5 Bad Management Practices That Undermine Great Culture

Written by
George Dickson
George Dickson

Even if you can have an outstanding organizational culture on paper, it's surprisingly easy for a few bad management practices to unravel it.

Even in a company with an otherwise excellent work culture, poor management practices can have an undermining effect on all the hard work it took to build it.

Let's take a look at five of these practices, why they're problematic for engagement and culture, and how you can work to spot them before the damage is done.

1. Punitive focus

Instead of focusing on punishing employees who don't act in accordance with the guidelines they've set or fail to meet their goals, great managers work to find where their own performance can improve.

Why is that?

While punitive measures may produce short-term results, they overwhelmingly inspire resentment and apprehension. Over the long term, it doesn't pay off.

It's not often the fault of the team when goals aren't met  they're either not given the resources they need to reach that goal, or the goal is too aggressive.

The best managers support their teams and inspire them to embrace accountability naturally by helping them see and appreciate the purpose behind their work.

2. Cloning

Lack of diversity is still a glaring issue in modern business, and it's particularly prevalent among tech companies and startups.

As much as it is a vital social issue, diversity is also a business issue.

Managers are not just missing out on a cultural advantage by hiring and training a homogenous team  they're missing out on a major strategic advantage. A business with team members that all look, think, and act alike are at greater risk of failure.

The broader skill set and perspective of diverse group of talented individuals is a major asset when challenged with adversity, or presented with opportunity.

Make sure you're not hiring (or grooming) clones of yourself or your peers. Expand the perspective and the capabilities of your organization by actively seeking out and embracing diversity.

3. Imbalance

It's one thing to have outstanding employees that you can expect exceptional performance from, but another thing entirely to continually expect more than they're able to give.

Individual and organizational goals should be ambitious, but not at the price of driving your team into the ground.

Whether it's due to an avalanche of small assignments coming in at all hours, or massive assignments that require round-the-clock work, if employees aren't given opportunities to unplug from work, they'll eventually burn out, and either disengage or quit. 

In a recent interview, Button's Stephen Milbank explained how a lack of balance can cause issues both at work and home, and why he and his team focus on keeping a healthy perspective on expectations at work:

We wanted to help influence a good work-life balance with our employees. Work is often something that people put on a pedestal to take precedence, giving it an undue pressure in regards to the equilibrium of the demands of their life.

From the development of company policies, to workload distribution and even hiring decisions, it's valuable to consider and value balance.

4. Distance

Dr Andre A. de Waal MBA, Associate Professor of Strategic Management at the Maastricht School of Management, and Academic Director of the HPO Center explained in a recent article how bad managers are perpetually "busy," and "involved in many, many projects; in fact, they're so busy that there isn't enough time to work on regular tasks!"

Managers have a responsibility to their teams to be accessible and supportive. This doesn't mean they should be on call indefinitely (managers are equally susceptible to imbalance), but it is crucial to provide those opportunities for connection with the team. When managers are too busy to provide that, they're doing their organizations a disservice.

Make sure you're able to provide your team with the access and guidance they need to excel. If you can't provide it yourself, it's time to practice your delegation skills and find someone who can.

5. Indecision

Although it's important to give employees the autonomy they need in order to do their best work, it's equally important for them to have a sense that someone is driving the bus, and that person is competent.

Kate Carruthers put it well in a recent article she published:

Part of a manager’s job is to make decisions; this is one of the reasons that they earn more money than other staff. Managers who are either afraid to accept responsibility or are afraid of the consequences of decision making are viewed as ineffectual by employees.

You can't make the right call every time, but it's impossible to make the right call without making a call in the first place. 

In summary

Management is an extraordinarily challenging profession, but it can be exceptionally rewarding. By avoiding some of these basic pitfalls and always working to improve, anyone can be a great manager.

Need more help improving your company culture?

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Originally published on March 02, 2016 → Last updated April 18, 2019
George Dickson

George is dedicated to strengthening organizational cultures with thoughtful leadership and frequent recognition. George formerly managed content and community at Bonusly.


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