The HeadScratcher Post Archive
July 2010
The Great Employee-Manager Disconnect
       July 2010 The Headscratcher Post Headscratchers LLC    Edition 63

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The Great Employee-Manager Disconnect

One of the most disruptive events at organizations is the disconnect between decisions made by managers and the views of those decisions by employees.  We call it the Great Employee-Manager Disconnect.   It plays out like this:    Managers (and Executives) make a decision.   Employees often have the reaction that Management / Executives are out of touch, they don't understand the issues, they are too far removed, they are making shortsighted decisions, they are not listening ... etc.

Before managers were managers, they were individual employees.  Most became managers because of their skills as individuals in problem solving and decision making.   So why the disconnect?

Here are a few reasons, all rooted in the transition from "I" to "WE".

  • The problem solving and decision making skills primarily related to the content of work, is inadequately being applied to broader, less tangible situations.   For example: As an individual, the questions often asked are "What should I do?", "How can I solve this problem?".  However as a manager, this evolves to "What should WE do", "How do WE solve this problem".   The Clarity of the consequences that affect the "WE" is much more complicated than those that affect the "I" and more effort is needed to be Clear.

  • As soon as problem solving and decisions include "WE", it goes on to say that not everyone who is a part of that "WE" will be equally affected.  As a result, there will be different levels of benefactors based on the decisions that include "WE", and these benefactors have opinions.

  • Assumptions:  The assumptions an individual makes can often be self validated, as the individual is usually making a decision about something that involves the data or information that they are very familiar with.    The more senior a manager is, the more distant they may become from the data and information that is needed to validate an assumption.  The "WE" produces many views that can distort the validation.   Without a good process to validate assumptions, a senior manager risks moving forward on an invalid assumption.

  • Poor Communication is probably the most significant factor contributing to a disconnect.   If the assumptions of the decision maker are different than those affected by the decisions, then the conclusions will likely be different. If there is no communication about what those assumptions are, it is almost certain that a disconnect will occur.   There is no opportunity for people to validate or invalidate or even consider alternative assumptions if these are not part of the communication.   Here's an example:   Let's say that sales are on the rise.  A decision needs to be made to hire additional people.  The individuals doing the work may have the view that everyone is working really hard and they can't increase production without additional people.   The financial planners in the company however see the rise in sales as an anomaly, due to lack of customer inventory, and they don't view the increase in sales as being sustainable for more than a few months. In fact they see a decrease in the future.   So the senior manager makes a decision to defer hiring.  What do you think will happen if the assumptions about the financial forecast isn't communicated .... A disconnect !

The Takeaway:  The communication of a decision should include the assumptions being made and how they were validated.   While not everyone will be happy with the decision, at least they will understand that the decision wasn't made at random, or without consideration of issues.  This method of communication should be used by both managers to their organization as well as individuals to others.    The Clearer the assumptions can be communicated, the less likely a disconnect will occur.

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