The failures of sink or swim management culture

Good Simple Open is outI just wrote a book about work and doing it better. All week, I’m writing about bad jobs here on my blog and tweeting about them using the hashtag #BadJobsWeek. Join the discussion.

A friend and former colleague of mine referred me to this article in the Harvard Business Review as an explanation of the culture at our job, “Do you work for a sink or swim organization?

Reading it connected many thoughts I’d had about the bad managers under whom I’d worked in that particular job. While each made mistakes of their own doing, neither received good guidance from above. This is a dead-on description of what happened at that job:

While the company may do a reasonable job of deciding who to recruit and promote, little or nothing is done to help leaders make successful transitions. Regardless of the magnitude of the challenges transitioning leaders face, they are left to figure out their new roles by themselves.

In the job where I experienced this, managers were simply appointed as managers regardless of experience. Once in that role, not only were they not trained but they were expected to deal with much greater responsibilities immediately. It wasn’t a case of, “you’ve been doing a good job so we’re going to give you a new title and a raise.” It was an overnight inheritance of an array of difficulties. So not only did newly-minted managers not know how to manage, they didn’t even what awaited them as a manager. In more transparent cultures, an employee can see what the duties of a manager are and evaluate long before being offered a promotion what that entails.

But the sink or swim attitude of the company I worked for was part and parcel of their antagonistic attitude towards employees. You’ve probably experienced it too: the job demands all your time and then tells you to grow a tougher skin.

When you see a company forcing its managers to sink or swim, you’re not the one doing a bad job. The company is. Failing managers by not providing them training or support will inevitably cause a company to fail every employee.