The Effect of Incompetent Middle
by John Callaghan, Senior Consultant,
Retail employees can rise up through the ranks fairly quickly
compared to a lot of other industries. It makes a great career in that respect.
Entry into retail is easy and promotions come quickly provided the individual
can operate a retail store, make the sales happen, follow the Policy and
Procedures manual to the letter and always say the right things to visiting Head
I have seen this happen many times. In some cases, it has turned out to be good
for the company and good for the individual. There are many great managers in
the retail industry and I give them full credit for the job they do in promoting
retail as a decent profession and for delighting customers. In more cases,
however, it has turned out to be good for the individual but, for the company Ė
not so much! The most unfortunate part is that the company usually doesnít know
These individuals get the title, the salary, the perks, the stores and the
unsuspecting people and then, almost overnight, rise to their level of
incompetence. It is not easily or quickly identified because, often, retail
middle managers do not work out of their Head Offices. They spend the majority
of their time traveling and working out of their home offices. Another reason
that the incompetence goes unrecognized is because the individual who promoted
the person held that same position before and is not likely to be looking for
issues. That promoter either got lucky or got better or both. Still another
reason is that the impact of management changes, on the organization, are
usually not immediate.
Of course, under the guidance of the incompetent middle manager who is neither
lucky or smart, it is likely that sales results will eventually take a downturn
prompting a closer look at the individual but until that happens, the
incompetent middle manager has total control over a group of stores and
employees of the company.
Imagine, if you can, the havoc that can be wreaked on an organization with an
individual like this running stores/districts/regions.
The person is very good at selling to customers, keeping a store clean and neat
and visually pleasing, repeating slogans and generally sucking up, and strictly
adhering to all company policies and procedures. But thatís it.
This person cannot manage people, cannot motivate people, cannot analyze a
situation thoroughly enough to see what is really important and what is not.
This person is more adept at putting up roadblocks than removing obstacles for
the people working for them. This person is customer friendly but only to the
extent allowed by company policies and procedures.
This person will not step out of bounds to satisfy a customer or to motivate an
employee. And when I say Ďstep out of boundsí I am not talking about blatant
disregard for the company Ė only that sometimes, if you have any kind of
business brain whatsoever, you will make some adjustments for the good of the
customer, the employees and the company. But no, the incompetent middle manager
will not make any adjustments to anything. They have always done things a
certain way and, as evidenced by their meteoric rise (however unfounded) in the
company ranks, it must be the best way, right?
Of course that is not right but how to convince them? Everything they know is
what they learned while doing a more junior job. They never had to manage a
manager before and they donít know how to do it. They donít know itís different.
In short, they just donít know what they donít know.
The incompetent middle managers are not doomed to living with that title
forever. They can learn and grow. They can listen to others, read books, get
some training. They can do what any other middle manager in a different industry
might do. But too many of them donít do it and never become better and continue
to wreak their own brand of havoc on the unsuspecting companies they work for
and on the poor souls they have control over.
I did say Ďhave control overí. While we donít like to think of the
manager/subordinate relationship as one having control over the other, and while
we know that the much smarter and more productive way would be working together
in partnership, the incompetent middle manager controls. That is the only way to
hang onto the job
- details, minutia, nickel and dime-ing, crossed Tís and dotted Iís, nit picking
Ė itís Micro Management 101 and it is the practice of the incompetent.
If you are one of the incompetent middle managers, act immediately to broaden
your horizons and get better at what you do. There is so much information
available to you. If you have an incompetent middle manager working for you,
correct the situation right away. Train them or remove them but you must stop
the negative effect this individual is undoubtedly having on your organization.
And if you work for an incompetent middle manager, do your best and shield your
direct reports and then move on if it becomes unbearable.
You can reach John Callaghan at jcallaghanatdmsretail.com
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