Incompetent Manager: Moving From Big Enough to Too Small

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Incompetent Manager Case Study

Moving From Big Enough to Too Small in Competence

The most frightening thing about having an incompetent manager who is “too small” and creates under-performance and disengagement are the gradual reductions in team competence levels, which creates departmental underperformance and increased disengagement. The department begins to sink in scale, matching the competence of its manager.

Incompetent Manager Comparison From Elliot Jacques "Executive Leadership"

Jackie was promoted to vice-president of engineering. Before entering her new position, she was director of engineering. In that role, she was very successful, and employees reported her as being “Big Enough” for her role. Under her management in the last position, the department had a 98% employee retention rate, and projects were completed on time, on budget, and within the predetermined specifications. With her promotion to vice president, the CEO was not sure that Jackie was the right person, but she interviewed well, and the leadership team felt she would rise to the level of work.

Jackie started her new role and, and just as she had in her previous role as director, she began to make changes. But soon the complaints started, and the Human Resources business partner began to see employees becoming apathetic, and stating things like “I’ll just do what I’m told. I’m sure she’ll tell me to change everything.” At first, this was the leadership team perceived this as growing pains, and they believed that Jackie and her new employees were simply adjusting to the new structure. But it gradually became clearer that Jackie was not handling the job as well as they thought.

In time, she began to complain about the staff. Two all-time high-performers complained that they could not do their work, that Jackie was always breathing down their necks and taking credit for their good work while blaming them when the work did not meet expectations. These employees soon applied for and were granted transfers to other parts of the company. She replaced them with two people who were not qualified for the roles but argued they could complete the work efficiently with her as their manager.

9 indicators that a manager is NOT able to handle the complexity of the work
The HR business partner and Jackie chose to call the department together for a discussion about production, quality, and on-time completion of work – all of which was slipping. Her employees blamed Jackie for keeping such a tight grip on everything. She became angry, telling them that their ideas were not important, and they should worry about their work.

They also said she was creating too many policies for them to navigate, setting increasingly constraining procedures that were not necessary to get the work done, and this reduced the employees’ sense of responsibility, authority, and initiative to do a good job. In other words, their engagement dropped, and they were underperforming as a result.

This drop in employee engagement is what happens when a manager does not have the competence to handle the level of work, add value to their employees, set the proper context, and allow employees to do their own work.

 

Jackie was “Big Enough” for her former role as director and the results were evident. However, when she was promoted to VP of Engineering, the role was too large for her to fill, and she was “Too Small” in Competence to handle the increased complexity and challenges that the role demanded. This caused not only under-performance on her end, but also for her new employees and the department as a whole.

The most frightening thing about having an incompetent manager who is “too small” and creates under-performance and disengagement are the gradual reductions in team competence levels, which creates departmental underperformance and increased disengagement. The department begins to sink in scale, matching the competence of its manager.

Based on the information above, how is your company determining the capacity of managers in their roles? Have you seen similar things happen to good people? In what ways can organizations work to avoid this from happening?