Why would treating staff badly be a good leadership strategy?

Jeff Holmes, Harvard University, EOL Learning ...

Image by treegrow via Flickr

In trying to solve problems it is sometimes useful to flip them around and look from the other direction. This might mean starting from the last step, which is useful in showing what needs to remain, or taking the opposite argument. Instead of trying to provide lots of reasons why treating staff well is worthwhile pose the negative. Why would it make good business sense to treat staff badly?

I love Tom O’Toole’s story about his success in building up the Beechworth Bakery from nothing to be a multi-site tourist attraction and huge success.  When asked the question “what if you train them and then they leave” his simple reply was “what if I don’t and they stay!”

So my top 5 reasons for treating staff badly;

  1. Most people are lazy so if I say anything good that will make them feel they can work even slower
  2. All the research on intrinsic motivation is developed by left-wing radicals and is not true (Harvard University – that includes you!)
  3. Being mean secures the best financial results and that is all I want
  4. It takes time to think about people and take an interest in them and I am way too busy to spend time on these things
  5. Keeping my job is too important to waste time on doing anything for staff

Now if you think about a lot of the things above they are not evidence based or logical.

Regarding 4 & 5 . The reason many managers are too busy is that they lack the skills of delegation and have not developed their staff to take on an increased range of activities to free them up.  These managers do not get staff proactively offering to help or stay back because their is no relationship and mutual caring for each other. If the manager drowns in work, fails to achieve the results and gets sacked the staff will cheer. Where the manager has developed relationships with their staff then they will do all they can to support and help.

Regarding No.3. Look in the real world at companies like Southwest Airline who have a great reputation for how they treat staff and have incredibly low staff turnover. Southwest are the most profitable airline in the USA and have been so for many years. Sort of kills the argument about better financial results by treating them mean!

Regarding No. 1.  Find any form of training and performance improvement (sport, music, academic) where failing to give positive feedback leads to better performance – versus so many fields where frequent positive feedback is the best way to improve skills and performance. So where do people get the crazy notion that praise will lead to poorer performance!

Regarding 2. In this case you have a nutter (technical jargon for someone who has difficulty differentiating reality from fiction!).  Some simple experimentation may be in order – ask them what motivates them. Ask them how would they feel if their manager only talked to them to complain about a mistake/poor performance? Would they be happy for a survey of staff to see if their answers correlated with the disputed research? Alternatively would that manager’s peers have similar attitudes to the research or would they strongly endorse the research (peer pressure)?

In summary it is very difficult to find a strong case for treating staff badly. Over time one would expect that treating staff badly, having them unmotivated, not allowing their skills to develop to their potential, having high turnover, creating a poor reputation that will impact when trying to recruit staff and paying more for staff due to the poor overall staff environment will not be very successful for the business!

Why do you think managers treat staff poorly?

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About Curious and Interested

Former Leader and Manager now trainer and Learner. Enquiring, Curious, Buys more books than can ever read but still reads a lot and listens to audiobooks. A sucker for gadgets...Ipad, Kindle, Chromecast, apple watch. I aim to improve understanding and cause reflection. Not claiming to be the expert.
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