Slow Poison

Since poor management spreads without conscious effort, it can slowly kill an entire organization.

Poor managers are poor managers for a reason: fear, distrust, ignorance, etc. Over time, they will actually make decisions that increase these qualities in other people they deal with. This is apparent in most interactions with coworkers, but is exceptionally apparent in personnel decisions, with poor managers hiring, promoting, and otherwise rewarding subordinates with dysfunctions that complement their own. The classic example is trusting only a "yes-man", who will agree with every decision you make regardless of the quality of the decision itself.

In addition to rewarding and spreading mismanagement, this will also drive out motivated, conscientious intelligent workers, who will at some point realize it makes more sense to ChangeYourOrganization than to commit to something that's slowly falling apart.

Through this phenomena, an organization can actually get less competent over time, even with other inputs (size, revenue, business climate, etc.) remaining constant.

Mismanagement can destroy an entire organization, but it can happen so slowly that the managers might not notice it, or are likely to misunderstand why the organization is failing. So the feedback loop is not very tight, and they can either avert their gaze from the growing problem, or they can find ScapeGoats.

Poor management spreads more easily than effective management. Effective management is a product of conscious effort to propagate a set of values into an organization. Poor management is (often) more subconscious; bad managers rarely make a conscious effort to spread their incompetence. Effective management requires work; poor management just happens.


Don't you know that alcohol for a young man is nothing but slow poison?

Slow poison, eh? Well, I'm not in any hurry.

"Slow Poison": a Country Western song by Matraca Berg -- http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/SongUnid/F0C2C1737F59C056482569340029F8F1


Haven't been in that exact situation, so this may sound naive, but what happens if you quietly produce a small success? Just pick a problem with the product and solve it really well. If you do this enough times, surely that will become the thing people focus their attention on, and the "poor manager" will simply wind up being ignored (with nothing to worry about any more, probably a mercy!)

This could maybe work if the manager is having a few responsibilities, but what if he's the president, CEO and director of many departments at the same time? He won't even notice and shift attention to short term problems (fires) that arises every week. The problem you just solved might not even be in his agenda this week since a new event just happened.


I have had this twice in the past. Luckily I don't have it at the moment. It's very demoralizing for those affected. Remedies I have tried myself:

1) Open protest. Get a bunch of people at your level to complain at one level above the manager.

2) Move sideways. Move to a related part of the organization and exert pressure for change from there. Bad managers do tend to accumulate enemies. Time is often on your side.

3) But if others are unwilling to complain, and there's nowhere else to go, then ChangeYourOrganization. LifesTooShort to put up with these things.

One thing I have always avoided doing is staying where I am, trying to route around my own manager. Who wants to work for someone they don't respect?

- anon


I have had this happen, rather spectacularly in the past. I now try to avoid such situations like the plague.

1) Open protest simply got me lots of trouble with my manager, so I moved to

2) Moving sideways. That simply shifted the pressure to my new manager who tried to make things work in spite of that, but....

3) I got laid off with my department, and eventually the company folded because this pattern became embedded in the entire corporation...

- Jon Nials
C.f. LawsOfCrap?, for crappy management. Actually, it holds for crappy coworkers in general. Competent workers flee when they can't take it any more, which just increases the concentration of crappiness and reinforces the cycle.

Many organizations RotFromTheTop?, so there is no going around or above a bad manager. Then it is time to RunAwaySaveYourself?.
See also: TalentPump

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