Some leaders think it is a perfectly normal state of affairs in these
challenging times for managers to be cynical and staff disillusioned.
Some leaders claim staff always moan about their managers and distrust
senior management and that this does not mean that the organisation
will underperform, disappoint clients or has problems that at some
point will surface dramatically. They are in denial.
Organisations as well as individuals can be in denial. An
organisation in denial has a tendency when under pressure to conceal,
to fall back on standard responses , to be defensive and be over
sensitive to public criticism/bad press. Such an organisation has a
culture which gives more weight to positive news than hearing about
problems and concerns. There is pressure to only pass good news
upwards. When something goes wrong the senior management team / board
may be genuinely surprised despite the fact that the problems were
common knowledge with in the organisation.
Another symptom of denial is where managers avoid confronting or
challenging poor work and inappropriate behaviour either because they
lack the confidence and skill or in the mistaken belief that it is
better to give the impression of harmony. This can lead to homophobic
bullying, sexism and racism being dismissed as office banter or a
personality conflict rather being recognised for what they are. In
such a work environment staff have no confidence in management or HR
and managers are hesitant to rock the boat fearing they will not get
support from HR and go out of favour with senior managers.
An organisation in denial is frequently characterised by a leadership
that views staff as a problem rather than an asset because they are
seen as resistant to change, lazy, frequently absent and take every
opportunity to moan about management. Of course these views about
staff are usually only expressed behind close doors but believe me
they are expressed. Is it any wonder that so many managers in this
type of organisation are so cynical.
To turn an organisation from one that is in denial to one that is
more open, realist and self critical requires the creation of a
climate of safety where people can question, challenge and be
challenged. A safe working environment, is a safe place to say what
you really think with out fear of retribution, being considered
disloyal, a snitch or a racist.
A safe working environment comes from the top, senior management
model the desired behaviour, give permission to say the wrong thing,
open out as opposed to close down discussion and are prepared to
manage the emotions stirred up.
Senior managers put the same emphasise on values as budgets and
performance.( and are prepared to be challenged where these appear to
be in conflict for example staffing levels and budget cuts).
Communication is a two way process where senior managers creat
opportunities for direct face to face communication, where staff can
ask awkward questions, as opposed to having messages filtered through
middle management .
Where senior managers have the courage and
confidence to model speaking plainly and not skirting round difficult
To creat and maintain a safe working environment Managers need to be
good people managers. Managers need to demonstrate integrity, no
cover ups , no putting a positive spin on events, ignoring criticism
or treating those who disagree as disloyal.
To effectively manage
people , managers need insight into how their own behaviour affects
others. Managers who have good people management skills are able to
gain the trust of these they manage and work with. Trusted enough for
others to say what they are really thinking.
Blair Mcpherson former Director author and blogger www.blairmcpherson.co.uk