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Poor Management: is the solution sacking or improvement?

Press release November 15, 2013

On November 13 2013, the Danish newspaper, Jyllandsposten published an article entitled "Management: Kick out the bad boss". It this article, Alexander Kjerulf, a leading expert on happiness at work, describes poor management as one of the major sinners when it comes to poor working environment and illness of both physical and mental kind. Factors costing Danish companies proportionally high sums of money, year after year. The solution, in Alexander Kjerulf's perspective, is simple: "Sack the bad boss!".

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Alexander Kjerulf writes in his article. ” If a manager punches one of his employees in the face and knocks them out, he will unquestionably be fired. But most likely, he will also face a sentence for violence and maybe even imprisonment. 

But if a manager for years and years have exposed his employees to miserable management, resulting in them having stress and depression, there is no option of legal reprisals. How can this be?"

This question is relevant. Physical damage is easy to act on, but the blame for mental damage is far more difficult to place, and as a consequence, the damage is often not prevented in due time. Hereby, Danish companies face a major challenge - what do we do with bad managers who are not able to conduct management in a proper way?

In his description of this problem, I fully agree with Alexander Kjerulf.  Poor management is unacceptable and is nothing but harmful to both the employees and the entire organisation.  However, the solution that he describes - getting rid of the bad managers - is neither practical nor effective. Recruiting and training a new manager is a very expensive cost - not least because it can take years before the new manager performs satisfactorily. A such a use and throw-away culture in management is a both costly and ineffective affair.

As an alternative to firing and hiring, it will therefore be beneficial to consider training and educating bad leaders towards a more desirable behavior. A such enhancement of the manager's skills can have a direct impact on his or her behavior and hereby also a positive effect on the employees and the organisation. Naturally, this solution is not without cost, but the knowledge gap experienced when a manager is fired will be avoided.

Alexander Kjerulf describes three part elements of the problem with bad managers.  (1) The selection and recruitment of leaders needs to be improved. (2) Good management must be trained and learned, and (3) the quality of the managers must be measured and evaluated. All of these suggestions refer to education and training. The selection of managers must occur on a carefully analysed basis in a theoretically and methodically durable way, in order to recruit the right person for the manager position. Good management requires theoretical and professional mentoring and evaluation, so the individual manager is constantly forced to reflect on his own practice and actions; and the organisation ought to follow up on and ensure the individual manager's development, so that even the good manager can become even better. In my opinion, the best way to achieve these elements is not via (yet another) recruitment process for new potential manager candidates, but instead via better training.

Of course, there will always be people who are simply not suitable for being leaders.  The art of management, however, is considered by many theorists and practitioners as a non-innate discipline - it must be learned, used, and trained to be improved. With this in mind, one should consider whether it is really the best solution to kick out a poor leader, or whether it is better to invest in the opportunities for improvement, that lies in education and training.