Is Toxic Management Killing your Talent?

Last Updated Apr 16, 2008 12:19 PM EDT

The amount of talent that exists in an organisation is directly related to the quality of its managers. Good management attracts and keeps the best people, while bad management drives them out.

Toxic management. Toxic management is estimated to cost about £20bn a year, if you believe the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line. Almost 70 per cent of public sector managers and 42 per cent of private sector managers report bullying in their workplace, according to Roffey Park Management Institute. The effect of such toxic behaviour on one individual cuts their work rate and effectiveness in half. The estimated average cost of a single manager's serial toxic behaviour is about £70,000.

Day-to-day is what counts. We've had more organisations than we care to count tell us that they need to recruit new people because the ones they have aren't good enough. This argument simply doesn't stand up. If everyone in the company was a poor performer then it would have failed long ago. Often, it's not the people in the organisation who lack talent; it's just that their managers don't know how to manage it.

Holding people back. In a recent study by the Institute of Leadership Management one-third of employees said their managers did not allow them to contribute ideas or suggestions, another third said they were told to do things without explanation, a quarter said they thought they could do their manager's job better, and 11 per cent felt their manager was holding them back. There are a wide variety of reasons why managers and supervisors hold people back. The top three talent killers are:

  1. Fear of being surpassed by someone who has greater ability or drive. But the mark of a good manager is the ability to identify grow and enable talent. The inscription on Andrew Carnegie's tombstone reads: "Here lies a man who knew how to enlist in his service better men than himself." Really good executives surround themselves with good people without worrying about anybody showing them up.
  2. Fear of losing a good person. Because they believe in the fictional 'war for talent' managers are afraid that if they progress one person, they'll be unable to fill the gap. Often these people leave anyway. If managers created a reputation for developing people and helping them progress their careers they'd be inundated with people wanting to work for them and their own value to the organisation would multiply.Talent growers are the proverbial golden goose: hard to find and incredibly valuable. Reward them significantly more than talent killers. The performance measurement is simple: it's based on the number of people who, having worked for a manager, move on to perform successfully in other jobs.
  3. Poor communication. Talent killers apply this formula: don't tell people what they need to do to do their jobs effectively. Don't give them any sort of behaviour specification for the job. Just let them fumble around trying to work out what they need to do to deliver on their performance objectives and when they fail to reach their targets make sure they get the message -- they're failures.
"Who Are Your Best People" by Robin Stuart-Kotze and Chris Dunn (Financial Times Prentice Hall) is out in August 2008.