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  • Writer's pictureChrista Dhimo, Impono LLC

The Every-Business Series: The Long Road of Bad Management

In answer to our Impono Followers asking for guidance on "every-day matters," like how to get started with a new business, things to look out for in a small business, and best paths to generate or augment funds, we created "The Every-Business Series," a short-read series created specifically for Impono's followers. Keep your feedback coming so we can be sure to continue addressing your questions!!


The Long Road of Bad Management: Premise

There are thousands of guidance articles and hundreds of books about the importance of effective management (to be exact: 1.1B in a Google Search that took .50 seconds at the time of writing this). However, nearly all focus on observations within and pathways for larger, more established organizations where resources and internal structures can make good on the tips and tricks.

In fact, when looking at business cases for good or "effective" management, most focus on public companies with publicly available data pointing to the cultural/performance relationship (good or bad) based on various management capabilities and styles.

Sure, smaller organizations could learn from those bigger-org cases, but is that practical given their scale and resource structure? Could smaller businesses effectively correct poor management issues using tactics from larger organizations?

Below are three points and two real-world examples about getting off (or avoiding entirely) The Long Road of Bad Management, geared toward the smaller organizations.


Point #1: Good Management Isn't the Same as Good Leadership

Leadership: people follow you. (they may or may not report to you)

Management: people report to you. (they may or may not want to follow you)

Those are the most basic definitions. Yes, yes, yes, there's more to it, but those are the basics.

For centuries, small businesses have had (and still have) employees fulfilling many roles in support of the mission and customer-- and that close proximity for impacting the business directly, not to mention the variety in a day's work, is often what attracts small business employees to small businesses.

In fact, one could argue that small businesses created the matrixed organization as a necessary and natural structure to promote efficiency, support community, infuse team-ship and assure that the customer is perceiving value 100% of the time. Small business cannot afford to be otherwise, and often they quite naturally and fluidly blur the lines of management when necessary in order to get the best work done, yet nothing gets tripped up...

... unless you have ineffective [read: bad] management.

Real-World Example #1: The Tug-Of-War Maneuver

A small business / large-volume Bakery employs a back office Administrator who "solid-line" reports to the Owner. The Administrator is also a stand-in cake froster during very busy times, and in those cases the Administrator "dotted-line" reports to the Baker.


1) During those busy times the Administrator's role transition is smooth, the team is strengthened, and operations flourish. Both the Owner and the Baker work together with unified action and reward/recognition of the Administrator's extra work load.

2) Roles are understood, priorities remain aligned, and all of the work miraculously gets done-- albeit at a grueling pace, but the Administrator trusts that the gruel is short-lived and entirely for the sake of the Bakery's success and its treasured customers.

3) The Baker provides constructive feedback instantly and directly to the Administrator without needing to go through the Owner (the Administrator's manager) first. Of course, with a healthy management culture in play the Administrator expects feedback to help make the frosting better and is happy to receive it.

4) The Administrator feels loyal to the business vs to the manager, who in this case is also The Owner. In fact, the Owner (as a manager) is very clear about who the Administrator reports to (the Baker) during the busy season resource shift.


1) The Administrator feels a tug-of-war between the Owner and the Baker. The Owner "ok's" the resource re-assignment for the short time, but the Administrator still feels beholden to everything the Owner wants, even though the focus is on customer work and cake frosting during the busy season.

2) The Owner asks the Administrator to frost differently than what the Baker is asking the Administrator to do. The Owner talks about his/her time as a Baker and undermines what the Baker has asked, yet the Administrator agrees with the Baker based on what the customer is asking for.

3) The Baker needs to provide feedback, but the Owner insists to be present; if it's after hours, the feedback needs to wait until the morning.

4) The Administrator feels loyalty to the manager (in this case, the Owner) instead of the business and customers. The Owner prefers this in all the direct reports. After all, the business was created by the Owner.

The Debrief

Clearly there is a critical importance for the Owner and the Manager to collaborate for the sake of the business, employee and customer. In this example there is also an added dynamic: the Administrator's direct manage is in fact the Owner.

If the Baker is a bad (ineffective) leader or supervisor, the Administrator may still perform well based entirely on his/her Manager's (the Owner's) style.

BUT-- if the Owner is a bad (ineffective) manager, then it is nearly impossible for the Administrator to effectively shift roles and positively impact the customer. It becomes a very loooooong road for that poor Administrator.

Bad management is the starting point for eroding great performance from a team player who is so willing to step up for the customer's (! and business's !) needs. Start-ups and small businesses simply cannot afford a downgrade in performance, certainly not because of bad management.

Your Management Action

The unfortunate mistake all bad managers make is limited or no self-awareness. Worse yet, most times their self awareness is skewed: they think they are open managers (when they are not), they claim their team would say something if there were a problem (but the team wouldn't), and they believe they offer ample opportunity for feedback (yet the opportunity never comes).

Small businesses suffering from Bad Management usually do not have the HR structures in place to address the problems, and they don't tend to fund for that either. In our line of business, we all use the common punchline "It is what it is."

For the Entrepreneurs and Small Business Owners who savvy to the notion that culture, leadership, management and performance all tie together, there are usually HR structures available, either through a PEO (my favorite remains Insperity), or through an effective HR professional who owns the gamut of HR, well beyond basic policy, compliance and transactions.

Learn the balance of direct-line management vs dotted-lined management, and keep expectations open with clear roles-- primarily for the sake of your employee.

Promote a cultural openness with effective (if not "active) listening, stillness or the ability to remain calm and connected with your employee, and a collaborative spirit unafraid of productive debate or conflict with line managers who may require the assistance of your employees.

(And look to those "Good, Effective Management Points" above)


Point #2: Effective Managers Aren't In It for the Glory

Start-ups and small businesses usually have close team proximity, multiple single-points-of-failure-til-more-funding scenarios, higher risk with or without higher risk tolerance, and a lack of HR-ready resources or management training. If these businesses aren't starting from scratch, they are looking to leverage or short-reinvent what they can to stay competitive and customer-focused despite a purposefully limited portfolio or products and/or services. Management's ability to harness, develop and retain the best talent is a critical linchpin to success.

By virtue of start-ups and small business funding and structures, the risk and impact of poor management is amplified. Unfortunately, even when managers come from larger companies, it's no guarantee that they were groomed to be effective managers. And let's face it, start-ups and small businesses aren't held to the same standard as larger companies when it comes to their management. For example:

* When was the last time you saw a startup or small business improve its culture and management style because the New York Times uncovered toxic issues that impacted performance and/or increased attrition?

* When was the last time a start-up's VC required a certain amount of HR-related quality, and quality check processes, to attract and retain the best talent for each stage of funding and growth? Every VC will and should care about how the proceeds are used, yet very few consider the HR-related funds as part of the ROI metrics. (starting with management)

* When was the last time a small business sent their managers to a one-day seminar to become more effective managers?

Startups and small businesses glorify sales because of their revenue streams and glorify manufacturing because of their ability to supply demand and impact margins... it's time they glorify the management role because of their ability to influence, well, everything.

Real-World Example #2: The Weak, Ego-Motivated

Management is sloppy business. It's not for the faint of heart, and it certainly isn't for those looking for glory or outward recognition. In fact, it's usually the opposite.


1) They aren't afraid of the messier human-sides of people, and whether they are naturally collaborative or not, they strive to collaborate.

2) They embrace the challenge of diversity, and are motivated by the [positive] influence they have on each individual making up the team in their charge.

3) They appreciate the many emotional parts throughout the day and the more logistical parts in the mornings and nights.

4) They often proudly serve as "work coaches"-- not in an enabling way, but in a guiding and developing way.

The Debrief

In the last two decades much emphasis has been placed on the essential role of Leadership. With that, some of the basics associated to effective Management may be missed, and hence the important role of management praised in the Drucker Days could be eclipsed by the notion that leadership roles are more important.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Most know this, but very few live by it.

Your Management Action

When you consider the influential role of management in all-sized companies, but particularly those wanting to be as efficient as possible, it's not enough to look to an org chart and want to be recognized as the "Manager." If that's what you are doing, you are likely the starting point of the performance problems you have or will have in the future.

It really is about your team and your people, not you. Take the time to develop yourself, and if you are the Entrepreneur or the Owner of a small business, be sure you set Management Standards appropriately high.

You will feel down days harder than up days-- the good managers keep the team going in rain or shine.

Now more than ever before there are free seminars available everywhere, including LinkedIn Learning. Take advantage of those development sessions and commit to applying one or two techniques in alignment with a business goals.

(And look to those "Characteristics of Effective Management" above)


Point #3 and BOTTOM LINE: Good Management, Like Good Parenting, Is Hard

We won't go into heavy detail here, as it is self-explanatory. Still, it's worth stating this obvious truth for companies that are already resource-strapped, trying to launch and/or grow, often feeling that there is too much to do as it is. We know it is daunting to think about improving your management pedigree and culture as you build and grow.

But you will do better having done well by placing emphasis on your management standards.

That said, just as we showed how Liberated Business Thinking is a foundational aspect to start-ups and small business success, so is effective management. When you have these bare essentials in place then can be the bench you need to rest on as you get through your challenges.

Focus on better management, and the road doesn't seem quite so long.


We know that launching or transforming an organization isn't simple, but it can be easier with the right advisors. If you have additional questions about this topic or how it can impact your business, contact us. Let's see what we can do for you.

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