Shelley Bridgeman 's Opinion

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: Bad bosses

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There are lots of industries where people are promoted to jobs that bear little relation to the ones they excelled at or trained for. Photo / Thinkstock
There are lots of industries where people are promoted to jobs that bear little relation to the ones they excelled at or trained for. Photo / Thinkstock

I initially thought that all the interest in bad managers was triggered by the release of the movie Horrible Bosses.

But, as I read in Deborah Hill Cone's recent article, it was in fact in response to economist Rhema Vaithianathan's findings that New Zealanders are bad bosses. According to a University of Auckland report they "are 'strikingly bad' at managing staff".

That'll teach me for skim-reading stories and half-heartedly watching television.

My previous career entailed working in the marketing and advertising departments for retail companies such as L.V. Martin & Son, The Warehouse and Progressive Enterprises. For twelve years I held such job titles as advertising manager, brand manager and communications planning manager.

The maximum number of people I had reporting to me, from memory, was about eight.

Once the novelty of being able to say "Get your people to call my people" wore off, I discovered that being responsible for staff is overrated.

My final role was my favourite because - while it had all the pay, status and perks of my earlier managerial jobs - I had no direct reports to deal with.

While most of the people in my departments were smart, genuine and intent on doing their jobs well and amiably, two particular men had a personality clash that made them argue in a way that distracted the rest of the team.

For a while I used to have to haul them into my office every Monday morning and give them a good telling off.

I'd say something toothless like: "You guys need to sort this out unless you want to be... back in here next Monday."

I'm the first to admit I had no idea how to convince two grown men to behave like adults. I recall thinking that if I'd wanted to deal with immature behaviour every week I'd have had children rather than be valiantly trying to climb the corporate ladder.

Being a disciplinarian wasn't what I'd envisaged when I took on the role.

I'd regularly discuss this staff issue with the company's human resources manager and she'd usually attend the Monday meetings to give me moral support. But still I'd wonder why I, as head of an advertising department, was expected to negotiate peace between two stubborn people.

I doubted my colleague in human resources would be asked to perform advertising functions, yet I was expected to carry out a task I thought more naturally suited to someone with expertise in personnel or human resources.

My first boss, the late Alan Martin - best known for the television slogan: "It's the putting right that counts" - used to talk about the Peter Principle which, as defined by Wikipedia, states that: "[I]n a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence."

Basically, it means that people continue to get promoted until they're elevated to a position that's essentially beyond them.

They're no longer doing a good job so they aren't promoted further and ironically remain in the very position in which they perform poorly.

In fact, there are lots of industries where people are promoted to jobs that bear little relation to the ones they excelled at or trained for. Do good teachers always make good principals? Do good journalists always make good editors?

In my case I was quickly promoted to managing the advertising department in recognition of my work producing catalogues. I was good at researching products, writing copy, designing layouts and working to deadlines but none of those skills equipped me for handling difficult personnel issues in my department.

If our nation's organisations are riddled with poor managers then perhaps the system of promoting people on merit should reviewed.

After all, the three Italian researchers - Alessandro Pluchino, Andrea Rapisarda and Cesare Garofalo - who were awarded last year's Ig Nobel Prize (an award for research that makes people laugh and then think) for management demonstrated mathematically that organisations would become more efficient if they promoted people at random.

It's counterintuitive but maybe such a strategy would reduce the number of horrible bosses around.

Shelley Bridgeman

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

Read more by Shelley Bridgeman

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