I speak to a lot of business owners and managers every year about the challenges they face. Back during the recession the biggest challenge was managing overhead and cash flow. Today the challenges are completely different. In fact, the overwhelming issue I hear is about people: how to find them and particularly how to keep the good ones.
It’s tough when you lose a good employee. Many blame the low unemployment environment, bigger companies or competitors offering better benefits or the changing priorities of the millennial generation. But maybe - just maybe - we're partly to blame to too. Maybe the people leaving us are doing so because of...well...us.
A recent survey from jobsite Monster.com seems to make that argument. After polling 957 people last month who were openly seeking new jobs, the company asked why they wanted to leave their current employer. 76 percent of them blamed a "toxic" boss for being the reason.
What exactly does "toxic" mean? To me, it means being the kind of person who poisons the workspace with bad or inappropriate behavior. In short, being a jerk. But let's agree that people can give this word a very wide definition. A "toxic" boss can also be that person who insists that employees come to work on time or be demanding or be gruff or never come to a happy hour or just barks out orders. It all depends on who you ask - and there are always two sides to every story.
For example, it seems that "toxic" also means being selfish. 26 percent of the employees in the Monster survey said their boss was "power-hungry" or only looking out for themselves. 18 percent said their boss is a "micromanager," and 17 percent said their boss is "incompetent." Fifteen percent said their boss is never around.
Is this fair? Does being "power-hungry" mean making independent decisions or moving things in a direction that an employee doesn't like? Does being a "micromanager" mean having to spend more time checking on that employee's less than average work? Does being "incompetent" translate into making business decisions where an employee disagrees? And just because you're "never around" does that mean you're not doing your job? Wait...I thought you were too much of a "micromanager." How can you be both?
People like to come up with reasons why things don’t work out and oftentimes it’s the boss that’s blamed. Of course, there could be truth to the story. But there's only one important thing to know: you and that employee didn't get along. So he or she can come up with any reason they like but the most important thing is that they're leaving and that’s going to cost you in the short term.
If this is a one-off situation, then you can shrug off the loss. But if there's a pattern of losing employees then maybe, just maybe, you are a little toxic - or at least a pain the you-know-what. So here's what to do: don't change.
That’s right. Don’t change. You may not be the best manager in the world. Your people skills may not be so hot. But if you're successfully running a business it's likely you've got other skills that compensate, be they technical, financial or otherwise. Of course that doesn't relieve you of the responsibility of being a good boss. It's just that you do other things better. So - if you can - do what other smart executives in this situation do and get someone better than you to do the managing. You suck at it.
Managing is a skill. It takes someone with patience and the right temperament. Sure, some of the greatest CEOs are great with people. But then again there’s Steve Jobs. There are people in this world who are just better managers than others. If you're not one of them, and you've got the resources to bring someone in to be that manager, then do it. Your people are your best asset. Whether you're truly "toxic" or not, you're not doing what's right for your company if you insist on poorly managing them.