Empower your managers: let them manage

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We recently worked with a firm that had a strange management structure. We were asked to suggest corrective action when the incidence of disciplinary and grievance went sky-high.

The firm employed Regional Managers each responsible for several centres geographically spread across the UK. Each centre was managed by a Centre Manager. In any situation where the Centre Manager needed to exert his or her authority, the effect was diluted because Centre Managers were not allowed to discipline the staff under them. Only Regional Managers could discipline. Any appeals were heard by the Director, the Regional Managers’ boss.

So does this structure work? Imagine the situation. A centre employee who has transgressed (repeatedly turning up late, for example) is told “if you continue to transgress, I will have to report you to my boss”. Of course the Centre Manager doesn’t want to seem incapable of managing and so reports only the very worst situations. Only situations at the level of gross misconduct become the subjects of disciplinary hearings so summary dismissals rise too. Employees know they can get away with all but the most severe of transgression and so make the Centre Managers’ lives hell.

The result of this cock-eyed management style is a breakdown of discipline. Managers must be able to invoke the disciplinary procedure. A Centre Manager must be able to deal with their own staff when their requests go unheeded. A breakdown of discipline often also leads to an increase in grievances. Centre Managers start using the grievance procedure to gain the Regional Managers’ attention citing lack of Regional Manager support. The result is a form of anarchy and substantially reduced morale.

And the solution? There is only one. The Centre Managers must be allowed to manage. We introduced a change in structure. We trained the Centre Managers in managing disciplinaries and lo-and-behold the Centre Managers’ morale rose, the staff morale rose and the instance of disciplinary and grievance dropped. Centre Managers were allowed to manage. And the negative? Watch out! The Regional Managers and the Director felt the importance of their roles had been eroded and fought the change. Careful communications is needed when seeking agreement to change and during the management of the change itself. Perhaps the Regional Managers were themselves lacking fulfilment – but that’s another story.

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