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We work with a lot of startups and small businesses, either with the intent to establish and grow in a healthy way or with the intent to recover a business so that it can grow (or be sold if growth is no longer an option).
We always start our focus on the leaders and managers, knowing full well the impact they have on all teams, big and small, good or bad. From that starting place we can also detect and predict with near 100% accuracy whether growth or recovery is even possible.
Well... let's face it... growth and recovery are ALWAYS possible-- it's whether it is feasible and/or can be done in a particular timeframe that we look for, and that actually has more to do with culture, who is empowered, and who has power than actual titles and positions.
At some point, especially in smaller organizations, the bad bosses are rooted out-- hopefully by their own bosses before financial performance and client engagement are damaged (lagging indicators). If you are the CEO, then staying on top of this is even more critical. But then what?
Surprisingly, the "then what?" is often what prohibits the talk, the move, the next step... because that next step isn't clear.
If you're lucky enough to correct or terminate a bad boss before lagging indicators tell you there's a problem, you probably won't see much damage. But, if a bad boss is able to flourish in an environment where he or she can make it his or her own, the damage will be slow, intense, long-lasting and systemic.
We ask our clients to take three steps to recovery when the recovery is about someone who has been in power for too long. Read on...
Step #1: Know that recovery is about "Workforce First" action
You are the leader. The first step to any recovery is admitting to organizational reality and understanding its impact. In a bad boss situation, what inevitably happens is that the employees are living one reality, and those above the bad boss (and that means you) are living a different reality. This is how the bad boss stays in power for so long, and it usually has abundant doses of your blind sponsorship left unchecked and sorely neglected. That's on you, and it's uncomfortable, especially if the bad behavior existed for a while, because it existed on your watch. But, you must do more than just fire the bad boss. You are also part of the rebuild, and it's not just about who gets the power next.
It's up to you to fully appreciate that "recovery" doesn't start with a simple organizational change after the termination of (or worse, a simply organizational move of) a bad boss. Recovery starts with the workforce AFTER the bad boss is no longer in power, and they now must learn a new way of working when they have some power, too.
This priority is vitally important in order to begin a re-empowerment culture and re-align the workforce around honesty, trust, respect and integrity-- all traits often compromised under the power of a bad boss. In fact, the longer you enabled a bad boss to hang on (whether you realized it or not), the more damaging the culture becomes and the more diminished are any acts of honesty, trust, respect and integrity. Those behaviors simply aren't tolerated by bad bosses; that kind of culture exposes the bad bosses almost instantly, and common to all bad bosses is the need for power without much accountability.
The bad boss maintains power because the employees are stripped of power (at least on the surface). Well performing employees who cannot find a secret power or balance away from the bad boss (working virtually, partnering elsewhere in the organization, etc) often leave and go somewhere else.
This is why recovery must start with a Workforce First mentality.
Step #2: Don't just shuffle the organization's leadership; transform it
The second step is doing more than an org-shuffle, but truly making change-- visible change-- with how you restructure after a bad boss is terminated. This requires a transformation, not just an org change.
If you are the top-most leader of your department or the CEO, two organizational areas that very often miss the cues of bad bosses, take care not to fill-in the new void too quickly. Work with your HR team and the good ones will agree: the team needs some time to breathe, regain strength, and see you differently, too.
If your workforce sees you put the "next in line" or same type of management style in charge of them-- in POWER -- it is hardly a recovery. You simply unplugged the cord from one outlet and put it into another.
You may have effective managers "next in line" who worked with the bad boss and will bring a refreshing new culture into the organization, but it's still best to give it some time. Give the organization a chance to live without the bad boss, re-learn trust, identify with the healthier culture you strive for as a leader. If you think your workforce will miraculously feel trust, feel respected, feel heard and understood just by shuffling the very people who enabled the bad boss to begin with, you are sorely out of touch with what it takes to align to that first step.
The workforce, and your new manager, must be ready for a transformation, not just a change.
Step #3: Promise to stop the cycle through action
Bad bosses usually don't stay in power because you said it's OK to be a bad boss.
Bad bosses stay in power because you weren't paying attention, and that's appropriate if you are the CEO of a startup or small business. You should strive to hire at a level where someone shares the values of your organization. Unfortunately, most starts-up cannot afford or aren't large enough to gain benefit from an annual Engagement Survey; however, all organization are important enough to deserve a careful watch on the very culture you expect, reinforced and strengthened by your leaders.
History tells us that sooner or later, bad bosses are found because of poor performance (company financial performance, client engagement issues, product quality issues), and that's a shame because by the time those lagging indicators are obvious, the recovery will include performance as well as recovery.
Workforce First and Transformation are actionable; the more you commit to action that prohibits bad bosses from growing in an organization, the faster the transformation and the better your overall organization, including its performance.
Promising to stop the cycle through action takes months because it takes, well... ACTION. And time. When the new pattern emerges, so too with the culture.
We know that launching a new or transforming an existing organization isn't simple, but it can be easier with the right advisors and doers. 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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