When people think of bad managers they often first think about employees complaining about their boss. Of course, bad managers will often have problems with the people who report to them, but that is not the only way to identify problems with a manager’s way of getting things done. In fact, it is not even that good of an indicator of a problem. Employees complain about their bosses for many reasons, some of which aren’t really even about the manager at all. This is why it is so important to be able to identify other symptoms of a bad manager, and then take action to help the management team improve their results.

The following segment of a story from an article about a manager who was working with a 5S trainer (the sensei) illustrates this very clearly. It started out with the sensei coming to the manager and asking why things were in a specific area in his facility, to which he wouldn’t have a good answer, and have to get the problem solved before the next visit:

After a few months of these somewhat difficult conversations, the manager realized the real lesson being taught with the seemingly simple and repetitive questions from the sensei. The next time the sensei came for his regular walk-through, the conversation went differently:

Sensei: (pointing to a fresh pile of unsorted items) “What is that?

Jon: “That? That is the sign of a bad manager.”

At first, the sensei gave the manager an inquisitive look. After all, Jon was that manager. But the sensei soon understood that his answer was correct. Both the manger and the sensei knew what that answer meant: the manager had failed to do something about an obvious issue or opportunity, he was receiving a gentle reminder about the situation, and he would take care of it. So after some consideration, the sensei accepted the answer, and the manager unfailingly ensured that problems were resolved by the next week’s visit.

This story really shows that many of the symptoms of a bad manager will be on display, if you know what to look for. In this example, the symptoms were in the fact that supplies and other items were being stored in the facility in a way which did not make any sense. The manager should have worked with the team to create a process around what types of things should be kept in the facility, as well as when and where to keep them.

In addition, it would likely make sense to look into why the facility had so many things that were kept in the area. This may be an indication that the facility is either ordering to many items too far ahead of time, or that they aren’t shipping completed products out in a timely manner. Of course, there may be good reasons for having to keep items in a facility, but it should be done intentionally, and only when there is not a better option available.

Knowing What to Look For

One of the best ways to know what types of things in a facility might be signs of a manager who is not acting proactively to ensure his or her department is running efficiently is to look at the 5S methodology. The 5S’s can help to eliminate a lot of waste, and improve the way almost any workplace can run. In the example above, the items that were being stacked in the facility were an example of a failure in the first S, Sort.

Each S in this philosophy stands for a different type of waste or inefficiency, and when they are present in a facility, they show that the manager in charge is now operating using the 5S strategies. The 5S’s are Sort, Simplify, Sweep, Standardize and Self-Discipline. Take a look at each of these items in your facility, and see where the management team is coming up short.

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