Monday, September 12, 2016

Exposing Bottom-Feeder Management: Business Schools to the Rescue?

I submit that the management being taught at American business schools does not take into account just how bad some managements actually are. Although I suspect that most of them are at the lower-levels of management, bottom-feeders can achieve some height, organizationally speaking. I don’t believe business-school faculties know just how bad “bottom-feeder” management actually is, or at the very least such management is tolerated rather than triggering a wholesale renovation of the managerial skills being taught. My aim here is to spark efforts to extend managerial science to proffer tactics oriented to correcting even the worst cases. In short, managerial science needs to reach a certain sordid managerial mentality in order to expunge it from even those businesses.
A telling indication of the problematic mentality is an overstepping, such as in using words beyond their regular usages. This can include conflating analogies with direct signification. Unfortunately, once a management creates such an instance, it tends to spread to other managements eager to take liberties.
One example of such a contagion is using the word guest for customer. Target was an early bird, applying the word used by hotels, and by 2015 grocery stores and other retailers were already primped with their very own “Guest Service” signs. What those presumptuous managements did was to ignore the difference between a guest and a customer. For one thing, guests don’t pay, whereas customers do. To ignore such a common-sense difference is to presume a certain entitlement to use the language incorrectly as if doing so were correct. Put another way, there is something phony about a management that directs its store managers to refer to customers as guests. The underlying mentality is similar to that of a person who bends the law because doing so is convenient. Unfortunately, the mentality does not stop at issuing misnomers as if they were no such thing; the entitlement is also to correct customers who tell store managers or employees, “I’m not a guest here; I’m a customer.” The insightful customer will recognize that she is face to face with ignorance that can’t be wrong. Like arrogance on stilts during a flood, the “guest” advocates should be under water apologetically rather than pronouncing the new meaning of the word as a fait accompli. Management science needs procedures or tactics that the offending managements can use to clear out the practice and its underlying mentality. Considering how fast the contagion has spread, we may conclude that business-school faculties are coming up short.
Another example of bottom-feeder management can be observed in dealing with customer-service departments. In this case, the pathogen resides at low-levels of management and the subordinate non-supervisory employees. Simply put, too many employees in call-centers are brazenly rude to customers, or at the very least too rigid, for management science to have reached them. The employees’ supervisors are culpable too, both in hiring such employees and not getting rid of them. I suspect the hiring process is too artificial in that it does not uncover the interviewee’s normal attitude, whereas the process regarding upper- and middle-management positions is more involved. The potential bottom-level employees are doubtless on their best behavior during an interview, and managerial science has not been applied at that level with techniques that can viably uncover how those employees would actually be on the job attitudinally. To be sure, unions may protect even such employees, but I suspect that it is more convenient for the supervisors to retain even problematic employees than having to undergo the process to fire them and hire replacements. Being oriented to their own comfort—following the most convenient route, many supervisors may not typically follow up on customer complaints, which includes listening to the relevant recorded calls.
Additionally, low-level supervisors erroneously tend to presume that the solution to a bad attitude is more training. That training, as a managerial technique, is presumed to be sufficient to change underlying attitudes demonstrates that the existing managerial science itself is not up to par. That the lapses are usually at the lowest level of management in a company may account for the fact that the science is faulty in extending the reach of training too far—to reach attitude rather than just conduct. Even a changed conduct with the same attitude is not good, as customers can see through the superficiality and fakeness.
In some cases, employees are so confident that they can get away with treating a customer rudely that they actually refuse customer requests to speak with the supervisor. Some such employees refuse to identify themselves. For such presumption to exist is itself a good indication that something basic is lacking in the application of management science to the lowest level of management in companies. I submit that the management taught in business schools is culpable too in that it is oriented to upper- and middle-level management, and management down on the front lines differs in significant ways from the management practiced at higher levels.
The management taught at business schools should give students ways to deal with the unique or extenuating aspects of low-level management in companies. Too often, customers and even employees must deal with low-class management. This includes supervisors who extend the management hierarchy too far, needlessly causing difficult power-relations by making one non-supervisory employee the supervisor of two or three other such employees.
For example, a consulting firm sent groups of two to four part-time employees out to register people to vote in a battle-ground state in 2016. Those employees had been hired to work with each other in small groups—none of the employees in the groups were to supervise; the manager/supervisor selected high-volume employees to coordinate the respective groups in terms of keeping track of where the other employees are. Some of those coordinators took it upon themselves supervise their peers in the groups and the real manager/supervisor did not enforce his position that no one in a group would supervise the others. In that atmosphere, employees designated merely to coordinate locations developed obnoxious power-trips. Within a group of two to four people, it goes too far to designate or allow a difference (i.e. hierarchy) in power. This takes the boss-subordinate relation too far because the small groups functioned better when the employees worked together.
Therefore, to apply management science oriented to upper- and middle-levels to the lowest level, among a few employees takes the science too far. The science should be extended alright, but only if it is tailored to the level rather than simply being applied unchanged. Being bereft of suitable, good management, the front-lines of companies tend to operate a world away from the quiet halls of upper- and middle-level managers. Hence, accountability is difficult, as many customers know. I suspect that middle-level managers assume they would be stretched too thin were they actually charged with intervening at the lower levels. However, the work assigned to such managers may be too upward-oriented, so their bosses may be to blame too. It is as if there were a dividing wall separating the bottom-level managers and employees from the middle-level managers. Such a wall is part of the problem, and it demonstrates that lower-level management is different and thus needs management skills that do not yet exist because management science has been devoted to one side of the wall.