Saturday, May 21, 2011

Angry Management

An icon in the computer industry recently lost his temper and fired all his staff in a particular product line because the product was not a success. I'm pretty sure most of my business school textbooks said he did the exact right thing. Management is holding staff accountable for a failure. But if you draw that logic to its ultimate conclusion, if all his staff failed then why didn't he fire himself too?

I agree that managers have to hold staff accountable for failures. I disagree with letting emotions interfere with good judgment. The problem isn't with holding staff accountable for a product failure. The problem isn't with firing some folks who may have been incompetent and should not have been in the roles they held. The problem is with losing your temper.

As a manager, how can you possibly make a rationale business decision when you are angry? Every rational road of reason in your brain is blocked in a traffic gridlock of anger. You are going to make mistakes. Making arbitrary decisions is the result of letting emotions shutdown alternative routes of logic. Seeing only one road to follow is the result of letting emotions limit broader thinking. Anger leads to simplified logic: if the product is a failure, then team is a failure. If the team is a failure, then fire them all.

Much like throwing the baby out with the bathwater, the icon of the computer industry threw the whole team out on the street. A less emotional decision may have called for a post-mortem review. Create an opportunity to let emotions dissipate before making a decision. Let rush hour to fade and discover new roads of logic. Maybe some members of the team truly needed to leave the organization. But it is inconceivable to think all of them were a problem.

No one comes into work with the intention of doing a bad job. As a manager you need to take some time to understand the full reasons for the failure. Before you fire the whole team, think about how much support and guidance you gave your staff. Did you hire the right people? Did you set the appropriate strategy? Did you put the right support processes in place? When you ask these questions you realize accountability for a failure of this magnitude moves up the organization. You need to think carefully about the true origins of the failure.

Responding to a crisis on an emotional level allows the manager to hide the truth behind a wall of anger.


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