Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Management by fear

Management by fear. The image that is conjured by those words is one that is, to put it mildly, unpleasant. I remember a consulting job that I had decades ago, where the supervisor was making one of his subordinates physically ill. Several months later I ran into the subordinate, who was now smiling - her fearful supervisor had left the company.

But there's another management by fear that is much more common than the verbally or physically threatening hothead. In the course of her article Ten Stupid Rules That Drive Great Employees Away, Liz Ryan asks the following question:

Why do companies install so many stupid rules and policies?

Her answer?

Fear is the reason. Fearful managers don't trust themselves to hire people they could trust to do the right thing. There is a tremendous amount of fear in many corporations, institutions and startups. Small companies are not immune to fear.

The fear often manifests itself when the firm sets a policy to avoid a past mistake. Here's one of Ryan's examples:

There are still employers that require their employees to bring in funeral notices in order to be eligible for a few days' paid bereavement leave. That's shocking and horrifying.

No doubt some employee way back when falsified a family death to get some time off, and ever since then the company has been writing its policies to prevent such a fraud from re-occurring.

Bad employment policies are like bad laws - long after the threat has gone away, the policies are still there, and thirty years later, you still have to get manager approval to replace your name badge.

Can you think of any examples of management by fear at your company?
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