The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “How do you work with an incompetent boss?” is written by Dennis Yang, CEO of Udemy.
Incompetent bosses come in all shapes and sizes, and unfortunately, chances are you’ll encounter one at some point.
Workplace trends—such as a growing reliance on freelancers and contractors, an increasingly youthful workforce, the relentless demands of data-driven businesses, and the sheer pace of technological change—suggest there will only be more inexperienced or unqualified people placed in management roles going forward, especially at high-growth companies where few employees have been around long enough to establish a proven track record. As forces like automation reshape what we do in our jobs and how we do it, people who were once suited to their management roles may no longer be the right fits.
Company leadership needs to take this seriously and not simply hope underperforming managers find their way. It’s been said people don’t quit jobs; they quit managers. And no organization can afford to be cavalier about employee retention today. At a time when job descriptions and skills are changing rapidly, people are your most valuable asset.
Here are three things companies can do to avoid putting unqualified people into jobs they’re not ready for:
Most recruiters are pretty good at identifying management candidates with relevant hard skills and experience. They’re less adept at screening for softer skills that retain their value even as technologies, tools, and processes change. These are things like knowing how to resolve conflicts, build productive relationships, and balance priorities. Resumes don’t reveal emotional intelligence either.
Interviews must be more rigorous and thorough, even if it takes longer to fill an important role. Don’t just have applicants tell you what they’ve done in the past. Candidates at every level should complete a project and give a presentation that’s relevant to the real work expected of them.
Have as many people spend as much time with them as you can and really listen carefully to how they describe past accomplishments: Do they say “I” more than “we” and fail to acknowledge the contributions of others? Do they attribute underperformance to things outside their control? Do they get excited at the prospect of tackling tough problems and learning from them?
Try to get references from people who reported to the candidate too. This may require some poking around on LinkedIn to get beyond the person’s list of preferred references. Direct reports can speak to how the candidate responded to stressful situations and guided their team.
Train new managers
When someone’s promoted to a manager role, they may feel excited and then quickly feel overwhelmed and uncertain. Or they might be overconfident and come on too strong. Millennials, already the largest age group in the workplace, are definitely eager, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ready to manage a department.
Don’t leave new managers to figure it out for themselves; set them up for success with learning and development resources expressly designed to prepare them for this important career move.
At Udemy, for example, new and experienced managers alike go through our leadership training program, where we detail our management philosophy, including specific guidance on how to have difficult conversations, coach employees, and assume a managerial mindset.
Promote open feedback
It’s never pleasant to hear that people don’t think you’re doing a good job, but letting poor managers carry on in ignorance only delays the inevitable.
It’s not uncommon for companies to do 360 reviews, where direct reports evaluate their managers and vice-versa. Skip-level meetings—in which upper management speaks directly to more junior employees—also give employees a forum where it’s safe to express dissatisfaction with a manager to someone more senior.
Of course, upward feedback has to be delivered fairly and be backed up with solid documentation and examples of how the manager has underperformed. You don’t want feedback to devolve into venting sessions. Employees should be prepared with their own ideas for next steps, not just complaints.
When a senior leader receives feedback about an “incompetent boss,” the leader should initiate a candid conversation with the manager to make them aware of the problem and provide them with an action plan for improvement.
But sometimes companies need to recognize it’s just not going to work out. If you have to let someone go, be honest about the reasons, and hopefully they can use that input to pursue a position more in line with their strengths.