’s work (integrity issue)
  10. Discuss and plan for career aspirations
  11. Develop people for current and future work demands
  12. Be visible and approachable
  13. Be humble enough to ask for help from your team

Do you have any other solutions?

I hope that you found this interesting and I would love to hear your comments.

Have you experienced a similar situation?  What solutions do you suggest?

© Christine de Caux 2016      All rights reserved

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